Editors past and present: Professor Jack Spence OBE

Alex Vines

Jack Spence (left) pictured with South African President Nelson Mandela (third from right) and UK Prime Minister Sir John Major (second from right). Photo from the Chatham House archive taken 10 July 1996.

This blogpost is the first in a series of editorial retrospectives that discuss the impact of International Affairs’ (IA’s) former editors in the context of the journal’s centenary. Below Alex Vines discusses Professor Jack Spence’s time at Chatham House and as editor of IA.

Jack Spence’s engagement with Chatham House will soon celebrate its 60th anniversary. Our first written record is of Jack addressing a general meeting on Britain and South Africa: the High Commission Territories (then Basutoland [now Lesotho]; Bechuanaland [now Botswana] and Swaziland [now eSwatini]) in May 1965 — Jack’s papers on South Africa and Basutoland from this period can be found at the Borthwick Institute of Archives at the University of York. His first publication for the institute was under our then Chatham House Essays brand, the Under Pressure: a study of South African foreign policy (published by Oxford University Press in June 1965); followed in October 1966, by a piece in The World Today assessing the implications of the assassination of apartheid South Africa’s Prime Minister Dr Verwoerd. These were the start of five decades of engagement with Chatham House that continues today.

Over subsequent decades Jack regularly contributed to life at Chatham House. He wrote on South African foreign policy and throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s work on Africa at the institute was conducted by regionally focused study groups which benefited from Jack’s input. In 1999 Chatham House published After Mandela: the 1999 South African elections, Jack’s edited book that curated essays written by a group of experts convened by the Southern Africa Study Group. He became the director of studies of the institute from 1991 to 1997 — leading the intellectual side of the organization and receiving many international dignitaries including Ali Alatas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia.

Jack Spence (left) in conversation with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas (right). Photo from the Chatham House Archive.

For Jack, as a South African, I believe three highlights of his long career happened while at Chatham House. First was his trip to observe South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 on behalf of the BBC and Chatham House. Second, on 23 February 1995, he welcomed the now late HM the Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh to Chatham House to inaugurate the celebrations for its 75th anniversary. During this visit, Chatham House experts briefed the Queen ahead of her state visit to South Africa, incorporating responses to specific questions posed by Her Majesty in advance. Finally, President Nelson Mandela addressed an audience in London at an event co-hosted by Chatham House and the CBI on 10 July 1996. Jack (with David Welsh) subsequently in 2010 published an important book on South Africa, Ending Apartheid, that drew insights from these and other experiences and which I reviewed for International Affairs.

By 1990, Jack had joined the editorial board of International Affairs (IA). When joining the institute, he became the editor from July 1991 to July 1996 (and then briefly chairman of the editorial board till January 1997). The managing editor in this period was Caroline Soper who, encouraged by Jack, increased both the diversity of authors IA published but also the policy accessibility of the journal. In 1996 she took over the full editorship of the journal.

My own engagement with Chatham House started after Jack left in 1998, and although the institute was undergoing a period of uncertainty, Jack’s key legacy was to grow International Affairs as a global journal. Alongside Caroline, Jack helped ensure that IA became an academically rigorous platform to communicate policy relevant research to a broader audience.

I first met Jack at the start of my career in 1991 when he was an adviser to the company I worked for, and where he encouraged me to focus my career on African policy studies. The creation of an Africa Programme at Chatham House, twenty years ago, benefitted from his support and Jack attended its official launch in July 2002. I sit on the editorial board of the Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS) and have recently published a review article in it. Jack was one of the founders and the original editors of JSAS from its inception and like with International Affairs helped establish it as a leading academic journal.

Jack continued to engage with Chatham House and its Africa Programme up to his retirement encouraging students past and present to engage with the institute, James Hamill, for example. He also attended out exhibition of 100 years of Africa engagement by Chatham House at Bonhams in January 2020 and was pleased to see himself pictured and referenced in the exhibition.

Jack Spence pictured at Chatham House in 1997. Photo from the Chatham House Archive.

After leaving Chatham House Jack joined the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and was awarded an OBE for services to military education in 2003. Jack was also a member of the first committee of the British International Studies Association, which he went on to chair, and is a former president of the African Studies Association of the UK.

Even after his official retirement from King’s College London, Jack has continued to contribute to the political and intellectual life of the institute. His reviews of Rhode Benjamin’s A historical sensibility: Sir Michael Howard and The International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1958–2019 and Paul Moorcraft’s Total onslaught: war and revolution in southern Africa since 1945 were published by IA in September and November 2020 respectively. He has also continued to contribute to the growth of the discipline and has co-edited the anthology, New perspectives on diplomacy, published last year with Claire Yorke (a Chatham House alumnus) and Alistair Masser.

Dr Alex Vines OBE is Director of the Africa Programme at Chatham House.

Highlights from the archive:

Total onslaught: war and revolution in southern Africa since 1945 — November 2020

A historical sensibility: Sir Michael Howard and The International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1958–2019 — September 2020

Pandora’s box: a history of the First World War — July 2019

Before anarchy: Hobbes and his critics in modern international thought— September 2016

Ending apartheid — January 2011

All views expressed are individual not institutional.



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