Department of History

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Onni Gust

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts



I am a cultural and intellectual historian of the British Empire in the 'long' eighteenth century (c. 1730-1830). My work addresses questions of belonging and identity in the eighteenth-century British empire, with a particular interest in the development of ideas of race and gender.

I have taught History and Gender Studies at University College London, the London School of Economics, Amherst College, Smith College, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where I was a Mellon post-doctoral fellow at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. I hold a PhD from University College London and a MA in Asian and African History from the School of Oriental and African Studies.

In addition to academic teaching and researching, I have worked with artists, school teachers, and youth groups to think creatively about the relationship between history and identity. Between 2017 and 2018 I worked with Dr Michael McMillan, who looked at the relationship between trauma and belonging as Leverhulme Artist in Residence. I blog on the history of colonialism and sexuality at Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality. and History Workshop Online and have written on pedagogy in Higher Education, including for the Guardian Higher Education Network.

Expertise Summary

I am a historian of the British Empire in the long eighteenth century (c.1730-1830), with a particular research interest in the connections between India, England, Scotland and France in the long eighteenth century. Building on "New Imperial" history, I am invested in bringing insights from feminist, queer and post-colonial theory to think historically about imperial networks and global history. My work examines identity formation in relationship to imperial space and the role of new forms of racism and sexism during this period in shaping identity.

My current research examines ideas of belonging and whiteness in elite, British-imperial discourse, focusing particularly on writers closely affiliated with the Scottish Enlightenment. By reading across genres, including published works of philosophy and history, as well as novels and poetry, and unpublished letters and diaries, I show how a discourse of belonging changed in relationship to British imperial expansion.

Teaching Summary

I teach a third-year option, 'Travel writing and British imperial expansion', a second-year option, 'Rule and Resistance in Colonial India' (in collaboration with Manuscripts and Special… read more

Research Summary

My current research examines the discourse of 'home' and 'exile' in Enlightenment thought, and its role in British imperial expansion during the 'long' eighteenth century. European imperial expansion… read more

Selected Publications

  • ONNI GUST, 2018. 'The perilous territory of not belonging': exile and empire in Sir James Mackintosh's letters from Bombay, c.1804-1811 History Workshop Journal. 86, (In Press.)
  • ONNI GUST, 2017. Mobility, gender and empire in Maria Graham's Journal of a Residence in India (1812) Gender and History. 29(2), 273-291
  • ONNI GUST, 2017. What is Radical History Now? History Workshop Journal. 83(1), 230-240
  • Threads of Empire: rule and resistance in colonial India 2017. At: Weston Gallery, University of Nottingham01/01/1900 00:00:00-01/01/1900 00:00:00.

I welcome applications from potential students interested in researching on areas, including:

  • British imperial history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries;
  • Colonial history, especially in relationship to India;
  • Histories of gender and sexuality, including trans and non-binary histories;
  • Histories of race, racism, and difference;
  • Histories of the body;
  • The cultural and intellectual history of the Scottish Enlightenment;
  • Histories of identity and belonging.

I currently co-supervise the following PhD students:

David Robinson, 'Orientalism or Meridionism? British Identity Formation through Travel Writing on India and Italy, 1760-1860) (with Ross Balzaretti and Sharon Ouditt)

Darcie Mawby, 'Gender and Identity Conflicts in Female Travel Accounts of the Crimean War' (with Sarah Badcock)

Matthew Carter, 'Animals and Empire: Conceptions of Englishness and Otherness in Popular Natural History, 1780-1860' (with Ross Balzaretti and Charles Watkins)

I teach a third-year option, 'Travel writing and British imperial expansion', a second-year option, 'Rule and Resistance in Colonial India' (in collaboration with Manuscripts and Special Collections). My special subject, "Imperial Eyes: Race, Gender and Empire in Enlightenment Thought" explores the role of empire and ideas of race and gender in the eighteenth-century enlightenment, challenging the traditional idea of "the Enlightenment" as a solely European phenomenon that was orchestrated exclusively by white, male elites for the benefit of "civilization."

I teach on the following BA team-taught courses:

  • Learning History
  • Roads to Modernity
  • Contemporary World
  • Doing History
  • Dissertation Module (convenor)

I also teach on the following MA courses:

  • Englishness and Identity
  • (Mis)perceptions of the Other (convenor)
  • Empire and Imperialisms
  • National Memory and Social Change in Europe.

Current Research

My current research examines the discourse of 'home' and 'exile' in Enlightenment thought, and its role in British imperial expansion during the 'long' eighteenth century. European imperial expansion radically increased population mobility, as new trade routes, war, disease, and the expropriation of land and labour displaced people across the world. By the eighteenth century, millions of people were on the move, from enslaved Africans trafficked across the Atlantic, to Europeans of all ranks looking for new economic opportunities in Empire. In this context of mass movement, intellectual ideas of what it meant to feel emotional attachment to people and places - referred to here as 'belonging' - informed imperial debates and the construction of difference.

My book project, Unhomely Empire: Whiteness and Belonging from the Scottish Enlightenment to Liberal Imperialism (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming) maps the consolidation of an elite discourse of 'home' and 'exile' through three inter-related case studies: the debate over slavery and abolition in the Caribbean; the debate over Scottish Highland emigration to North America; and, discussions over how to raise white girls in colonial India. These debates took place across different genres, including philosophy, poetry, political pamphlets, travel writing, letters and diaries. By focusing on the movement of these ideas across the published and unpublished work of a British-imperial literary network, Unhomely Empire argues that the configuration of belonging in the 'long' eighteenth century played a key role in determining who could belong to nation, civilization, and humanity.

Future Research

I am developing a new research project looking at the relationship between colonialism and the hardening of binary sex categorization in social, cultural and legal life, as part of a wider impetus towards certainty and authenticity during this period.

My project begins with the case of a Angolan person, displayed in London as a 'hermaphrodite' in the 1740s, whose presence provided the catalyst for a number of 'scientific' investigations into what we would today call 'differences of sex development.' Starting with newspaper reports, essays in the Philosophical Transactions and medical treatises, my aim is partly to trace the life history and origins of this person back to their African context.

I am also interested in situating this discussion over sex differentiation in the context of related discussions over authenticity and human capacities that were taking place during the same period. To do so, I focus on two further case studies: the parrot, as a symbol of mimicry; and, the forger, as sign of inauthenticity.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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