Alfred Eckhard Zimmern

Alfred Eckhard Zimmern
Born 26 January 1879
Surbiton, Surrey, U.K.
Died 24 November 1957
Education Winchester College
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Occupation Classical scholar, historian

Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern (1879–1957) was an English classical scholar, historian, and political scientist writing on international relations.[1] His book The Third British Empire was among the first to apply the expression "British Commonwealth" to the British Empire.[2] He is also credited with the phrase "welfare state",[3][4][5] which was made popular a few years later by William Temple.[6]

Early life and background

Zimmern was born on 26 January 1879 in Surbiton, Surrey, UK. His father was a naturalised British citizen, born in Germany. The writers, translators and suffragettes Helen Zimmern and Alice Zimmern were his cousins.

Alfred was brought up a Christian and later an active participant in the World Council of Churches. However, later in life he also became a supporter of Zionism.[7] He was educated at Winchester College, and read classics at New College, Oxford, where he won the Stanhope essay prize in 1902.[8] At Berlin University, he came under the influence of Wilamowitz and Meyer.

Academic career

Zimmern was Lecturer in Ancient History, New College, Oxford (1903), and Fellow and tutor, New College (1904–1909). Subsequently, he was a staff inspector, Board of Education (1912–1915) and a member of the Foreign Office Political Intelligence Department (1918–1919).

He then became Wilson Professor of International Politics, and as such the first Professor of International Politics (also known as International Relations) in the world, at the University College of Wales (1919–1921); having left Aberystwyth, he taught at Cornell University in 1922 and 1923.[9][10]

He was the inaugural Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, Oxford University (1930–1944), and co-founder of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1919). He was for a short time a member of the Round Table Group (1913–1923) and would provide the insider source of information for conspiracy theorist Carroll Quigley.


Zimmern has been classified as a utopian and idealist thinker on international relations.[11][12] He is cited often, in this perspective, in E. H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis (1939); Carr and Zimmern are characterised as being at opposite ends of the theoretical and political spectrum.[13]

Zimmern contributed to the founding of the League of Nations Society and of UNESCO.[14] He was Deputy Director of the Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, in Paris, in the mid-1920s;[15] after tension with the Director, the French historian Julien Luchaire, both left.[16] He was nominated in 1947 for the Nobel Peace Prize,[17] in connection with his UNESCO work.

Within UK politics, Zimmern joined the Labour Party in 1924, and was Labour candidate for Carnarvon Boroughs against David Lloyd George in the 1924 general election. A close friend of Ramsay MacDonald, Zimmern followed him in 1931 when MacDonald moved to head a National Government; he became an active member of the National Labour Organisation and frequently wrote articles for its journal, the News-Letter. Zimmern was one of five writers who contributed to a book "Towards a National Policy: being a National Labour Contribution" in April 1935. He died at Avon, Connecticut on 24 November 1957.


Further reading

  • Jeanne Morefield (2004), Covenants Without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire, on Zimmern and Gilbert Murray