Show/hide main menu

Richard Schofield

Richard Schofield

schofieldSenior Lecturer 


Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 1345

Department of Geography

Office: Bush House North East Wing, Room 5.11





After studying Geography and the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the University of Durham in the early 1980s, Richard Schofield spent a couple of years running an oriental bookshop in London, simultaneously writing up his Masters thesis on the Shatt al Arab (Iran-Iraq) dispute for publication. Thereafter, he collaborated with Gerald Blake in a major archival research project on Arabian Boundaries, the success of which allowed for the institution of Durham’s International Boundaries Research Unit in 1989. 

Richard then joined the SOAS Geography department part-time to help run its Geopolitics Research Centre. Most other time was spent in dusty government archives, either compiling lengthy and detailed documentary anthologies on Britain’s colonial boundaries or researching historical aspects of live boundary cases in International Law.  

Richard founded the highly-rated Geopolitics (and International Boundaries) journal in 1996 and took up a full-time post during 1997 in SOAS Geography to launch and convene the Masters programme in International Boundary Studies.  This survives at King’s in modified and expanded form to constitute Geography’s well-regarded Geopolitics, Territory and Security programme.   

Richard made the short hop down to the Strand in 2001 with the merger of the SOAS and King’s Geography departments.  In addition to convening the aforementioned Masters programme, he teaches a popular 2nd year undergraduate module – Territory, State and Nation.  Ten doctoral students have now successfully completed their theses under Richard’s supervision.  He is also currently Chair of the SSPP Postgraduate Taught (Masters) Examinations Board.

Richard continues to advise state governments, law and oil companies on contemporary territorial issues and frequently appears on the media to discuss such matters.  His publications were used as the base references in the settlement of the Iraq-Kuwait (1993) and Saudi Arabia-Yemen (2000) territorial disputes, while he made a decisive impact as an expert witness in the Abyei arbitration at the PCA during 2008-9. 

Richard’s major study Arabian Boundaries: New Documents, 1966-1975 was released in 2009-10 by Cambridge University Press in 18 volumes. In April 2013 he co-convened (with Volterra Fietta and the UK Law of the Sea Division) the inaugural London International Boundary Conference at the Royal Geographical Society.   Current research projects include The Unique Geopolitics of Island Sovereignty Disputes and Border Geographies: Historiography, Ethnography and Law

Research interests
  • Territorial policy in decolonisation
  • The unique geopolitics of island sovereignty dispute
  • Delimitation questions in complex territorial dispute settlement
  • Historiography in boundary and border geographies
  • Multi-disciplinarity and dispute settlement

Richard Schofield has long been interested in the treatment of international boundaries and territorial definition within political geography and the social sciences more generally, as reflected in his founding of the Geopolitics journal in 1996. He is a specialist in archival sources for the study of boundary and territorial disputes, particularly those of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, the regional focus of his research interests.

A fascination with the origins and establishment of international boundaries in the ex-colonial world is evident in much of his writings and research. Much of his work has constructed original, individual boundary and borderland histories from a variety of primary sources, typically the British government archives in Kew and St. Pancras – covering, most notably, the Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Saudi Arabia-Yemen and Saudi Arabia-United Emirates boundaries. Previous publications include: Evolution of the Shatt al Arab boundary dispute (1986); Kuwait and Iraq: historical claims and territorial disputes (1991, 1993, 2nd edition), Territorial foundations of the Gulf states ([ed.] 1994) and Arabian boundaries, new documents: 1966-1975 (2009).  

Recent research has examined:

