The Rothermere American Institute traces its origins to the late 1980s, when multiple faculties observed the increasing popularity of American topics among students. Members of the Faculties of History and Social Studies began to envisage a dedicated centre for the study of the United States. Formal planning began in 1991 with the establishment of a task-force chaired by Sir John Elliott, Regius Professor of Modern History.
Global developments gave the project added relevance and urgency. The opening of Eastern Europe promised increasing transatlantic exchange; simultaneously, Britain’s deepening involvement in Europe prompted concerns that the Anglo-American alliance might weaken, and the broader Atlantic community drift apart. It was this Atlanticist spirit that animated the project’s greatest supporters, the Harmsworth family and the Rhodes Trust.
The Harmsworth name had long been associated in Oxford. The Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professorship of American History, which has brought more than seventy distinguished historians to Oxford since 1922, was established by the 1st Viscount Rothermere in memory of his eldest son, who died in the First World War. The late Vere Harmsworth, 3rd Viscount Rothermere, was instrumental in the RAI’s founding, as were his sister, the late Esme, Dowager Countess of Cromer, energetic co-chair of the RAI Founding Council, and Vyvyan Harmsworth, LVO, Secretary of the Rothermere Foundation.
By 1993, the Harmsworth family and academic supporters had assembled a founding council of distinguished diplomats, businesspeople, and academic thinkers, which contributed substantially to the fundraising effort.