Professor Sujit Sivasundaram

Professor of World History
Fellow, Gonville and Caius College


My work is in world history, especially of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The first academic appointment I held was as a Research Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College (from 2001); I then served as a lecturer at the college for a few years as a College Teaching Officer, supervising across the span of the world history papers. Next, at the London School of Economics, I held a Lectureship in South Asian History. I arrived back in Cambridge in 2010 and was appointed Professor of World History in 2019. I recently directed the University's Centre of South Asian Studies.

I have held visiting fellowships in Paris, Singapore, Munich and Sydney. I was the Sackler Caird Fellow, 2015-7, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. In 2012, I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for History. In 2023, I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

My initial training at graduate level was in History and Philosophy of Science. My writing now engages with Imperial History, History of Science, Environmental History, Cultural History, History of Race, Indian Ocean History and Pacific Ocean History.

I gave the Royal Historical Society's Prothero Lecture in 2019 and the University of Edinburgh's Fennell Lecture in 2018. I regularly speak to public audiences and school audiences. In 2022, I gave a keynote at the University of Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka in the country's former war zone, and a Lady Margaret Lecture at Christ's College, Cambridge. In 2023, I will be giving keynotes at 'Worlds Apart: Futures of Global History' at the Weltmuseum in Vienna and 'Inventing the Human' at the University of Melbourne.


My new book Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire is an experiment in critically repopulating a long-standing label of Euro-Atlantic historiography, 'the age of revolutions', from the global oceanic South. It moves across a series of small seas in the Indian and Pacific oceans from c.1790 to c.1850, arguing that in these sites the age of revolutions was about Indigenous presence, conflict, assertion, resistance and organisation followed by counter-revolutionary British imperialism. It also centres small islands which have often been marginalised in broader narratives of world history.

I will continue to develop this work in oceanic history and across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, in a collaboration with Prof. Martin Dusinberre of the University of Zurich. Our funded research project is titled, 'North-South Engagements between Asia and the Southern Seas.' It seeks to recover a series of exchanges, migrations and modes of conflict between mainland Asia and the southern seas. This collaboration will see exchanges of students as well as online workshops.

After initial work on elephants in South Asia, I continue to work on histories of the human and the animal and one recent short think piece sought to provide a longer chronology of the inter-related histories of the covid-19 pandemic and the environmental crisis. This piece, 'The Animal, Human and the Prehistory of Covid-19', tracks this inter-relation by thinking with the pangolin. Relatedly, I also am interested in the future direction of world history and am writing on how to conceive of it in more materialist terms. This picks up on my recent piece, 'Materialities in the Making of World Histories' and will lead into a couple of papers on using environmental objects to organise world histories and also what a less 'global' and more 'Earthy' historiography might look like. It also represents an outworking of my writing in the history of science.

Though I grew up in war-time Sri Lanka, I was not physically affected by the conflict. I was born into a family which crossed the ethnic divides of the island and the national territories of Sri Lanka and India. For this reason, I was educated strictly in the 'Sinhala medium' until 1992. My Sri Lankan heritage has undoubtedly affected the broader research questions that I interrogate in my work. These include the status of differentiation, classification and territorialisation in global and imperial structures and the specific material and environmental contexts that shape such practices and structures. I will soon be launching a collaborative research project on the long urban history of the city of Colombo as a reflection on the pasts and futures of the global south city. This project was recently successful in the ERC Advanced Grant pathway and will run for five years, with three postdocs and two doctoral studentships and with work across the divide of academic and public history as well as art, visual studies and historiography.

I supervise MPhil and PhD students working in the broad field of world and imperial history and am especially interested in transregional projects. I have had the honour of supervising around twenty doctoral candidates in topics ranging from gender and factory labour in Ottoman Bursa and British Bombay in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the history of the Philippines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and from, Indo-Central Asian trade in the early modern era, and the intellectual history of Islam in the Indian ocean, to the history of language policy in twentieth-century Sri Lanka. Former students have taken up academic posts in various universities, including Edinburgh, Warwick and Kings College London in the UK and also in Germany, Portugal, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the US; they have also entered public service posts. They have won a string of major national, international and University prizes for their work. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss potential post-graduate research.

When I return to undergraduate teaching, in October 2023, I will co-convene, lecture and supervise on the 1A paper on the global eighteenth century (together with Melissa Calaresu, Renaud Morieux and Emma Spary) and the 1B paper on British worlds in the long nineteenth century (with Peter Mandler and Mike Joseph).

President, The Pacific Circle, a scholarly society for research on the history of knowledge in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Series co-editor for CUP's  'Cambridge Oceanic Histories' series (with Alison Bashford and David Armitage); series co-editor for Palgrave Macmillan's 'World Environmental History' series (with Vinita Damodaran, Rohan D'Souza, James Beattie). On the editorial board for Manchester University Press' long-established 'Studies in Imperialism' series. 

Syndic, Fitzwilliam Museum.

On the editorial boards of Past and Present; History Australia; Pakistan Journal of Historical Studies and other journals. Have served as Associate Editor of Journal of British Studies. 

Was co-editor of The Historical Journal over a four year term and continue to serve on the editorial board.

I was one of the authors of the RHS report and resource on racial and ethnic inequality in the UK drawing on a survey that generated in excess of 700 responses from historians across the UK and co-chaired the working group which produced the report. I also served on the Royal Historical Society Council.

Key Publications


Edited Collections

  • Editor, Focus section for Isis on 'Global histories of science' with own contribution titled, 'Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions and Theory' Isis, Vol. 101, 2010, pp.146-158. This forum includes essays by Marwa Elshakry, Shruti Kapila, Niel Safier and Helen Tilley.
  • Co-editor with Rohan Deb Roy, special issue, 'Nonhuman empires' in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol.35, 2015, pp.66-173, with own contribution titled, 'Imperial Transgressions: The Animal and Human in the Idea of Race.' This special issue includes essays by Alan Mikhail, Jagjeet Lally, Rebecca J. H. Woods and Etienne Benson

Some Articles

  • 'The Global and the Earthy: Taking the Planet Seriously as a Global Historian' in Stefanie Gänger and Jürgen Osterhammel eds. Rethinking Global History (Cambridge University Press).
  • With Samal Hemachandra, 'Historical Vistas on Sri Lanka's 2022 People's Uprising' forthcoming in History Workshop Journal, 2023.
Other writing