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Richard Drayton was born in Guyana and grew up in Barbados. He was educated at Harvard, Oxford and wrote his PhD at Yale. From 1992-4 he was Junior Research Fellow at St Catharine's, Cambridge; 1994-8, Darby Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Lincoln College, Oxford; and 1998-2001, 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 and Fellow of Corpus Christi, and from 2009, the sixth Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College London. He has been Visiting Professor at Harvard, EHESS in Paris, CUNY in New York, and FU Berlin, and held visiting fellowships at CASS in Beijing, Sydney, Munich, and FU in Berlin. In 2001 he won the Forkosch Prize of the American Historical Association, in 2002 the Philip Leverhulme Prize, and in 2021 was awarded the Humboldt Prize in recognition of his "lifetime research achievements". In 2016 he received the Barbados Jubilee Honour in recognition of his service to Barbados in the United Kingdom.

Research interests and PhD supervision

  • How empires shape economy, society, politics, and culture at both their centres and peripheries
  • The entangled history of European empires and their impact on Europe's hinterlands
  • The British Empire from c. 1600 to its aftermaths, and its impact on the British isles
  • French expansion and its impact on economy and society, c. 1600-1850
  • The History of the Caribbean, in particular its intellectual life (both elite and ‘from below’) since 1800

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.

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.

For more details, please see his full research profile.



  •  Early modern global history; Atlantic slavery; Caribbean intellectual history;  Calypso and reggae as cultural formsGraduate:  Philosophy of History; the History of the British Empire; The transition to Capitalism; Global and Transnational History

Expertise and public engagement

Governance: Conseil Scientifique of the École Normale Superieure (2021); External Advisory Board of the Instituto de Ciências Sociais of the University of Lisbon (2015-18); Senior Jury of Institut Universitaire de France (2016-18); Chair of 2012 Panel on the Study of the Human Past, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.

Editorial Boards: Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, The Round Table: Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, World History Studies (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), and Third World Approaches to International Law

Book series: Co-Editor, Cambridge Imperial and Post-colonial Studies Series, Macmillan Palgrave

Other: Chair of Non-fiction jury, Bocas Literary Prize, 2012-13; External Academic Advisor, City University's enquiry into the role of wealth from Slavery in its endowment, 2020.

Drayton plays a significant role in Caribbean-British public life, in particular with the National Council of Barbadian Organisations. His research on Caribbean legal and constitutional history was cited in 2018 in the landmark judgment in the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago which struck down the criminalization of same-sex sexuality. He has been asked to brief outgoing High Commissioners to Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica over several years.

His public lectures for Gresham College include:

Selected Publications

'European Social History, a latecomer to the Global Turn?', forthcoming in Annales 2021, 76 (4)

Commonwealth History in the Twenty-First Century (London, 2020)

“Race, Culture and Class: European hegemony and global class formation, c. 1800-1950” in Jurgen Osterhammel, Christof Dejung, and David Motadel, eds. The Global Bourgeoisie (Princeton University Press, 2019)

(with David Motadel), ‘The Futures of Global History’, Journal of Global History, 2018, 13, pp. 1–21.

Whose Constitution? Law, Justice and History in the Caribbean (Port of Spain, 2016)