Dr Stephanie Mawson

Research Fellow, St. John's College
Stephanie Mawson

I am a junior research fellow at St. John's College, University of Cambridge and a specialist in early modern Southeast Asia. I completed my Bachelor and MPhil degrees at the University of Sydney before taking up a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to complete my PhD at the University of Cambridge. In 2018 I held the Marshall Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Studies before taking up my current fellowship at St. John's. My work has been published in leading historical journals including Past & Present and Ethnohistory and I have received a number of prestigious scholarships and prizes, including the Royal Historical Society Alexander Prize and the Dr. Robert F. Heizer Award from the American Society for Ethnohistory. 

Research Interests

My current book project, Fugitives, Apostates, and Rebels: The Limits of Spanish Empire in the Seventeenth Century Philippines is set within the dynamic world of the Philippine archipelago and intervenes into historiographical debates over the extent and pervasiveness of the colonial state by engaging with local assertions of resistance, power, and sovereignty in the face of European expansion. It demonstrates that those regions where colonial power was effectively established were far smaller and weaker than previously assumed. Despite the complexity of this archipelagic world, the traditional view has been that the fragmented nature of Philippine communities allowed the Spanish to easily conquer the archipelago without large-scale opposition. Such a view adopts uncritically the overstated claims to sovereignty made by Spanish chroniclers, conquistadors, and royal officials. In reality, as in other parts of the empire, Spanish power in the Philippines was limited to centres of control and spheres of influence, with large territories in the archipelago remaining outside both of these zones. While this was partially a result of the demographic limitations of the Spanish population, the territorial boundaries of Spanish sovereignty were also defined by the agency of Philippine communities.

I am also currently working on a second project focussing on empire building among the Spice Island Sultanates in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and particularly on the rise of Ternaten networks of influence within the Indonesian archipelago following anti-colonial rebellions against the Portuguese in 1570. This project seeks to understand the impact of these developments on the history of maritime Southeast Asia in the seventeenth century. 


Tags & Themes


St John's College
Cambridge CB2 1TP
United Kingdom


Key Publications

Stephanie Mawson, ‘The Deep Past of Precolonial Australia,’ The Historical Journal, (forthcoming)

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Convicts or Conquistadores: Spanish Soldiers in the Seventeenth Century Pacific,’ Past and Present, Vol. 232, No. 1 (2016), 87-125. (winner of the 2017 Alexander Prize from the Royal Historical Society)

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Philippine Indios in the Service of Empire: Indigenous Soldiers and Contingent Loyalty, 1600-1700,’ Ethnohistory, Vol. 63, No. 2 (2016), 381-413. (winner of the Dr. Robert F. Heizer Award for best ethnohistory article published in 2016, American Society for Ethnohistory)

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Rebellion and Mutiny in the Mariana Islands, 1680-1690,’ Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2015), 128-148.

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Unruly Plebeians and the Forzado System: Convict Transportation between New Spain and the Philippines during the Seventeenth Century,’ Revista de Indias, Vol. 73, No. 259 (2013), 693-730.



Joint Publications

Co-edited journal volume and introductory editorial: Sebestian Kroupa, Stephanie Mawson, and Dorit Brixius, ‘Science and Islands in Indo-Pacific Worlds,’ British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 51, Special Issue 4 (Science and Islands in Indo-Pacific Worlds), (2018), 541-558.