Thomas’s academic career was pursued in colleges of Oxford University. He graduated from Balliol College and was subsequently elected Fellow of All Souls College and Fellow of St. John’s College. In 1986 he became president of Corpus Christi College. Until his retirement at age 67 in 2000, he was Professor of Modern History at Oxford. Thomas has received no less that ten honorary degrees in acknowledgment of his scholarship and many services to the profession of history. He is known by former students and colleagues as a man of exceptional learning, wit, and integrity. A voracious reader, despite severe near sightedness, he is reputedly able to “gut” a book in record time. He is one of several early pioneers to make use of social anthropology in his research and to argue for a collaboration of anthropological and historical methods. His book asks why the English at all levels of society believed in
magic and its many oﬀshoots several hundred years ago:
This book began as an attempt to make sense of the systems of belief which were current in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century England, but which no longer enjoy much recognition today. Astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts and fairies, are now all rightly disdained by intelligent persons. But they were taken seriously by equally intelligent
persons in the past, and it is the historian’s business to explain why this is so.