Dr Thomas Simpson

Research Fellow, Gonville and Caius College
Research Associate, 'Making Climate History'

Thomas Simpson's research lies at the intersection of imperial history, the history of South Asia (and its borderlands), the history of science, environmental history, and historical geography. It centres on colonial knowledge of space, environment, and people during the long nineteenth century, looking especially at how information was produced, communicated, and contested in 'field sciences' such as cartography and anthropology.

Having focused primarily on colonial India's frontier regions during his PhD and early postdoctoral career, Dr. Simpson's recent and ongoing research considers upland spaces and empires in modern Asia more broadly. From 2020 to 2024, he will work on the Leverhulme-funded project 'Making Climate History' in the Departments of Geography and Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, examining changing understandings of climate across various scientific disciplines and diverse sites around the globe from c.1780 to c.1980.


Tags & Themes



The Frontier in British India: Space, Science, and Power in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, DOI 10.1017/9781108879156)

Journal articles

‘Modern mountains from the Enlightenment to the Anthropocene’, The Historical Journal 62, 2 (2019), pp. 553-81 (DOI 10.1017/S0018246X18000341)

‘“Clean out of the map”: Knowing and doubting space at India’s high imperial frontiers’, History of Science 55, 1 (2017), pp. 3-36 (DOI 10.1177/0073275316686580)

‘Bordering and frontier-making in nineteenth-century British India’, The Historical Journal 58, 2 (2015), pp. 513-42 (DOI 10.1017/S0018246X14000296)

Book chapters

‘Cartography and empire from early modernity to postmodernity’, in Andrew Goss (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire (Abingdon: Routledge, forthcoming 2021)

‘Forgetting like a state in colonial north-east India’, in Mountstuart Elphinstone in South Asia: Pioneer of British Colonial Rule, ed. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (London: Hurst; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 223-47

‘Historicizing humans in colonial India’, in Historicizing Humans: Deep Time, Evolution and Race in Nineteenth-century British Sciences, ed. Efram Sera-Shriar (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), pp. 113-37

‘A fragmented gaze: Depictions of frontier tribes and the beginnings of colonial anthropology’, in Visual Histories of South Asia, ed. Marcus Banks and Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (New Delhi: Primus, 2018), pp. 73-92

Book reviews

‘Weather, Climate, and the Geographical Imagination: Placing Atmospheric Knowledges, edited by Martin Mahony and Samuel Randalls’, Journal of Historical Geography (forthcoming 2020)

‘Unearthing the Past to Forge the Future: Colin Mackenzie, the Early Colonial State, and the Comprehensive Survey of India, by Tobias Wolffhardt’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 21, 2 (2020) (muse.jhu.edu/article/761133)

‘Science Without Frontiers: Cosmopolitanism and National Interests in the World of Learning, 1870-1940, by Robert Fox’, English Historical Review 133, 563 (2018), pp. 996-8 (DOI 10.1093/ehr/cey195)

‘Welsh missionaries and British imperialism: The Empire of Clouds in north-east India, by Andrew J. May’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 28, 4 (2018), pp. 766-7 (DOI 10.1017/S1356186317000682)

‘After The Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century, by William Rankin’, Reviews in History (6 July, 2017) (www.reviews.history.ac.uk/review/2129)

‘New Histories of the Andaman Islands: Landscape, Place and Identity in the Bay of Bengal, 1790-2012, by Clare Anderson, Madhumita Mazumdar and Vishvajit Pandya’, Journal of Historical Geography 57 (2017), pp. 116-17 (DOI 10.1016/j.jhg.2016.08.012)

Geography, Technology and Instruments of Exploration, edited by Fraser MacDonald and Charles W.J. Withers’, British Journal for the History of Science 49, 3 (2016), pp. 494-6 (DOI 10.1017/S0007087416000832)