Research themes

Race, Ethnicity and Migration 

Issues of race, ethnicity and (im)migration have in recent years come to the forefront of British, and global, politics. The histories of these issues and identities are deeply interconnected with those of empire. Our researchers are analysing the historical roots of contemporary tensions around race and migration, and are highlighting the magnitude of the contributions made to British, imperial and global society by Black, Asian, Latinx, and indigenous communities.  All Centre members analyse racial and ethnic identities and identifications, and the changing meanings of race and ethnicity as part of their research, but some have made this a core focus of their work, whilst others take a more intersectional approach. Ryan Hanley researches both the historic black presence in Britain and the role of race in British society, especially in relation to transatlantic slavery and its abolition. His current research project on slavery and the British working class resituates the history of British popular radicalism within its imperial and global contexts, to trace the origins of anti-immigration rhetoric, working-class backlashes against metropolitan elites, and racial populism, uncovering the deep roots of contemporary British political culture. Switching to African histories of slavery, Richard Anderson explores the social and cultural history of freed slaves settled in and around Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, highlighting how racial and ethnic identities developed. Looking at the Americas, Silvia Espelt Bombin undertakes ethnohistorical research on indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon and Guianas, looking at how imperial policies were shaped by indigenous agency.  Focusing on histories of migration, Miguel Hernandez’ current research focuses on examining how white supremacist and nativist organizations perceived and interacted with Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens in the period before the 1930s. Gajendra Singh is researching communities of migrant Indian labourers across the Pacific and their connection to revolutionary movements at home and abroad, showing how the global web of Empire that was for Britain a source of strength could also be the cause of colonial insurrection; that bodies and ideas could migrate to spaces they were not supposed to. James Mark is currently involved in researching histories of whiteness in Eastern Europe, writing the regional into global (post-)imperial formations. A cohort of our PhD students are also exploring how ideas of race shaped the politics and cultures of empire in the early twentieth century. Stuart Mole utilises unprecedented access to Commonwealth Secretariat archives to investigate the Commonwealth’s negotiations with apartheid South Africa, whilst Ghee Bowman’s doctoral research focused on recovering the experiences of Muslim Indian soldiers who served in Britain and Europe during the Second World War. Charlotte Kelsted meanwhile researches the multiple intimate colonialisms that British women were involved with in Mandate Palestine, showing how these were shaped by women’s understandings of Christian, Arab and Jewish racial and gender identities.