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Donovan Williams was born on November 13th 1926 in South Africa. He attended the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he received his Bachelor of Arts (1948), Bachelor of Arts Honours (1952), Master of Arts (1954) and Ph.D (1960). Williams also received a D.Phil. from Oxford University in 1962.
With a Transvaal Teacher’s Diploma (1949) Williams began his teaching career as a teacher of primary and secondary schools, later become a Lecturer in History at University College of Fort Hare (1952-1954). He served as Acting Head of the Department of History at Fort Hare (1955-1957) and later as Professor and Head of the Department (1957-1959). Williams spent a year in Wales as a temporary lecturer in the history of the British Empire at University College of Wales, Aberyswyth, and also as a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa (1963-1968), before moving to Canada in 1968.
Williams was appointed to the University of Calgary in 1968 as Associate Professor in the Department of History, becoming full Professor in 1970. He also served as Chair of the Department of History (1976-1981) and as Secretary to General Faculties Council in the President’s Office from 1982-1992. Williams established the African and South Asian programmes in the Department of History, and also the African Studies Minor and the South Asian Studies Minor in the Faculty of General Studies (now area studies).
Williams described himself as “an imperial historian with major interests in Africa and British India, derived from doctorates in both fields.” His research interests included the Home Government and British Administration in India, English and Scottish missionaries in southern Africa, the connections between British India and the Cape Colony at the time of the Mutiny, public opinion in Western Canada during the Anglo-Boer Ware, a re-interpretation of the British abandonment of the Orange River Sovereignty, and Black nationalism in South Africa. Williams was the author of numerous articles and wrote or edited seven books. One of these “The India Office 1858-1866” is a standard reference book.
Together with his wife Eunice, Williams donated his slide collection of Canadian churches (over 2,100 slides) to the Canadian Architectural Archives in 2000. The Williams fonds was donated to the University Archives in 2015 following his death.