Professor Richard Drayton
Rhodes Professor of Imperial History
+44 (0)20 7848 1076
Department of History
King’s College London
London WC2R 2LS Biography
Richard Drayton was born in Guyana and grew up in Barbados, where he went to school at Harrison College. He left the Caribbean as a Barbados Scholar to Harvard University, going then to Yale, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Paul Kennedy and Frank Turner. He also spent two years as a graduate student at Balliol College, Oxford as the Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholar. In 1992 he first came to Cambridge as a Research Fellow of St Catharine's College, moving back to Oxford in 1994 to be Darby Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Lincoln College. After 1998, he was Associate Professor of British History at the University of Virginia. In 2001, he returned to Cambridge as University Lecturer in Imperial and extra-European History since 1500, and as Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Corpus Christi College. In 2002 he was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize for History
. He was Visiting Professor of History at Harvard University in Spring 2009. He came to King's as Rhodes Professor in 2009.
How empires shape economy, society, politics, and culture at both their centres and peripheries
How ideas and sensibility have a Weberian long durée, and how, reciprocally, material facts-- in particular nature, technology, and economy -- order culture and feeling
The British Empire (from Tudor expansion to decolonisation), and the impact of imperial expansion on the British isles
French expansion and its impact on economy and society (c. 1500-1850)
Global and transnational History, in particular Atlantic history
The History of the Caribbean, in particular its intellectual life (both elite and ‘from below’) since 1800
Anti-colonial movements in the Twentieth Century
Imperialism after Decolonisation, in particular the neo-imperial moment (since c. 1990)
After c. 1500 European imperial systems began to link together the human communities around the Atlantic basin, and ultimately in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, into one world society. This was a complex process, mediated by extraordinary violence, which reached its culmination c. 1750-1900, when new technologies allowed the command and exploitation of continental interiors. Its product was modern Europe and its postcolonial diasporic extensions in North America and Australasia, and their still unequal relationship with modern Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Professor Drayton’s research addresses this world historical process from several directions. In his earlier work he looked at the interactions of science, Christianity, political economy, and British expansion, and the emergence in the European Enlightenment of myths of Empires as engines of development and universal improvement. One dimension of this, he argued, was the rise of the idea of ‘scientific’ enlightened government in eighteenth-century France, and of the influence of this on British domestic and colonial ideas of enlightened reform after c. 1780, and in particular on the colonial patronage of science.
His former Cambridge doctoral students Gabriel Paquette, Pernille Roge, and Ulrike Hilleman have responded to this hypothesis about the 1750-1850 hinge between early and late modern history in important work, respectively, on enlightened reform in Spain, Portugal and Latin America (c. 1750-1850), on the impact of Physiocratic thought on the reinvention of France’s colonial system after 1763, and on the impact of Britain’s Asian empire on its knowledge of China. He himself decided to extend his work on French imperial history into a large project on the impact of colonial commerce and expansion on France (c. 1500-1850) which should be complete by 2012.
This project is postponed while he completes a history of the Caribbean for Penguin, which is both a new synoptic history of the region as based on sources in all four of its major languages, and an argument for its role as a theatre and agent in world history. He has other smaller projects on anticolonial movements (with a particular interest in Fenner Brockway, 1888-1988), on European imperialisms as connected collaborative enterprises, and on imperialism since decolonisation.
Richard Drayton (2011) 'Where Does the World Historian Write From? Objectivity, Moral Conscience and the Past and Present of Imperialism' JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY HISTORY, 46 (3), pp. 671-685. [Article in print Journal]
Richard Drayton (2010) 'West Indian Slavery and British Abolitionism, 1783-1807' JOURNAL OF IMPERIAL AND COMMONWEALTH HISTORY, 38 (1), pp. 170-171. [Book Review (Print)]
Richard Drayton (2008) 'The globalisation of France: Provincial cities and French expansion c. 1500–1800 ' History of European Ideas, 34 (4), pp. 424-430. [Article in print Journal]
Richard Drayton (2007) 'Maritime Networks and the Making of Knowledge', in Empire, The Sea and Global History: Britain's Maritime World, c.1760-c.1840 pp. 72-82. [Chapter]
Richard Drayton (2005) 'British Guiana, American Imperialism, and the Crisis of Independence', in Yet More Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain pp. ?-?. [Chapter]
Richard Drayton (2005) 'The strange late birth of the British Academy', in The Organization of Knowledge in Victorian Britain pp. ?-?
Richard Drayton (2005) 'Why do Empires Rise?', in Big Questions in History pp. ?-? [Chapter]
Richard Drayton (2002) ''The Collaboration of Labour: Slaves, Empires, and Globalizations in the Atlantic World, c. 1600-1850', in Globalisation In World History pp. 98-114 [Chapter]
Expertise and public engagement
Professor Drayton would welcome applications from research students interested in working on topics relating to:
Any aspect of the history of any European empire, or on the imperial experience of any region of the world, including Europe itself. He is comfortable supervising research in any period of modern history, and with sources and historiography in any major European language.
He has supervised graduate students for over a decade in Cambridge (2001-9), the University of Virginia (1998-2001), and Oxford (1994-8), many of whom have gone on to academic posts. He has supervised research on a wide range of topics including: British public opinion 's response to the East India Company; the role of the Free People of Colour in the slave societies of Trinidad and Dominica; the career of Archbishop Secker; the policing of British India; the environmental history of the British Empire; Imperial reform in Spain and its Atlantic colonies in the eighteenth century; the British intellectual response to China; Blacks and Asians in London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the cultural history of exotic fruit in early modern England; the global history of rubber; Curzon’s travel writing and the emergence of British geopolitical thought; Opium and Britain’s relationship with China, 1833 -1842; Opium and the colonial state in nineteenth-century Burma; the experience of Emancipation in Antigua and the forms of social control which followed slavery; the political thought of Sir William Petty; Slave religion in British Guiana; the Conservative Party’s response to West Indian immigration in the 1950s; Masks of Gender in Carnival and Calypso in Trinidad; Vichy Martinique and the Prehistory of Postcolonial Thought; the Black Power rebellion in Trinidad c. 1970, the politics and transculturation of British popular music in the 1970s; imperial themes in the political and economic thought of England in the 1690s; the Palestinian movement after 1967; the BBC and the British Caribbean in the 1950s; and the cultural politics of Ceylon after independence.
Professor Richard Drayton is Senior Research Associate of the Centre for World Environmental History of the University of Sussex. He was a member of the Academic Advisory Committee on the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. With Megan Vaughan he edits the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies series of Palgrave-Macmillan and he is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a member of the American Historical Association and the Association of Caribbean Historians. He served as External Examiner for the University of Bristol (2007-10). He is a co-convenor of the Imperial and World History seminar at the Insitute of Historical Research.
Drayton believes that it is important for historians to communicate with the wider public, and in particular to speak up where their work on the past has relevance to the present. He has appeared on BBC radio on 'Nightwaves' and 'In Our Time', has participated in public debates on Britain's imperial past and present, and has published op/ed pieces in the Guardian (including An Ethical Blank Cheque and Africa and the wealth of the West). He has been invited to give many distinguished lectures including “Hybrid time: The Incomplete Victories of the Present Over the Past”, Throckmorton Lecture at Lewis and Clark College (2007); ‘The Problem of the Hero in Caribbean History’, 21st Elsa Goveia Lecture, University of the West Indies (2004); and ‘What happens when two ways of knowing meet?’, the Elizabeth T. Kennan Lecture at Mount Holyoke College (2003).