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Visiting staff

Professor Malcolm H. Murfett

Visiting Professor 


National University of Singapore (NUS)

11 Arts Link, AS1-05 - 27

Singapore 117570


After a rather unconventional scholastic background in which sport figured very prominently (perhaps far too prominently!), I finally made it to university at the age of 22. Thereafter, my academic life took off at the universities of Keele and Leeds and moved up a gear at New College, Oxford. Sport was never very far behind and in due course I played county hockey for Berkshire, gained a hockey Blue for Oxford in 1975 and became a double international (cricket and hockey) for the Republic of Singapore in the 1980s. 

While at Oxford I was selected to be the research assistant to the Earl of Birkenhead on the officially commissioned life of Sir Winston Churchill. This was a priceless opportunity because the Churchill papers were all contained within the Bodleian Library and access to them was exclusively restricted to Martin Gilbert and his team of researchers and to Lord Birkenhead and myself (1975-80). Working on the Churchill papers delayed my own doctoral thesis by up to two years, but I never doubted the fact that the unique experience was worth it.   

After gaining my doctorate in Modern History at Oxford one week I was on the plane to Singapore the next. To my utter amazement and perhaps to that of the authorities at the National University of Singapore too, I have remained there ever since!

During my time in the Department of History, I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (1991) and became an Associate Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography where I have been responsible for selecting all naval, maritime and yachting entries for the 20th Century. 

Apart from leading the British and European section of my department, I was invited to teach at York University in Toronto (1989-90), the Australian Defence Force Academy (1994), and the Singapore Management University (2000-1). I also became a Senior Associate Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford (1986-8), a Visiting Fellow at the University of Nottingham (2004-5) and a Research Associate in the LSE IDEAS and Cold War Programmes (2011-14)

Research Interests
  • Anglo-American Relations in the 20th Century
  • British Defence & Foreign Policy in the 19th & 20th Centuries
  • Cold War Studies 
  • End of Empire: East of Suez (1919-75)
  • Naval Warfare in the 20th Century
  • Naval and Maritime Affairs in Southeast Asia in the 20th & 21st Centuries
  • Political Leadership and the Fate of Modern Britain (1919-2010)

Fool‑proof Relations: The Search for Anglo‑American Naval Cooperation During the Chamberlain Years, 1937‑1940 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1984), 344pp.

The Limitations of Military Power, edited by M.H. Murfett & J.B. Hattendorf, (London: Macmillan, 1990), 242pp.

Hostage on the Yangtze: Britain, China and the Amethyst Crisis of 1949 (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 332pp.

In Jeopardy: The Royal Navy and British Far Eastern Defence Policy, 1945-1951 (London: Oxford University Press, 1995), 192pp.

The First Sea Lords: From Fisher to Mountbatten, edited by Malcolm H. Murfett (Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 1995), 327pp.

Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore - From First Settlement to Final British Withdrawal (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1999), 416pp.

Naval Warfare 1919-1945: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009), 647pp.

Imponderable but Not Inevitable: Warfare in the Twentieth Century, edited by Malcolm H. Murfett (Westport, Conn: Praeger Security International, 2010), 223pp.

Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore from 1275 to 1971. 2nd Edition (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2011), 541pp.

1275 - 1971年新加坡历史原貌 [1275-1971: Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore] (Singapore: Asiapac Books, 2011), 542pp.

Cold War Southeast Asia, edited by Malcolm H. Murfett (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2012), 383pp

Naval Warfare 1919-1945: A History of the War at Sea [Paperback edition: revised & expanded] (Milton Park: Routledge, 2012)

Hostage on the Yangtze: Britain, China and the Amethyst Crisis of 1949 [paperback & e-book editions] (forthcoming: Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, Fall 2014)

Shaping British Foreign and Defence Policy in the 20th Century: A Tough Ask in Turbulent Times. (forthcoming: Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, August 2014)

A full list of publications, including book chapters, articles, reviews and reports can be downloaded here.

Expertise and Public Engagement

Apart from being an advisor on Humanities for the leading Chinese school in Singapore and an educational and curriculum planning development consultant to the Singapore Ministry of Education , I have been the historical consultant to both the cable TV network (The History Channel) and to the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board. 

In recent years I have also organized, chaired and been a contributor at two very popular lecture series geared for the general public: “The Imponderables of War” (2006-7) and “The Cold War in Southeast Asia” (2008-9). I deliberately arranged for them to be held downtown in the city during the evening and staged them once a month over a period of nine months. They played to very enthusiastic crowds and were lively and dynamic affairs. I’m anxious to establish another series at KCL in 2015-16.

I have also had the opportunity of doing a fair amount of television and radio scriptwriting and broadcasting and have also appeared in a number of film documentaries. I continue to really enjoy my involvement with the media. There is something very exciting about doing live studio broadcasts, such as the British General Election which I have covered since 1997 for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation and in later years  the cable network station ChannelNewsAsia which distributes its content across vast swathes of the Asian continent. 

I have also worked with senior executives on a range of media-related matters, such as crisis management, presentation skills, interviewing techniques, preparing press releases, etc. My clients have included Broken Hill Propriety, Mayne Nickless (Australia), the Singapore Ministry of Manpower, Philips Communications Plc, Shell Eastern Petroleum, Standard Chartered Bank, and Volvo (Singapore).


Over the years in a variety of different scholarly settings, I have taught courses in the following subjects:

Year 1: 

  • Europe 1763 1939; 
  • European History in the 20th Century;
  • From Cold War to Détente: 1945-75;
  • From the French Revolution to the Franco-Prussian War

Year 2: 

  • European History from the Age of Metternich to the Era of Adenauer (1815-1963).
  • Upheaval in Europe 1848-1914;
  • War, Revolution & Society

Year 3:

  • The United States as a Global Power;
  • A History of the Cold War in Europe 1917-91;
  • The Rise & Fall of Fascism & Nazism;
  • Why History? An Alternative Way of Looking at the 20th Century

Honours (Year 4): 

  • The Coming of the Second World War; 
  • British Foreign Policy from Palmerston to Chamberlain;
  • Germany under Communism 1945-90;
  • Political Leadership & the Fate of Modern Britain: From Attlee to Brown
  • Overseas Courses:
  • Business History: Revolutionary Entrepreneurs in the 20th Century.
  • Do we stand for anything?  The Strange Case of the UK in the 20th Century.
  • International Naval History 1890-1956.
  • Nationalism, Imperialism and Adventurism: Europe 1848-1918.

I’m humbled by the fact that many of my students have regularly nominated me as the best teacher in the faculty and I’m grateful to have won a host of teaching excellence awards at NUS. It was equally reassuring to receive terrific feedback from the students at York, ADFA and SMU when I taught in those schools too. 

Graduate Supervision

I have supervised over ninety graduate theses during my career in Singapore covering a range of British, European, military and Southeast Asian topics and been both an external and internal examiner for a whole range of masters and doctoral theses in these areas. 

As a result of my research interests, I can offer supervision on any of the following subjects at the graduate level:

  • British defence and foreign policy east of Suez 1919-75
  • British politics 1919-2010
  • Cold War in Europe 1943-91
  • Naval Warfare 1914-45
  • The People’s Action Party & the political life of Singapore 
  • 1959-2014 
  • Singaporean defence & foreign policy 1965-2014


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