David Childs at a meeting with Lord Triesmann
|Born||25 September 1933|
Bolton, Lancashire, England
|Alma mater||London School of Economics|
|Profession||Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Nottingham|
David Haslam Childs FRSA (born September 1933) is a British academic and political historian, who is Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Nottingham. His research chiefly concerns the modern German state and the field of German studies, and helping the public develop a greater knowledge of the history and politics of the former East and West Germany.
Childs was born in Bolton, Lancashire, the son of John Arthur Childs, a police officer, who went on to become Mayor of Bolton (1962-63), and Ellen Childs (née Haslam). He has one sister, Margaret, who still lives in Bolton. He was educated at Thornleigh Salesian College and the Wigan & District Mining & Technical College in Lancashire. He graduated at the London School of Economics in 1956 before spending a year at the University of Hamburg on a British Council scholarship. He completed his PhD at the University of London in 1962 whilst working part-time as a journalist for Associated Television.
Childs' anti-communist views had been developed by works such as Orwell's 1984 and Koestler's Darkness At Noon, as well as his early visits to Germany. The first was in 1951, to the communist-organized Festival of Youth And Students in East Berlin. He traveled again to East Berlin just after the rising of June 1953 when the Soviet Army was used to crush the workers' revolt.
After completing his PhD, he turned to academic work and was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Nottingham in 1966. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer, and then reader in 1976. By this time, he was well known for his books on Germany and for his book Marx and the Marxists - An Outline of Practice And Theory.
In 1983, Childs was appointed as chairman of the Association for the Study of German Politics and conceived the idea for an Institute of German, Austrian and Swiss Affairs at the University of Nottingham that focussed on politics and society rather than language and literature. It was established in 1985 with the help of John H. Gunn, a businessman and graduate of the university. The institute's purpose-built centre was opened by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989, hosting conferences on themes such as the Austrian resistance to National Socialism, and ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union. In 1990, controversy arose as speakers from all of the new East German political parties and the Communist SED argued at a conference in the University's great hall about the future of East Germany.
German reunification, in October 1990, coincided with the start of the fall of the institute. John Gunn had presided over the collapse of British & Commonwealth, one of the largest city businesses, and could no longer fund the Institute. The slump made it difficult to find alternative supporters. Childs, promoted to professor in 1989, came under great pressure from those who had long disapproved of his line on Germany and Communism, and from professional rivals. He was removed from the directorship of the Institute in 1992, and took early retirement from the University two years later. He continued to serve as a member of the committee of the British-German Association until 1997.
Childs was one of the few who predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of the East German Republic in 1989, concluding after several visits that it was not sustainable. He made such a prediction at a conference at the University of Dundee in 1981. As Professor Marianne Howarth later found in the East German archives, a secret report on this was duly sent back to East Berlin.
The Stasi attempted to monitor his activities not only on visits to East Germany but also in Britain. His appearance at a conference in Bradford in 1983 was again duly recorded in the Stasi archives. He was put on a Stasi Fahndung [investigation] list and denounced in DDR publications as a 'British imperialist East researcher'. Childs later discovered the file that the Stasi had on him which covered a seven-year period. The file revealed that he had, in fact, been spied upon by two British spies, who were two British academics. It also revealed that he was regarded by the East German secret police as one of their most serious opponents in Britain.
Childs delivered the same 'Dundee' analysis at the German Historical Institute in London, 24 November 1987, and elsewhere. He predicted early German reunification and outlined a plan in an interview with Peter Johnson on the West German radio Deutschlandfunk in April 1988, but faced ridicule in reaction. When he later spoke at the 'Pacific Workshop On German Affairs: The Two Germanies at Forty' about the likely collapse of the DDR, he again met with strong opposition and ridicule. However, the organiser, Professor Christian Soe, invited him back, after German reunification, in 1991, writing, 'We are happy that David Childs, who in April 1989 took a minority position in clearly diagnosing the moribund condition of the East German system, returns to give us a post mortem ...' In an article written the day before the opening of the Berlin Wall, and published in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 9 November 1989, Childs again predicted full German reunification and welcomed it. The following day The Guardian wrote, 'It would mean that a dangerous situation in the heart of Europe has been liquidated ...'
Childs' wide knowledge of both domestic and international affairs has been utilised by both government and commercial organisations. He has been a guest speaker on contemporary German themes at in universities across Europe and the United States of America. In 2011, he was invited to talk at the Italian-German Historical Institute, based in Trento, Italy, at a conference on International and multidisciplinary perspectives 20 years after the collapse of communism.
Although a long-standing member of the European Movement, and a strong supporter of the European Union, Childs is known as the author of works on Britain rather than Germany, notably his 1979 work Britain Since 1945: A Political History.
Childs' most recent publication differs from his more usual academic publications as it is a novel, entitled We Were No Heroes. It is about Martin Thomas, an Englishman who fought for the Waffen SS on the Eastern Front, survived a Soviet concentration camp, worked as a Stasi agent during the Cold War and witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Childs based the semi-fictional account on a man he had met in Leipzig in 1989..
Childs also writes for newspapers, magazines and journals. Over 250 of his obituaries have been published in The Independent from 1988 to 2013.
In September 2013, Childs was among a number of international observers following the German Federal Elections, German federal election, 2013. They travelled across Germany monitoring the various parties and witnessed Angela Merkel's famous third term as German Chancellor.
On 4 March 2013, Childs was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), Germany's highest honour, in recognition of his 50 years of outstanding, pioneering academic work, particularly on the GDR, and his practical work in the field of reconciliation and friendship between Germany and the United Kingdom. The Cross of the German Order of Merit was presented at the German Embassy by the German Ambassador, on behalf of the German President, Joachim Gauck.
Most recent conference publications: