John Freeman

PhD in Early Modern Baltic and Atlantic History

I studied for my BA at Cambridge University before moving to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London for my master’s degree. Here I wrote my thesis on the use of history in Polish and Lithuanian diplomatic, national discourse surrounding the dispute at the League of Nations over Vilnius in the early 1920s. After working and volunteering in museums and public engagement in history, I started my PhD in Cambridge in 2018. During my studies, my interests have moved from 20th Century national histories in Eastern Europe to the way Eastern European polities and societies have interacted with the wider world in the Early Modern period.

My current research revolves around the Duchy of Courland, a vassal of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the 17th Century colonial ambitions of its dukes in Tobago and on the River Gambia. Through this study, I seek to investigate how weak, ‘small-power’ polities approached colonialism and how those in Eastern Europe interacted with the world beyond Europe. I am also interested in the relationships and networks formed across the Baltic and Atlantic, particularly concerning the exchange of expertise, goods, and knowledge. An additional part of my work is comparing strategies of dominance present in the Eastern Baltic, the Caribbean and Western Africa, as well as the interaction of these seemingly disparate contexts.

I supervise in Part I Paper 21: Empires and World History from the Fifteenth Century to 1914. I have also taught a seminar and provided a lecture for the topic of oceans as part of the History Argument and Practice paper. 


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