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Professor David Lambert

David Lambert  
Office hours
via MS Teams:
H3.33, third floor of the Humanities Building
024 76523408 (internal extension 23408)
Monday, 10.30-11.30
Thursday, 12.00-1.00
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Academic Profile

  • Professor of Caribbean History, University of Warwick
  • Director of the Humanities Research Centre
  • Co-ordinator of Non-Language Joint Degrees

External roles



My research is concerned with slavery and empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing on the Caribbean and its place in the wider (British Atlantic) world. Working in cultural history, I draw on theories, methods and concepts from historical sociology, postcolonial studies and human geography. In so doing, I seek to foster interdisciplinary dialogue around notions of centre/margin, the ‘transnational’ and ‘transimperial’. I am currently Principal Investigator on an AHRC-funded project that focuses on the West India Regiments:

Africa’s Sons Under Arms: Race, Military Bodies and the British West India Regiments in the Atlantic world, 1795-1914

‘Africa’s Sons Under Arms’ (ASUA) is an ambitious research project that uses Britain's West India Regiments to explore the relationships between the arming of people of African descent and the changing nature of racial thought from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. It comprises three interrelated components that examine WIR soldiers from different perspectives: as objects of medical scrutiny during their time in the Caribbean; as figures of public interest who served within the wider British army; and as participants in organised sport watched by local and visiting spectators. ASUA is a collaboration based on well-established relationships between the three main investigators (David Lambert, Tim Lockley and Beth Cooper) and the two partner research institutions (Warwick University and the British Library), and drawing on the scholarly and outreach expertise of both.

My previous research has consisted of three main projects:

Knowledge, Exploration and Atlantic Slavery, c.1750-1850

This research project examined the relationship of colonial slavery to African exploration and cartography in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It brings together histories of science and ideas with transnational histories of the Atlantic world and its enslaved ‘others’. My monograph Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and a number of British Academy-funded papers have re-shaped understanding of pre-Victorian geographical thought, the politics of abolition and the origins of European colonialism in Africa.

Imperial Networks and ‘Imperial Careers’

This project has made significant theoretical and substantive contributions to the study of transnational histories by challenging the core/periphery binaries inherent in much imperial history, and elaborating a ‘networked’ alternative to investigate the discourses, practices and identities that circulated around empires. Moreover, I have propounded new approaches for exploring these networks by examining the ‘imperial careers’ of those involved in empire. The main output of this research was an edited collection of historical-geographical biographies entitled Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2006; edited with Alan Lester). This research is at the forefront of work at the nexus of biography, history and geography, and represents a critical contribution to imperial histories.

Transimperial Affiliations and Discourses of Whiteness

This pioneering research analysed relationships between metropolitan societies and the settler populations of their overseas empires to demonstrate how these were articulated through discourses of ‘Whiteness’. Far from an unproblematic marker of transimperial affiliation, I have shown White identities to be multiple and contested. This extends work in ‘Whiteness Studies’ – the field that examines the cultural aspects of people identified as ‘white’ – by moving beyond the US focus and instead considering British colonists in the Caribbean (c.1780-1840) and Gibraltar (c.1800-2000). The main output of this research was a monograph entitled White Creole Culture, Politics and Identity during the Age of Abolition (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which was nominated for the 2005 Young Academic Author of the Year Times Higher Education Supplement award. Revealing the uneven geographies of Whiteness, this research thus relocates debates to a transnational context.

My future research continues to promulgate innovative approaches to researching the past and produce substantive historical studies that advance understanding of empire and slavery. This agenda is taken forward through greater concern with the histories of ideas and thought in the past and present:

Space, Politics and Mobility in the Caribbean, c.1780-1880

Based on comparative research in the English, Spanish and French-speaking Caribbean, this research project will draw on concepts of mobility, performance and place from History, Sociology and Cultural Geography to examine how movement at a variety of scales – including bodily gestures, forms of travel and large-scale migrations – were implicated in the articulation of politics and identity during the ‘age of abolition’.

American Counterfactualism

This project stems from a concern with counterfactual reasoning, not as a historical method to apply but as a historiographic object and way of relating to the past that has its own histories. Following work on demands for slavery reparations and my role in editing a collection of papers that interrogated counterfactuals, my next step will be to explore the potential for wider research on the role of counterfactual thought of the Americas. This will be achieved through a pilot project on ‘Dependency theory and counterfactual thought’ concerned with the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings to the field of dependency theory as in developed in the Caribbean and Latin America in particular. More broadly, I am interested how the notion of ‘worlds that might have been’ can communicate ideas about historical-geographical change to wider publics.

I would be interested in supervising doctoral research in any of these and related areas.

Postgraduate Students (current and recently completed PhDs)

  • Liz Egan (2019-), 'Constructing and Challenging Creole Whiteness in Jamaica, 1865-1938', AHRC-funded M4C studentship
  • Aleema Gray (2018-), 'Living in Babylon: An oral history of the Rastafarian movement in Britain 1948-2016', Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies/Warwick Collaborative Postgraduate Research Scholarship
  • Dr Melissa Bennett (2014-2018), ‘Picturing the West India Regiments’: Race, Empire, and Photography c.1850-1914', AHRC-funded PhD
  • Kimberley Thomas (2013-19), '"Oh, the trials! the trials! they make the salt water come into my eyes": Slaves and salt in the Caribbean, 1680-1850', Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies/Warwick Collaborative Postgraduate Research Scholarship
  • Dr Natalie Cox (2012-16), 'Armchair geography: Speculation, synthesis and the culture of British exploration, c.1830-1880’, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award; partner organisation: Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
  • Dr Meleisa Ono-George (2011-15), 'To Be Despised: Sexual-Economic Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Jamaica,
    c. 1780-1890', Warwick Postgraduate Research Scholarship and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funding
  • Dr Steven Gray (2010-2014), 'Black diamonds: Coal, the Royal Navy and British imperial coaling stations, c.1870-1914', AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award; partner organisation: National Maritime Museum - thesis awarded the Boydell & Brewer Prize by the British Commission for Maritime History
  • Dr Hugh Crosfield (2009-2014), ‘Bodies, commodities and thresholds: An historical-geographical investigation of consumer boycott movements, c. 1790 to the present’, studentship at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Dr Anyaa Anim-Addo (2008-2011), ‘Place and mobilities in the maritime world: The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in the Caribbean, c. 1838 to 1914’, AHRC Collaborative Studentship at Royal Holloway, University of London; partner organisation: National Maritime Museum
  • Dr Daniel Whittall (2007-2011), ‘Creolising London: Black West Indian activism and the politics of race and empire in Britain, 1931-1948’, ESRC Studentship at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Dr Kirsten Greer (2007-2011), ‘Red coats and wild birds: Military culture and ornithology across the nineteenth-century British Empire’, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Graduate Scholarship (I was host supervisor in UK)

Selected Publications (full list here)


Empire and Mobility

11/6/20 - new book published in the 'Studies in Imperialism' series with Manchester University Press

Slavery & Abolition

1/1/20 - new role as Associate Editor of Slavery & Abolition journal