  • Territorial policy in decolonisation: focusing on Arabia and the Persian Gulf post-1968, following Britain’s announcement to leave the region as protecting power.  Outputs include the CUP documentary collection, an article in the Journal of Arabian Studies and 2 further, forthcoming articles.
  • Delimitation questions in complex territorial dispute settlement: this has critiqued the historical delimitation process in a variety of challenging contexts. Outputs include a book chapter on the Nineteenth-century European project to map and narrow the Perso-Ottoman frontier and an article in the Journal of Historical Geography.  Continuing such themes was his applied research and expert testimony on Britain’s imperial boundary making before the PCA’s Abyei Arbitration Tribunal during 2008/9 – a subject he is reflecting upon in an article currently being penned and which was the subject of recent talks and papers at the RGS and ILA.
  • The unique geopolitics of island sovereignty disputes: the subject of a small, current research project at King’s but one that will hopefully set a marker for future bigger ones, this examines the unique attributes of this fascinating set of disputes – their practicalities and politics, if you like.  It builds on my published outputs on island disputes in the Persian Gulf but extends to other areas such as East Asia and the Caribbean, concluding that states have always behaved badly over islands, or at least got away with what they could do.
  • Historiography in boundary and border geographies: Whatever the recent strides made by the critical border studies project in Geography and Geopolitics, there is clearly much more to say about the materialities of historic borderlands.  A recently-developed book project (with Carl Grundy-Warr of NUS) for IB Tauris, Boundary and border geographies: historiography and ethnography, explores this contention and others, due for release in 2015.  It is also the title of the workshop we convened jointly at Chiang Mai University in December 2013.      
PhD topics

The evolution of disputed international boundaries

The value of unravelling the complexities involved in the evolution of international boundaries and the materialities of their surrounding human borderlands has long been recognised as a contribution that geographers are best placed to make, a point made by Victor Prescott several decades ago and reinforced recently by Nick Megoran.

Imperial territorial policy and boundary-making

Take advantage of all of the wonderful primary resource collections that London has to offer, at Kew and St.Pancras, for starters.  There is still much to do to uncover the essential historiography of many contemporary boundaries, disputed or otherwise.  

Emerging territorialities at the state and sub-state level

A focus that was introduced with the borderland studies approach of the 1960s but which has been further developed and refined with the critical approaches to borders and boundaries that have appeared in the last one and a half decades.

Developing borderland geographies

There still remains a need for us as geographers to think about how boundaries work and how people have to encounter and negotiate them in an everyday manner.  This is a challenge that is being joined by many academics in contemporary geography

Territorial disputes as symbols of national and regional rivalries

An old chestnut but no less relevant or timely for that.  Crude state actions at the boundary or around disputed islands today are still best explained by the wider rivalries that characterise inter-state relationships.  

Political Geography/Geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf

My regional expertise, all enquiries welcome and not just on territorial themes! 

PhD students


Gordon Carson (jointly with Carl Grundy-Warr, NUS) The many spaces of the Sulu seascape: contested geopolitical imaginings and everyday political geographies (2011 - )

Submitted (awaiting examination)

Otilia Simkova  Central Europe, 1880-1914: forging a concept in time and space. 2013 (2007 - , p/t; scheduled for examination in February 2014) 


Dr Tareq BACONI Hamas – a transformative decade 2000-2010. 2014 

Dr Matthew TILLOTSON Archives of territory: survey-exploration and political-geographical knowledge in the borderlands of British Africa. 2014

Dr Fadhl AL MAGHAFI (SOAS). More than just a boundary dispute: the regional geopolitics of Saudi-Yemeni relations. 2013

Dr Naho MIRUMACHI (jointly with JA ALLAN). Study of conflict and cooperation in international transboundary river basins: the twins framework. 2010 

Dr Ana CASCAO (jointly with JA ALLAN). Political economy of water resources management and allocation in the Eastern Nile river basin. 2009

Dr Farzad Cyrus SHARIFI-YAZDI. Rationalising the territorial imperative: the conduct and politicisation of Arab-Iranian territorial disputes, 1957-1969. 2009

Dr Cheng-un (Stephen) LAM. Borderland cooperation in the Ferghana valley: the habitus in affinity, networks and conditions. 2008

Dr Sung-Jae CHOI (SOAS). The transformation of an island dispute: identifying the emergent realms of the Dok-do question, 2005 

Dr Zoe PRESTON (nee DUNCAN) (SOAS)[jointly with RW Bradnock]) The invention of the Iraqi state, 2002



Academic Director, MA in Geopolitics, Territory and Security

In its original form this ran as the MA in International Boundary Studies from 1997-2001 at SOAS.  It has been revised and expanded since its move to King’s Geography in 2001, though it still takes advantage of King’s central London location to bring in (not just other leading academics but) leading experts and practitioners in the world of boundary dispute resolution.  Leading international lawyers Rodman Bundy, Stephen Fietta and Robert Volterra were appointed Visiting Senior Lecturers in the Geography Department in 2012 in recognition of the outstanding service they have lent in the provision of teaching to this programme.  The MA in Geopolitics, Territory and Security remains essentially multidisciplinary and is now one of the most popular that the department offers. 

