Department of History

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Spencer Mawby

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts


Expertise Summary

My area of expertise is post-war British foreign and colonial policy. I have related interests in the theory, practice and history of diplomacy, crisis management, nationalism as a political ideology and the history of the Cold War. I am currently supervising PhD students working on British policy towards Libya prior to the 1969 revolution, the role of public diplomacy in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and the political career of Harold Macmillan.

Teaching Summary

My two undergraduate modules are:

Liberating Africa- This is a second year or part 1 module which examines the current literature on the end of empire in Africa. It encompasses topics such as the emergence of anti-colonial ideas in Africa, the history of war and conflict during the process of decolonization, the role of business and labour, the impact of the Cold War and the significance of racial politics.

Sues and the End of Empire- This is a Special Subject which focuses on an intensive study of the 1956 Suez Crisis during which Britain, France and Israel fought a short war against Egypt which ended in humiliation for the western powers. The module covers the origins of the conflict, the gradual emergence of the war plot and the aftermath of the fighting in terms of its impact on British imperialism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Students engage with a very wide range of primary source material including secret government documents and correspondence, memoirs and autobiographies, newsreel film, cartoons, newspapers and documentary film.

Research Summary

My most recent publication is a survey of the secondary literature on the end of the British empire entitled The Transformation and Decline of the British Empire which provides a broad-ranging and… read more

Recent Publications

I am on Study Leave during the first semester of 2017-2018.

Current Research

My most recent publication is a survey of the secondary literature on the end of the British empire entitled The Transformation and Decline of the British Empire which provides a broad-ranging and accessible introduction to the key debates and discussions about British decolonisation. Drawing on the very lively scholarship which has developed over the last quarter of a century, it offers both new students and established scholars a guide to the existing literature on key subjects including the rise of anticolonialism, the impact of empire on British politics and culture, the significance of migration, the wars and insurgencies which accompanied decolonisation and the role which capital and labour played in imperial decline. The book also considers the way in which the historiography develops through conversations and debates between scholars, the impact which present-day concerns have on historical writing, the significance of new documentary findings and the impact of theoretical debates.

My other academic interest is in the role which labour politics played in the process of decolonisation and in particular the relationship the British TUC established with emerging colonial unions. As I discovered when I conducted research into the activities of the Jamaican trade unionist Ferdinand Smith there is a Cold War dimension to this conflict which took institutional form in the international conflicts between the World Federation of Trade Unions and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. British Policy in Aden and the Protectorates 1955-67


I am keen to supervise postgraduate students with an interest in topics which relate to the 20th century history of the British empire. In geographical terms, proposals focusing either on the Middle East or the British Caribbean would be particularly welcome. On the question of broader thematic issues arising from the study of the late British empire, the role of national and international labour movements still requires much closer examination and I would particularly welcome proposals from students interested in studying the role of trade unions in decolonisation.


Conference papers:Containing Germany

Three Caribbean Communists and the Cold War, IHR, London, International History Seminar, May 2012

Mr. Smith Goes to Vienna: The Cold War in the Anglophone Caribbean, British International History Group, Glasgow, September 2011

Britain's Double Defeat in Aden: The Rural and Urban Counterinsurgency Campaign in South Arabia, War and Security Studies Seminar, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, May 2011

Retiring an Imperial Grandfather: Anglo-American Disputes in the British West Indies at the End of Empire, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Washington, Washington D.C., June 2009

Searching for the Other Castros: Anglo-American Relations and Political Leadership in the West Indies, Transatlantic Studies Association, University of Dundee, July 2008

Fighting in the Dark: Britain's Two Counter-Insurgency Campaigns in South Arabia, Research Workshop, University of Exeter, February 2008

The Road From Suez, OUDCE, Oxford, Day School on Britain and the Middle East 1914-1967 November 2007

Britain's Middle East Empire After Suez, Institute du Monde Anglophone, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III), October 2006

The Failed Forward Policy: British Imperialism in Southwest Arabia 1952-67 was presented to the British International History Group conference in September 2000.

