Department of History

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Sascha Auerbach

Associate Professor of History, Faculty of Arts



I am a historian of race, the state, and imperialism in the 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. I recently completed a year-long research sabbatical, supported by the Leverhulme Foundation. In the past, my work has also been supported by the US-UK Fulbright Commission, the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Isaac Manasseh Meyer Fellowship (National University of Singapore). I am currently the Director of the Nottingham Institute for the Study of Slavery (ISOS), and the co-editor of the Cambridge University Press book series, "Histories of Slavery and its Global Legacies."

Expertise Summary

My research decentres the history of the modern state in the nineteenth century and critically reinterprets the dynamics of race, gender and governance in a global context. This research encompasses a broad geographic remit (Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, Australia, South Africa, the Indian Ocean World, and Southeast Asia) and is underpinned by more than two decades of research in global archives. In the broadest frame, through a combination of scholarship, grant capture, international collaborations and public engagement, I am hoping to accomplish three primary goals. Through my scholarship, I am trying to reconcile the foundational approaches of political, economic and social histories of governance, colonialism, and labour with the newer veins of work that focus on culture, identity and the agency of subaltern cohorts. Through my international collaborations and grant capture, my aim is to critically assess the many connections, both conceptual and concrete, that bridged the histories of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds in the nineteenth century. In terms of public engagement, my goal is to foster a rethinking of the modern state and its deep embedding in the global history of race, migration, and colonial dynamics of rule and resistance.

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

  • Late-stage slavery and its legacies in the nineteenth century
  • Chinese and Indian Labour Diasporas in the Nineteenth Century
  • Race and migration in the Global South
  • Cultures of imperialism and colonialism (inc. science and medicine)

I am currently supervising the following Ph.D. theses:

Elizabeth Egan (w/Prof. David Lambert, Warwick), "Constructing and Contesting Creole Whiteness in Jamaica, 1865-1938"

James Hulbert (w/ Prof. David Lambert, Warwick and Dr. Alex Korb, Leicester), "Before High Imperialism: Exploring the trans-imperial nature of British colonial violence in Australia, India and South Africa, 1857-1884"

I expect to be on research leave in the autumn of 2023.

Teaching Summary

Over the past twenty years, I have offered a wide array of modules at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. These have ranged from general histories of modern Europe to MA seminars on… read more

Research Summary

Informed by the paradigms of New Imperial History, postcolonial theory, cultural history, legal theory and Subaltern Studies, my work explores how everyday encounters between individuals and the… read more

Recent Publications

Over the past twenty years, I have offered a wide array of modules at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. These have ranged from general histories of modern Europe to MA seminars on postcolonial theory. Currently, my teaching focuses on the history and historiography of imperialism and colonialism in a global context. I am particularly interested in late-stage slavery and its legacies, the various ways by which colonialism was contested and resisted, how the colonial encounter reshaped the theories and practices of the modern state, and the history of medicine and science in the colonial context.

Current Research

Informed by the paradigms of New Imperial History, postcolonial theory, cultural history, legal theory and Subaltern Studies, my work explores how everyday encounters between individuals and the state operated as a contested arena for the shaping of social categories (e.g. race, class, and gender), power relations, and both the conceptual (e.g. justice, rights) and concrete (e.g. laws, policies, practices) elements of the modern state. I focus especially on how the everyday engagement of marginalized groups (e.g. enslaved men and women, working-class Londoners, indentured Indian and Chinese labourers) with agents and institutions of the state fundamentally reshaped the relationship between law, culture, politics, and individual agency. This research pays particular attention to the continuities and contrasts between the metropolitan and colonial contexts, and to how the histories of modern Europe and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds were mutually constituted. My most recent monograph, The Overseer State: Slavery, Indenture and Governance in the British Empire, 1812-1914, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, with publication expected in winter 2024. The book will offer new perspectives on the historical relationship between Europe and the Global South, on how modern structures of governance evolved to allow the former's domination of the latter, and on the many modes of response and resistance to colonialism that developed in consequence. The history of science and the history of medicine and public health are key aspects of this project, since scientific and medical expertise and institutions operated as crucial spaces of contest between state agents, employers, and African-Caribbean, Indian, and Chinese laborers.

Past Research

My two previous monographs focused on the legal and cultural history of colonialism and governance and on the evolution of responses to them among a diverse cohort of historical actors. My first monograph, Race, Law, and "The Chinese Puzzle" in Imperial Britain (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009; trade paperback, 2013), examines race, migration and labour in London, South Africa and Australia c. 1890-1924. The primary focus is on how the cultural dimensions of race were translated into concrete policy, the mechanisms by which both (i.e. ideas and policies) moved between different regions, and their influence on how groups and individuals interacted with local state agents. The Chinese Puzzle is widely cited and has been positively reviewed in the American Historical Review, Twentieth Century British History, Reviews in History (IHR) and in several other major journals. My second monograph, Armed with Sword and Scales: Law, Culture, and Local Courtrooms in Modern London, 1860-1913, was published in 2021 by Cambridge University Press. It introduces a new analytical model, "courtroom culture," which draws on ideas from history, law, anthropology, and cultural theory to re-assess the relationship between legal institutions and metropolitan culture and society in modern Britain. Using this model and a wealth of previously unexamined archival sources, I argue that local courtrooms became semi-autonomous sites for contesting morality and the boundaries of government authority. In 2023, my newest article, "Of Rights and Riots: Indenture and (Mis)Rule in the Late Nineteenth-Century British Caribbean," recently appeared in the English Historical Review. In addition, I have published research articles in a number of journals, including Law and History Review, 20th Century British History, the Journal of British Studies, The Historian, the Journal of Social History, and Comparative Studies in Society and History. My article in Law and History Review received Honorable Mention for the 2016 Sutherland Prize from the American Society for Legal History.

Future Research

My current research combines the previous work I have conducted on slavery, imperialism, and law with my ongoing interest in race and the historical relationship between Europe and the Global South. A new monograph, tentatively titled Maladies of Human Nature, will decentre the origins of public health in the British World geographically, chronologically, and ideologically. It will do so by exploring how the first concerted state interventions into workers' health and the identification of health as a "public" concern emerged from the merger of military and civilian governance in the slave-plantation colonies of the British Empire, c. 1780-1840. In doing so, the project will revise our understanding of the legacies of enslavement and significantly advance efforts to "decolonize" the history of public health.

My second new project, The Savage Imperial Aesthetic, will explore the nineteenth-century politics of aesthetic and scientific imaginaries in the global context. In this research, I examine how European artists, natural scientists, government officials, explorers, cartographers, and travel writers employed their depictions of individuals, animals, buildings, and landscapes as epistemological-political vehicles for expressing authority over the peoples of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. A key aspect of this research is investigating the agency of subalterns through their own artistic depictions; their manipulation of Europeans' practices of research, recording, measurement and depiction; and their self-conscious performance of their putative status as "natives." Non-human agency and the ability of everyday objects imported by colonizers to "change allegiances" and become tools of aesthetic-political resistance to colonialism are central to the project.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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