ONE of the most influential English language writers on Italian history and a senior research fellow at All Souls College has died aged 97.

Dennis Mack Smith, who for 25 years leading to his retirement was a fellow of the Oxford college, is remembered for his ability to deliver impeccably researched historical information while retaining a readability among the general reader.

His first book, Cavour and Garibaldi 1860: A Study in Political Conflict, overturned traditional interpretations of the Risorgimento, the process by which Italy became a nation-state in 1861.

Cambridge University ranked Professor Mack Smith, who had been described as ‘the critical conscience of Italian history’, as one of his generation’s most respected historians.

Prof Mack Smith was a tax inspector’s son born in Hampstead, London, on March 3, 1920.

He taught himself the Italian language and, after graduating from Cambridge, spent the final years of the Second World War working for the Government at the Cabinet Office in London.

It was in 1946 when he first visited Italy.

While there he met renowned philosopher Benedetto Croce.

The pair had much to discuss, including their wildly disparate views on Benito Mussolini, who Prof Mack Smith would go on to write about in 1981.

Prof Mack Smith was based at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, from 1947 to 1962.

After his time there he became a senior research fellow at All Souls, where he stayed until his retirement in 1987, when he became an Emeritus fellow.

Italy honoured him in 1996 by making him a Commander of the Order of Merit, one of the state’s highest decorations.

Prof Mack Smith would go on to be made an honorary fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and of Peterhouse.

He challenged some of the myths that had built up around the Risorgimento, in part due to fellow historian George Macaulay Trevelyan.

Mr Trevelyan celebrated the Risorgimento as an example of liberal idealism and patriotism coming together.

Prof Mack Smith, however, viewed the Risorgimento in a very different light, claiming it was the result of strong political and personal rivalries in the nation.

Other notable works Mr Mack Smith published during his lifetime include Italy: A Modern History, first penned in 1958, revised in 1986, and finally completely revised and reprinted as Modern Italy: A Political History in 1997.

Prof Mack Smith, who died on July 11, was married to Catharine Stevenson and had two daughters, Sophie and Jacintha.