'The US, Great Britain and the History of the Arabian Peninsula' [Discussant], Annual Conference of the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations, Lawrence (University of Kansas), June 2006

'The "Great Betrayal" and "the Big Lie": The Impact of the June 1967 War in Arabia', Cold War and Hot War in the Middle East 1967-1973, Cumberland Lodge (LSE), May 2006

'Out of Arabia: Transatlantic Relations and Britain's Withdrawal from the Middle East' Transatlantic Studies Association conference, Nottingham, July 2005

'Britain, America and Nasser 1952-1970' Transatlantic Studies Association conference, Dundee, July 2004

'The Cold War in Arabia 1955-70', British International Studies Association conference, Birmingham, December 2003

'Britain and Arab Nationalism 1945-71', Contemporary British History seminar series, Institute of Historical Research, London, January 2002.

'The Status of International History', College of Europe Summer School, Dubrovnik, September 2001

'Diplomacy, Imperialism and Warfare In Southwest Arabia During the Colonial Period', British International Studies Association conference, Bradford, December 2000

'The Failed Forward Policy: British Imperialism in Southwest Arabia 1952-67', British International History Group conference, UCW, Aberystwyth, September 2000

Public lectures

'The Road From Suez', Britain and the Middle East 1914-1967, OUDCE Day School, Oxford, November 2007

'The Radicalisation of South Arabian Politics: British Colonial Policies and the Origins of the PDRY' School of Oriental and African Studies, London, October 2000

Past Research

have conducted research on British foreign and colonial policy after 1945. My PhD was concerned with British attitudes towards the arming of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1999 my first monograph, Containing Germany, was published by Macmillan, before it turned into Palgrave. Having determined that the research field in which I had conducted my thesis was small and over-cultivated, I moved on to the study of British decolonization where I found a surprisingly fertile patch of academic territory in South Arabia. Routledge inherited my proposal for a book on the subject from Frank Cass and in 2005 they published British Policy in Aden and the Protectorates: Last Outpost of a Middle East Empire. Recently I have continued this world tour with some new research on British policy in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s and this led to the publication of a monograph entitled Ordering Independence: The End of Empire in the Anglophone Caribbean in 2012.

'Mr. Smith Goes to Vienna: Britain's Cold War in the Caribbean' Cold War History 13/4 (2013), 541-561

'Overwhelmed in a Very Small Place: The Wilson Government and the Crisis Over Anguilla' Twentieth Century British History 23/2 (2012), 246-274

'"Uncle Sam We Want Back We Land": Eric Williams and the Anglo-American Controversy over the Chaguaramas Naval Base', Diplomatic History 36/1 (2012), 119-145

'Orientalism and the Failure of British Policy in the Middle East: The Case of Aden', History: The Journal of the Historical Association 95/319 (2010), 332-353. With permission of both parties a French language version of this article appeared in Maghreb Machrek 204 (2010), 85-104.

'A Crisis of Empire: The Anglo-Ottoman Dispute over the Aden Frontier 1901-1905' Diplomacy and Statecraft 18/1 (2007), 27-52

'The Clandestine Defence of Empire: British Special Operations in Yemen 1951-64' National Intelligence and Security 17/3 (2002), 105-130

'Britain's Last Imperial Frontier: The Aden Protectorates 1952-59' Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 29/2 (2001), 75-100

Britain's Wars in Southwest Arabia 1955-67 Electronic Journal of International History in December 2000

From Distrust to Despair: Britain and the European Army 1950-54 European History Quarterly, 28/4 (1998), 487-513

'D├ętente Deferred: The Attlee Government, German Rearmament, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1950-51' Journal of Contemporary British History, 12/2 (1998), pp. 1-21.

Future Research

My future research will deal with surprisingly underdeveloped field of labour politics and the end of empire with a particular focus on the role of the British TUC and its affiliated unions.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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