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Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

Professor Robert O. Collins (1933-2008)

Professor Robert O. Collins was recognised as the leading historian of the southern Sudan and as an authority on African history. In a career spanning more than forty years, he published 25 book on a broad range of subjects, and written close to 80 articles and essays. His most important monographs are: 

  • The Southern Sudan 1883-1898: A Struggle for Control (Yale, 1962)

  • Land Beyond the Rivers: The Southern Sudan, 1898-1918 (Yale, 1971)

  • Shadows in the Grass: Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918-1956 (Yale, 1983)

  • The Waters of the Nile: Hydropolitics and the Jonglei Canal, 1900-1988 (Clarendon, 1990).

  • Requiem for the Sudan: War, Drought and Disaster Relief, 1983-1993 (with Millard Burr; Westview, 1994).

  • Africa's Thirty Years' War: Chad, Libya, and the Sudan, 1963-1993 (Westview, 1999)

Many students in American universities have acquired their first taste for African studies through his Problems books.  Shadows in the Grass won the John Ben Snow Prize for the best book in British Studies in 1983.

Professor Collins received his PhD from Yale University. His teaching career began at Williams College, next spent a brief period at Colombia University before he in 1965 joined the History Department of University of California, Santa Barbara. He became full professor in 1969 and retired in 1994, becoming Professor Emeritus. At UCSB he held a number of position and most importantly was Dean of the Graduate Division for ten years, from 1970 to 1980. He trained thirteen Ph.D. candidates from the US and the Sudan, and also supervised students who came to Santa Barbara for shorter periods. His last appointment before retirement was Director of the University of California's centre in Washington DC. In retirement, Professor Collins has taught under-graduate classes on a part-time basis and continues to write.

In addition to his university duties, Professor Collins was on the editorial board of The International Journal of African Historical Studies and The Journal of African Studies, and has been adviser to the US government, the Sudanese government, and Chevron Petroleum. 

In appreciation of his varied contribution to Sudanese studies, Professor Collins received the Order of Sciences from the Democratic Republic of the Sudan (1980). He has at various times held fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson Institute (Washington DC), St. Antony's College (Oxford), Balliol College (Oxford), and Durham University. 

Professor Collins was throughout his career an avid collectors of books, pamphlets and other sources that shed light on the history of the southern Sudan and neighbouring areas. Scholars and students with research interests in "the South" have, recognising the value of his unique private collection, travelled to Santa Barbara to browse the crammed office shelves or shift through the many boxes. Facing retirement, in the early 1990s he decided that rather than passing everything on to UCSB's library, he would prefer to donate the books to universities with strong commitments to Sudanese studies. Durham University, with its famed Sudan Archive, and the University of Bergen, where Sudanese studies has been a flagship since the early 1970s, were the obvious choices, and basically the private collection was divided between the two institutions.