A Tribute to Sally Marks

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A Tribute to Sally Marks

Published 18 January 2018

[The H-Diplo Editorial Board and Editors thank Professor Keylor for writing this tribute to Sally Marks, a tireless supporter of H-Diplo and long-time member of its Board. We send our sincere condolences to Sally’s family, and note with great sadness the passing of a friend as well as a fine and generous scholar.  —Diane Labrosse].

[An obituary was published in The Providence Journal from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21, 2018]

by William R. Keylor, Boston University

[PDF Version]

Dr. Sally Marks, who died peacefully on January 13, 2018 after a brief illness, was many things. She is perhaps best known in the profession as the author of two landmark general studies of international history: The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe and The Ebbing of European Ascendency: An International History of the World, 1914-1945.[1] She also devoted her formidable scholarly energies to a much more specialized topic: Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919,[2] a masterpiece of archival digging and clear narrative that was awarded the AHA’s George Louis Beer Prize in International History in 1981.[3]

But for those scholars who have labored in the vineyards of the peace settlement of 1919, her articles and book chapters that upended the standard historiographical assessment of the topic of German reparations after the Great War are her most enduring legacy. The harsh verdict of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, delivered only a few months after the treaty was signed, won almost universal acceptance among scholars and the general public for the next half-century:  The voracious, vindictive Allied powers, particularly France, had imposed on defeated Germany a “Carthaginian” reparation obligation that led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler, the collapse of the 1919 peace settlement, the Second World War, and the Holocaust.

It is difficult to imagine a more forbidding task than sorting out the complex set of technical issues related to the requirement in the Versailles Treaty that defeated Germany pay the costs of repairing the extensive material damage to neighboring countries caused by its military forces during the war. But Sally waded into the weeds, plumbing archives in numerous countries, and, in the company of other scholars such as Marc Trachtenberg and Stephen A. Schuker, conclusively demonstrated that Keynes had it wrong. From her article “The Myth of Reparations,”[4] to “Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany, and the Versailles Treaty, 1918-1921,”[5] Sally Marks precipitated what might be called the post-Keynesian version of the economic portion of the peace settlement of 1919 that has won widespread acceptance in the profession.

Sally was also a valuable participant in several conferences treating the Versailles settlement, including an international gathering at the University of California, Berkeley in 1994, which produced a volume to which she contributed a lucid chapter summarizing her findings about her favorite subject.[6]

She accomplished much of this scholarly work in spite of two handicaps: First, she felt that her academic institution, Rhode Island College, did not appreciate her sufficiently, so she took early retirement in 1988 and became an independent scholar, with the financial challenges that such a status entails. Second, she was afflicted with a painful physical ailment that hampered her ability to travel to conferences. But she continued to research, write, and publish.

She was very generous with her time when asked by colleagues to comment on their work. She gave me excellent advice about many scholarly matters and was a penetrating reader of my drafts. She never hesitated to express her opinion about an argument, even if it was negative, but she always conveyed her constructive criticism with tact and respect.

I cannot close without mentioning her valuable longstanding service to the Board of Editors of H-Diplo. When the occasional controversial issue was brought to the attention of the Board, we all profited from her calm, sensible advice about how to reach a logical resolution. She also chaired the Editorial Board’s search for new members, and ensured that female scholars were fairly represented.

Sally Marks will be greatly missed by her colleagues, friends, and admirers.


[1] Sally Marks, The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918-1933 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1976; second edition, 2003); Marks, The Ebbing of European Ascendency: An International History of the World, 1914-1945 (London and New York: Arnold and Oxford University Press, 2002).

[2] Marks, Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981).

[3] She also wrote the masterful Paul Hymans: Belgium for the ‘Makers of the Modern World: The Peace Conferences of 1923 and their Aftermath’ series published by Haus Publishing (2010).

[4] Marks, “The Myth of Reparations” Central European History 11:3 (September 1978), 231-255.

[5] Marks, “Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany, and the Versailles Treaty, 1918-1921,” Journal of Modern History 85:3 (September 2013), 632-659.

[6] Marks, “Smoke and Mirrors: In Smoke-Filled Rooms and the Galerie des Glaces,” in Manfred Boemeke, et al., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): 337-390.

Categories: Obituary

A Tribute to Sally Marks

By Alan Sharp, University of Ulster, Emeritus
PDF Version

I would like, if I may, to add a few words to Bill Keylor’s eloquent tribute to Sally Marks.[1] I first met Sally in the Round Room of the old Public Record Office in London in the late 1960s. It was late on a Friday afternoon, I had reached the end of a run of FO 371s on Germany – I was working on Anglo-French relations after World War I – and I noticed there were a few volumes on Belgium which I thought might offer some interesting perspectives on some of the problems of treaty enforcement so I ordered them up. No-one ever spoke in the PRO so it was disconcerting to have a firm American voice asking, in tones that made it very clear that this was a question of trespass, what I was doing consulting those files. Fortunately I was able to assure her that Belgium was all hers and Sally then offered some very helpful advice on archives in Brussels which might help to fill some of the gaps at a time when the French papers were still unavailable. My trip to consult the Archives du Royaume was about as exotic as my Ph.D. research ever got – friends were heading off in Land Rovers to look at crusader castles which seemed much more fun – but the papers were very useful.

