Geoffrey Parker practices a transnational type of history and began doing so long before it became fashionable. Based on his in-depth study of a wide range of archival records, often spanning many different countries and languages, he arrives at innovative historical analyses that transcend national borders.
This was already true of Parker’s very first publications, in which he studied the rise and fall of Spain’s global empire between 1550 and 1650. Viewed within a broader context, the Dutch Revolt took place at a time when Spain had joined forces with allies Italy, Switzerland and the Southern Netherlands to battle Britain, France, Germany, the northern Dutch provinces and Scandinavia for world dominance.
In Parker’s analyses, Spain ultimately lost that battle not because of a series of disparate rebellions by the Dutch, but because its government and economy were unable to continue supplying its enormous army with adequate transport, accommodation, uniforms, food and payment.
Parker’s best-known book, The Military Revolution, builds on the work of fellow historian Michael Roberts. Roberts had proposed that European methods of warfare (for example firearms, strategy and tactics) changed fundamentally at the end of the sixteenth century, creating the need for trained standing armies and nation states. According to Parker, that change explains the global expansion of the West in territory and power. Although this analysis remains controversial, Parker’s work has in any event ensured that this crucial period of European history can no longer be discussed without considering the military perspective.
It is characteristic of Parker that he studies military history from a European, transnational perspective and relates it to events elsewhere in the world.
Parker employs the same broad perspective in his study of another topic that has long intrigued him: the influence of climate change on world history. In 1979, long before the greenhouse effect became a popular concept, he described how the “Little Ice Age” in around 1600 not only resulted in splendid Dutch and Flemish paintings of winter scenes, but also in political, economic, intellectual and social change in many places.
It is a topic that Parker intends to continue exploring in the years ahead, spurred on by recent climate changes.
Geoffrey Parker was born in the United Kingdom on 25 December 1943. He studied history at Christ’s College Cambridge. In 1968, he received a PhD from Cambridge, where he had studied under Sir John H. Elliott. Since that time, he has lived around the world, wherever his interests have taken him.
In 1972, he moved to Scotland after accepting a position at the University of St Andrews. After serving as a visiting professor in Canada and Japan, Parker moved to the United States in 1986, where he has taught at the University of Illinois, Yale University and, since 1997, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Parker enjoys world renown. He has received honorary doctorates from the Catholic University of Brussels (Belgium) and the University of Burgos (Spain). He is a fellow of the British Academy, the Spanish Real Academia de la Historia, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.
Parker’s books have a devoted readership beyond the world of historical research. His best-known works are Military Revolution, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, Felipe II (a classic work on King Philip II of Spain) and The Spanish Armada.
The author of 36 books, more than a hundred publications of historical research, and hundreds of lectures in different languages given on four continents, Parker has had an enormous impact on the study of history, both in Europe and beyond.