7SSG 5090 Boundaries, Sovereignty and the Territorial State (core to MA in GTS, 40 units) - Part theoretical/conceptual, part historiographic – this foundational module runs over 2 terms and explores where all the relevant disciplines in the social sciences and humanities (primarily Geography, Geopolitics, Political Studies and International Law) meet in the middle to cover territorial concerns.

7SSG 5091 Territorial and Boundary Dispute Resolution (20 units) - A hands-on approach initially introduces students to the means and modes by which states may peacefully solve, settle and manage disputes and the institutions responsible for their treatment.  It then takes a tour d’horizon of a series of cases and examples that all illustrate different dimensions of settlement, from a variety of perspectives.  Finally geographic evidence (mainly in the form of maps) is concentrated upon.

7SSG 5092 Geopolitics of Natural Resource Disputes (20 units) - This module reviews the role of natural resources in inter-state territorial contestation on land and sea, concentrating mainly (though not exclusively) on disputed reserves of oil and gas.  It looks at current international concerns in critical geopolitics (such as the Arctic) and new themes in law such as the question of natural resource rights for emerging states and non-state actors

7SSG5153 Critical Geographies of Terrorism [with Daanish Mustafa (lead)] (20 units) - Daanish challenges students to think critically in this (mainly) post-structuralist take on the phenomenon of terrorism.  It introduces students to discourse analysis, its strengths and limitations.  Richards adds a couple of lectures on critical geopolitics and the securitisation of state limits. 


5SSG2040 Territoriality, State and Nation: the roots of political geography(Term 2, 2nd year) - This introduces students to the inter-related concepts of territory, state and nations with a mix of relevant theory and exemplification.  It reviews how Geography as a discipline has critiqued territory and territorial limits, from the classical heyday of the early twentieth century right through to the contemporary critical project’s concentration on the verb form of bounding and bordering.  Students are encouraged to engage in a practical manner with contemporary instances of dispute in their coursework and presentations.

An introduction to critical geopolitics (with Ruth Craggs)

Impact, innovation and outreach

Richard Schofield has long been in demand in a variety of professional contexts because of his renowned expertise on territorial issues in the Middle East, his knowledge of primary resources for their study and his analysis of colonial (primarily Britain’s) boundary-making. His academic research has proved highly influential in the settlement of complex territorial and boundary disputes – including Iraq-Kuwait (1993), Saudi Arabia-Yemen (2000) and, most recently, Abyei [Sudan/Southern Sudan] (2009). 

With the Geopolitics Research Centre at SOAS, Richard advised on the Israel-Jordan boundary (1993-94).  Richard was also later appointed as Adviser to the Negotiations Support Unit of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on territorial questions. In an individual capacity he has formally advised in the following international legal cases (whether these have been for arbitration tribunals, judicial settlement at the ICJ or to assist the conduct of bilateral negotiations): Bahrain-Qatar (1991-2001); Saudi Arabia-Yemen (1992-2000); Ethiopia-Eritrea (turn of the noughties); Barbados-Trinidad and Tobago (early noughties) and Abyei (2008-9).   His acknowledged strength is in unpicking the origins and evolution of territorial limits in a novel, original and critical manner.  

He played an influential role in the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Abyei case, where he served as an expert before the tribunal, submitting a report and defending it under cross-examination before the tribunal. In its Final Award of July 2009, the tribunal wholly referenced its definition of delimitation in the applied context of the case to Richard’s research and testimony.  For the REF 2014, Geography built one of its 4 Impact Case Studies around this contribution.

Finally, Richard frequently appears on the media to talks about contemporary international boundaries. He frequently visits the Gulf region to give public lectures (such as in Qatar during February 2013) or to advise Foreign Ministries on territorial matters. He has also twice advised BP on complex territorial and resource challenges in the Middle East in the last decade. 


For a full list of Richard's publications, please see his research profile.

Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2018 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454