Emeritus Professor Peter McPhee, courtesy Peter McPhee

Fifty Years of French Revolution: A Celebration of Peter McPhee

In October 2020, Professor Peter McPhee delivered his final lecture for the undergraduate History subject The French Revolution, rounding off an astonishing fifty years of teaching this subject. To mark this occasion, SHAPS hosted an online celebration in honour of Peter’s outstanding career as an extraordinarily gifted, inspiring and dedicated teacher.

Below you can watch the video tributes produced by Peter’s colleagues and students, and read a transcript of the speech delivered by the event’s MC, Hansen Senior Lecturer Dr Una McIlvenna. 

Video presenters (in order of appearance): Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Russell Goulbourne; Professor Glyn Davis; Ms Jane Hansen; Dr Helen Davies; Ms Alexandra Pierce; Dr Julie Kalman; Dr Ian Coller; Dr Chloe Ward; and many of Peter’s current students!


When we first announced that we were arranging a celebration of Peter’s career, we were inundated with memories, stories and photos from former students, colleagues and friends of Peter’s. We’d like to pay special thanks to Peter’s partner Charlotte Allen and his old friend and former student Pauline Fry, who sent wonderful photos and embarrassing anecdotes.

We also heard from Dr Jock Philips, Peter’s closest colleague at Victoria University of Wellington who had this to say about Peter:

“The trouble was that from the moment Peter arrived at Wellington in 1980, the word came back to us other lecturers that there was a new star on the block. I had always considered myself the outstanding lecture room performer among the history staff and now I was being upstaged by endless comments, ‘Dr McPhee says this’ … ‘Dr McPhee does this in his lectures’. I was no longer the exciting young Turk …

Peter’s creativity as a teacher and lecturer was without parallel. We could but imitate, not compete. Even now almost 40 years later when I meet students from that era in the streets they inevitably ask after Peter and then head off into an enthusiastic rant about how inspiring were his classes.

Congratulations Peter on 50 years of magnificent teaching. I was in awe of you then; I am still in awe of you.”

Another colleague from Wellington, Associate Professor Malcolm McKinnon, wrote:

“His passion for Collioure, the town whose revolution-era history he studied, was inspiring. It was a reminder and education for me in how the micro informs the macro. He had an equally impressive ability to inspire students. Although neither a New Zealand nor even an Australian history specialist, he took a keen interest in his colleagues’ research in the field.”

Another Wellington colleague, Professor David Mackay, wrote, “Peter’s elegant but robust Marxist approach to the past invigorated teaching and the intellectual life of the Department. His second year and honours courses on the French history and the revolution were continuously popular although they were consistently demanding. Of course Peter’s research output on French History is formidable and distinguished, but what I particularly remember was his unselfish approach to research and the genuine interest he took in the work of his colleagues.”

And, lastly, Professor Adrian Jones (La Trobe University), who was taught by Peter at Melbourne in 1973 in Alison Patrick’s French and American revolution first-year history subject was only able to say to us: “I was so young, and so in awe.”

Una McIlvenna

Song for Peter McPhee

To the tune of La Marseillaise


Alors, farewell Peter McPhee

Le jour d’au r’voir est arrivé


You have taught now for fifty years

At unis, MOOCs and high schools

You made them all read your textbook


Revolutions, French and others

Were the stuff of your expertise

Your colleagues all were in awe

At Wellington, Latrobe and Melbourne


Your kindness knows no bounds!       |

Your students are everywhere!           |

So long,                                           | repeat

Farewell,                                         |

Peter McPhee                                 |

Your legacy’s assured!                    |


Thanks to the Faculty of Arts External Relations Team; Dr Becky Clifton; and Associate Professor Kate McGregor for all their assistance with this event.