- Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor
Ph.D. Stanford University, 1998
I am a scholar of modern Britain and empire who has been dedicated to exploring the global dimensions of British studies and participating in scholarly and public conversations about Britain’s shifting status in the world. My research interests include decolonization, comparative colonialisms, legal history, urban identity, gender history, and the history of material culture. At the University of Washington, in addition to my full-time appointment in History, I also serve as an affiliate or adjunct faculty member in African Studies, the Center for West European Studies, the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department, Museology, the Program on the Built Environment, and South Asian Studies.
My two most important scholarly achievements to date have been my monographs, The Culture of Property (Chicago, 2004) and The Afterlife of Empire (Berkeley, 2012). My first book explored the legal and philosophical evolution of cultural property in Britain and its former empire. With my second book, I have moved into new chronological and geographical terrain. The Afterlife of Empire explores how decolonization transformed British society and the welfare state in the 1950s and 1960s. I argue that the collapse of empire was not just a military or diplomatic process, but also a deeply personal one that altered everyday life in Britain, restructuring daily routines, individual relationships, and social interactions. Using a wealth of recently declassified files from the National Archives, oral histories, court cases, press reports, social science writings, and photographs, The Afterlife of Empire seeks to recast the genealogy and geography of welfare by charting its unseen dependence on the end of empire. This book was awarded the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the American Historical Association and the Stansky Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies.
Recently, I have begun research for a new book project, tentatively titled Unsettled: Refugee Camps in Britain. This project explores the creation of camps in Britain after the Second World War aimed at the reception and resettlement of three populations: Hungarians in the 1950s, Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, and Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s. Through an examination of these camps – their material culture, their complex interaction with tens of thousands of British volunteers, and the rich oral and archival history of their residents – I hope to understand more fully the dynamics of how Britons understood their changing role in the world. Taken together, these camps illuminate the fragility of welfare, its imperial inheritances, and its uneven relationship to international and global transformations.
I have also published articles on tattooing in British Burma, the production of pigment and paint in British India, and interracial murder in South Asia. These themes and locales have all found their way into my course offerings. As a scholar and a teacher, I have approached the study of Europe through transnational circuits of culture and politics that extend from London to Lagos. My courses on European and transnational history speak to my evolving interests in the rise and collapse of empires, and the sources that historians use to interpret these phenomena. I routinely teach courses on twentieth-century European history and film, including a course on postwar history and film.
At the graduate level, I offer courses on British and imperial history, comparative colonialisms, comparative gender history, the history of social science, and the history of archives. I am also currently teaching our department’s introductory core course for all incoming graduate students, “Perspectives on History.”
The Afterlife of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).
Winner of the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the American Historical Association
Co-Winner of the Stansky Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies
"The Postcolonial Family? West African Children, Private Fostering, and the British State," Journal of Modern History 81.1 (2009): 87-121.
Winner of the Walter D. Love Article Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies
"Leaving Home: The Politics of Deportation in Postwar Britain," Journal of British Studies 48.4 (2008): 852-882.
"The Boot and the Spleen: When Was Murder Possible in British India?" Comparative Studies in Society and History 48.2 (2006): 463 - 494.
"Color Problems: Work, Pathology, and Perception in Modern Britain" International Labor and Working-Class History 68 (2005): 93 -111.
"The Place of Liberalism," Victorian Studies 48.1 (2005): 83 - 91.
"Indian Yellow: Making and Breaking the Imperial Palette," Journal of Material Culture 10 (2005): 197-214.
"Making Faces: Tattooed Women and Colonial Regimes" History Workshop Journal 59 (2005): 33-56.
The Culture of Property: The Crisis of Liberalism in Modern Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
"Radical Conservations: The Problem with the London Museum," Radical History Review 84 (2002): 43-76.
"Picturing Feminism, Selling Liberalism: The Case of the Disappearing Holbein," Gender and History11(1999): 145-163. Reprinted in Bettina Carbonell, ed., Museum Studies: An Anthology of Contexts (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).