Department of History

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Sascha Auerbach

Lecturer in Modern British and Colonial History, Faculty of Arts



I am a historian of modern Britain and the British Empire in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. I was born in London, but did my degrees in the U.S. at Oberlin College (B.A.) and Emory University (M.A.,Ph.D.). Before coming to Nottingham, I held full-time posts in both the U.S. and Canada, most recently at the University of Northern British Columbia. In 2011, I was a Fulbright research scholar at King's College London (Law), and in spring 2016, I was a visiting research fellow at University College London's Institute of Advanced Studies.

Expertise Summary

I am primarily a cultural historian, with a particular interest in the interaction between individual identity, structures of the state, and ideas about race and gender in the final decades of the nineteenth century and the initial decades of the twentieth. My topics of study range from the history of local courtrooms in London's East End to indentured labour in South African gold mines and the sugar plantations of British Guiana. I am currently working on two major research projects. The first focuses on the "police courts" of London and how their daily operation and public portrayals combined to create a unique cultural milieu in local courtrooms. My second major research project examines migration and indentured labour in the British Empire, and its relationship to ideas about race, the origins of human rights and articulations of "justice" in British domestic and imperial society.

I can supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students with research interests in the following areas:

  • Modern Britain (esp. cultural and social history), 1870-1930
  • Race and migration in the British Empire
  • Legal culture and gender in urban Britain
  • Chinese and Indian Labour Diasporas in the Nineteenth Century

I am currently supervising two Ph.D. theses:

Matthew Kidd, "Meccas of Liberalism, Meccas of Labour?: Class and Politics in England, 1873-1918"

Freddie Stephenson (IAPS), "The Civic and Medical Topography of Hong Kong and Shanghai, 1857-1919" (provisional title)

I expect to be on research leave in the spring of 2020.

Teaching Summary

I currently teach modules on the history of the British Empire in the nineteenth century, the social and cultural history of Britain during the First World War and on the history of law, vice, and… read more

Research Summary

My current research focuses on two particular areas, the history of race and migration in Britain and the British Empire, and the history of gender, class and legal culture in London.

My current book manuscript, for which the working title is Armed with Sword and Scales: Summary Justice and Courtroom Culture in Modern London, explores the legal, social, and cultural dimensions of local courtrooms in metropolitan Britain from roughly 1880-1925. In this project, I employ an interdisciplinary methodology in conjunction with a wide array of primary sources to examine the roles of the London Police Courts in local communities and the wider legal culture of the nation. The Police Courts were the most ubiquitous and prolific legal venues in Britain, carried out a vast spectrum of official and unofficial functions, and served as the courts of first instance for the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in the Metropolis. They were also observed and reported on extensively by both the local and national press. The police courts played central roles in the legal life of London, and they have appeared innumerable times in fiction, journalism, social investigation, memoirs, and classic historical works--from Dickens to Richard Hoggarth's The Uses of Literacy--but they have never received a sustained scholarly investigation. Sword and Scales, by addressing this lacuna, will illuminate the reciprocal relationship between legal forums, social relations, and culture. It will also be the first book to focus on the courtroom itself as a semi-autonomous locale for the dissemination and modification of social and cultural norms. Finally, it will deepen our historical understanding of how the tensions between individual liberty, public welfare, and an increasingly bureaucratic and interventionist state played out on the cusp of the twentieth century. This project has been funded by the US-UK Fulbright Association, and by both a Standard Research Grant and an Insight Grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Recent Publications

I currently teach modules on the history of the British Empire in the nineteenth century, the social and cultural history of Britain during the First World War and on the history of law, vice, and morality in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century through the early interwar period. At the postgraduate level, I offer seminars on postcolonial theory and the role of race, immigration and imperialism in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain. In addition, I contribute to the department's' team-taught undergraduate modules.

Past Research

My published scholarship has focused on race and immigration in British and British imperial society, and on how class and gender influenced the daily implementation of law in Britain. My first book, Race, Law, and "the Chinese Puzzle" in Imperial Britain, was published in 2009. My research articles have also appeared in the Journal of British Studies, The Historian, the Journal of Social History, and Comparative Studies in Society and History. My most recent article, published in Law and History Review, received Honorable Mention for the 2016 Sutherland Prize from the American Society for Legal History.

Future Research

My next major project will examine work, protest, and ideology the British Empire, with a particular focus on immigrants (esp. Indian and Chinese) and indentured labour in British Guiana, Mauritius, and South Africa in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. This project will draw on the research into race and labour that I conducted for the The Chinese Puzzle and the models of culture, state and authority I have employed in my second manuscript, Sword and Scales. I am particularly interested in how indentured labourers and other immigrant cohorts employed "rights" language and concepts of justice in the context of British colonial rule. I hope that this new project will foster a cross-disciplinary discussion among historians, legal scholars, political scientists, human rights advocates, and post-colonial theorists, all of whom share a common interest in the languages and practices of imperialism and the responses it evoked.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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