There was quite a long gap until we met again at the Berkeley conference on the Treaty of Versailles in 1994, though I was, of course, aware of her work on (what else!) Belgium and especially enjoyed her exchanges with David Felix over the perennially controversial subject of reparations. Thereafter we corresponded regularly and met intermittently on my rare visits to the U.S. As Bill wrote, Sally was a generous critic and adviser – though if she thought you were wrong, she pulled few punches. I always sent her drafts of whatever I was writing – if it was good enough for Sally, it was certainly good enough for the publisher – and there is always an acknowledgement to her – well deserved – in every one of my publications.

I have just completed a third edition of my book on the Versailles Settlement for Palgrave and have included a new chapter on the changing attitudes towards the peace treaties over the last century. That chapter concludes as follows:

It is deeply ironic that Keynes came to regret writing the book that has shaped attitudes to the settlement for so long. In 1936 Elizabeth Wiskemann, a journalist and academic, met Keynes at a party and, much to her own surprise, found herself saying, “I do wish you had not written that book.” To her greater surprise Keynes replied, “So do I.”[2] It still remains to be seen whether anyone will heed the plea of Sally Marks at the conclusion of her vigorous defence of the treaty in a review article “Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany and the Versailles Treaty, 1918-1921.[3] Accepting that, as the inevitable product of compromises in the face of an immense task and the competing ambitions of the powers, the treaty was and is unpopular, she declared “However, it is time – and past time – to abandon old myths and simplistic propaganda-driven explanations and to address instead the inherent problems and the real reasons why this cornerstone of the interwar era has for so long attracted torrents of criticism despite the contrary opinion of those who know it best.”[4]

So – fittingly - Sally has the last word. She was a tenacious scholar, a skilful writer and a doughty controversialist. I shall miss her emails, her friendship, her sense of humour and her wisdom.


[2] Elizabeth Wiskemann, The Europe I Saw (HarperCollins, 1968): 53.

[3] Sally Marks, “Mistakes and Myths: The Allies, Germany and the Versailles Treaty, 1918-1921.” The Journal of Modern History Vol. 85, No. 3 (September 2013): 632-659.

[4] Marks, “Mistakes and Myths,” 659.


In Memory Of Sally Marks

Published 23 January 2018

Essay by Janice J. Terry, Professor Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University

Sally and I met in 1966 at Crosby Hall, an American Association of University Women (AAUW)-administered women’s residence in Chelsea, London. After a brief stint at the U.S. Defense Department, Sally had held several academic positions before returning to university to earn a Ph.D.  She was studying at the London School of Economics with a specialty in post- World War I Europe with an emphasis on Belgium, the Peace Treaty, and reparations – controversial stuff indeed. Sally particularly enjoyed and benefitted from the guidance of Elizabeth Wiskemann, whose work was well known and respected. Sally would, of course, go on to become one of the preeminent scholars in the field.

In addition to spending every hour the libraries and archives were open reading documents, Sally made full use of what London had to offer. She attended the ballet, the opera, concerts, visited historic sites, as well as becoming an expert in making brass rubbings (back and knee breaking work) and knitting sweaters with incredibly complex patterns. On a spring trip to the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Belgium Sally planned a full, if exhausting, itinerary of museums, palaces, battlefields, gardens, and churches.

Sally had far more experience in the academy than I, but she was incredibly generous with her time, offering thoughtful and much welcome advice. When I was close to graduating and hunting for my first academic job, Sally pointed out the pitfalls of a scholarly career in history, a field that was, at the time, overwhelming male. Her direction about which institutions had safe-guards to protect young scholars, and the ones that had less than stellar records raised issues that I had never considered. Without Sally’s guidance, I might well have accepted a position where my career would have ended before it even began.

Sally was not a Gloria Steinem feminist, but she was implacable in her belief that women academics should receive the same promotions, course loads, pay, and recognition as their male colleagues.

I remain grateful for her steady counsel, as well as for her guidance then and for her enduring friendship over the subsequent decades. Of course, as others have attested, one cannot remember Sally without mentioning her outstanding abilities as a firm, thoughtful, and incisive editor. Who knows how many books and articles were made immeasurably better because of Sally’s eagle eye and vast knowledge, but they are many. I miss our visits, her letters that usually included pertinent clippings on the Middle East, and long telephone conversations on historical matters and the state of the world. She shall be missed.