World History

Research theme

Cambridge has long been an international centre for research and study in World History. Our research interests, spanning five centuries, stretch from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. Social, economic, political, and intellectual approaches are all represented, with cross-cutting thematic interests in colonialism and imperialism, collaboration and resistance, diaspora and migration, gender, religion, labour, science, and the environment.

Our work in this area

World history at Cambridge proceeds on complementary scales. First, it is characterised by a deep commitment to engagement with specific places and contexts. We have expertise in South Asian, Southeast and East Asian, Pacific, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and Latin American histories. Second, it compares and connects the history of regions and empires through convergence and divergence over 500 years to the present.

Cambridge World historians are concerned with world-historical processes, from imperial intrusion, collaboration, and resistance, to the making of modern ideologies, sovereignties, postcolonial nationalisms and identities, as well as  development and globalization. World History faculty seek to understand the historical experience of peoples in the global South on their own terms and through their own sources and languages.

World history at Cambridge can trace its origins back decades to scholars interested in European expansion and the evolution of the British Commonwealth. Our two named professorships – The Vere Harmsworth Chair of Imperial and Naval History and the Smuts Chair of Commonwealth history – were founded, respectively, after the first and second world wars. Over the last 60 years, world history has moved in new directions, embracing and pioneering research in area studies, as well as in transnational and global history. We seek to continue to play a leading role in world history and to respond to fresh challenges.

The commitment of Cambridge world historians to area studies is reflected in the strong links that faculty have to the South Asian Studies Centre, the African Studies Centre, and the Latin American Studies Centre. We also have close links with the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

 Currently, Cambridge World History historians are pursuing major projects in areas such migration, diaspora, oceans, religions, gender, economic development, environment, science, and intellectual thought.

The long-running World History Seminar meets throughout the academic year and attracts post-graduate researchers and scholars in many of these fields. We also host more specialised seminars in Global Intellectual History and African Economic History, as well as collaborating with Early Modern History. Postgraduate students convene their own training workshop, meeting just prior to the World History Seminar.

Recent research events organised by Cambridge World historians include the African Studies UK Conference which attracted over 800 delegates and more than 200 panels (2016); `Gender and World History’ (2017); `The Commonwealth Effect’ (2018); the Pacific Historical Association Conference, attended by 500 delegates (2018);  `Gandhi at 150’ (2019); `Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Space and Place (2019); and the `Global Carl Schmitt’ (2019).

People

Page credits & information

Banner image: adapted by Rachel Leow from 

 Claus Homfeld, "Zerbrochene Welt" [The Broken World] (1970)

(original image here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Homfeld,_Zerbrochene_Welt.jpg)