My main field of interest has been in the history of empires, both their rise and fall, and in global history - that is the history of the movement of peoples, goods, ideas and information across the world and across national boundaries.
My particular focus has been on the ways in which empires exploit, adapt to and are often disrupted by global movements over which they have little if any control. I have explored these connections in three recent books: 'After Tamerlane: the global history of empire' (Penguin, 2007); 'The Empire Project: the rise and fall of the British World System 1830-1970' (Cambridge University Press, 2009); and 'Unfinished Empire: the global expansion of Britain' (Penguin, 2012).
My current research is into the role of the great port cities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (including Montreal, New Orleans, Capetown, Calcutta, Singapore, Hong Kong) in shaping the growth not only of a new global economy, but also of the exchange of ideas and the different visions of modernity that accompanied the earlier phases of globalisation.
The Geopolitics of Decolonisation
Throughout four millennia of recorded history there has been no end to empire, but instead an endless succession of empires.
John Darwin won the Wolfson History Prize for his book After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires. In Unfinished Empire he examines the enormous influence of the British Empire.
Exits and Colonial Administrations
Exit Strategies and State Building
By examining the major challenges associated with the conclusion of international state-building operations and the requirements for the maintenance of peace in the period following exit, this book provides unique perspective on a critical ...
Orphans of Empire
Settlers and Expatriates
The British Empire gave rise to various new forms of British identity in the colonial world outside the Dominions. In cities and colonies, and in sovereign states subject to more informal pressures such as Argentina or China, communities of Britons developed identities inflected by local ambitions and pressures. As a result they often found themselves at loggerheads with their diplomatic or colonial office minders, especially in the era of decolonisation. The impact of empire on metropolitan British identity is increasingly well documented; the evolution of dominions' nationalisms is likewise well known; but the new species of Britishness which attained their fullest form in the mid-twentieth century have received significantly less attention.
Settlers and Expatriates revisits the communities formed by these hundreds of thousands of Britons, as well as the passages home taken by some, and assesses their development, character, and legacy today. Scholars with established expertise in the history of each region explore the communalities that can be found across British communities in South, East and Southeast Asia, Egypt, and East and Southern Africa, and highlight the particularities that were also distinctive features of each British experience. These overseas Britons were sojourners and settlers; some survived in post-independent states, others were swept out quickly and moved on or back to an often uninterested metropolitan Britain. They have often been caricatured and demonized, but understanding them is important for an understanding of the states in which they lived, whose politics were at times a crucial part of British history and the history of migration and settlement.
Empire and Ethnicity
Nations and Nationalism
Historians and social scientists have typically assumed a conflictual or exploitative relationship between empire and ethnicity. On the one hand, empire might be seen (as perhaps Ernest Gellner saw it in Nations and Nationalism) as a superstructure of coercion to which a group of ethnic units were subject. On the other (according to an influential view), empire fabricated ethnicities (tribes or castes) to divide and rule. This article suggests that both of these views are too crude. In the British case at least (and in the modern history of empire, no generalisation that excludes the British case has much value), ‘imperial ethnicity’ was a much more subtle phenomenon. It existed ‘at home’ as one element in a more complex identity. It was a powerful force in British settler societies, where an indigenous identity could not be imagined. And, perhaps surprisingly, it was deeply attractive to some colonial elites in Asia and Africa – at least for a time.