The Harmsworth Chair was established by Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, in memory of his eldest son, Harold Alfred Vyvyan St George Harmsworth (known as Vyvyan), one of two of Rothermere’s three sons who died in the Great War.
Vyvyan Harmsworth was born in Hampstead, educated at Fonthill Preparatory School and Eton College before going up to Christ Church, Oxford in 1913. In 1914 he signed up with the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards, eventually attaining the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross. Severely wounded at the Battle of Loos in 1915, he was sent back to London to recover and given an administrative post, but re-joined his battalion in France as soon as possible. He was wounded again at the Battle of Cambrai in the autumn of 1917 and died of his wounds in London on the 12th of February 1918. He is buried in Hampstead Cemetery.
Because of the Rothermere family’s long-standing connections to the United States and his conviction of the importance of the Anglo-American relationship, Viscount Rothermere gave an endowment of £20,000 to the University of Oxford to establish a Professorship of American History. It remains to this day a permanent memorial to his son.
The Professor’s inaugural lecture takes place each November. A volume collecting the lectures from 1922 to 2010 has been collated by the RAI and is available in the Vere Harmsworth Library and Queen's College Library.
There are two other memorial positions held in the Harmsworth name at the RAI, tenable for three years for scholars at an early career stage. The current Captain Hon. Harold Alfred Vyvyan St. George Harmsworth Graduate Scholar is Ella St George Carey. The Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth Junior Research Fellowship, held by Dr Alice Kelly in 2016-19, was a three-year memorial fellowship to the second son of the Viscount Rothermere, who was killed aged 21 in November 1916 whilst serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.