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Dr Robert Fletcher

Associate Professor of Britain and Empire
Director of Postgraduate Research


Office Hours:

H008, ground floor of the Humanities Building
+44 (0)24 76575536 (internal extension 75536)

0900-1000 Wednesday

1400-1500 Thursday

Associate Professor of Britain and Empire
D.Phil (Oxon.), 2011; F.R.G.S.


I’m a historian of the imperial and global past, with a broad interest in the movements of peoples, practices and ideas. My research brings together a particular interest in the histories of imperialism, nomadic societies and desert environments in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

My first book, British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East, 1919-1936, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. It tells the story of what happened when the British Empire and Bedouin communities met on the desert frontiers between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, as British officials, Bedouin shaykhs, and nationalist politicians jostled to influence desert affairs.

My second book, The Ghost of Namamugi (2019), is an exploration of mercantile ambition and imperial power in Shanghai and Yokohama in the mid-nineteenth century. It examines the remarkable life and death of Charles Lenox Richardson, a young Shanghai merchant whose killing became a Victorian "outrage" and led to the destruction, by the Royal Navy, of a Japanese city.

I am the Principal Investigator on an interdisciplinary and collaborative AHRC Science in Culture project on the international campaign against the desert locust in the twentieth-century. Between 2015-18 I held an AHRC Leadership Fellowship to explore how the world’s desert environments became sites of heightened contest between nomads, nations and empires in the modern world. You can read more about both of these projects here. I’m interested in concepts of frontiers and borderlands in general, and have also written about maritime, mercantile and evangelical networks in the nineteenth-century Pacific.

My teaching interests include the histories of imperialism and globalisation, the history of the British Empire, Middle Eastern history, Anglo-Japanese relations, and histories of migrations and mobility; I welcome enquiries from prospective research students in these fields.


  • ‘The China of Tomorrow: Japan and the Limits of Victorian Expansion’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 47, No. 5 (2019), pp. 851-883.
  • 'Making Connections: John Darwin and his Histories of Empire', Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 47, No. 5 (2019), pp. 801-814 - with B. Mountford and S.J. Potter.
  • The Ghost of Namamugi: Charles Lenox Richardson and the Anglo-Satsuma War (Renaissance, 2019).
  • '“Now You See What We Are Up Against”: Bedouins and Borderlands in the Photography of John Bagot Glubb', in S. Das, L. Schmid and D. Steinbach (eds.), Colonialism, Photography and War (Bloomsbury: forthcoming).
  • 'Decolonization and the Arid World', in M. Thomas and A. Thompson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire (Oxford University Press, 2018).
  • 'The Locust, the Empire and the Museum', evolve, Vol. 31 (2017), pp. 46-53.
  • British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East, 1919-1936 (Oxford University Press, 2015).
  • '"Between the Devil of the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea": Re-orienting Kuwait, c.1900-1940',
    Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 50 (Oct. 2015), pp. 51-65.
  • 'The ʿAmārāt, their Sheikh, and the Colonial State: Patronage and Politics in a Partitioned Middle East', Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (Vol. 58, No. 1-2 (May), 2015).
  • ‘Running the Corridor: Nomadic Societies and Imperial Rule in the Interwar Syrian Desert’,
    Past and Present, Vol. 220, No. 1 (Aug., 2013), pp. 185-215.
  • ‘“Returning Kindness Received”? Missionaries, Empire and the Royal Navy in Okinawa, 1846-1857’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 125, No. 514 (June, 2010), pp. 599-641.

Academic Career

  • From 2015: Associate Professor of Britain and Empire, University of Warwick
  • 2015-19: Fellow of the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research, the Natural History Museum, London
  • 2012-15: Lecturer in Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter
  • 2011-13: Research Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
  • 2011-12: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Global History, History Faculty, University of Oxford
  • 2009-10: Visiting Fellowship, History Department, Princeton University
  • 2007-11: D.Phil in History, Magdalen College, University of Oxford

Research Interests

  • British imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Deserts, oceans and airways in global history
  • Nomadic societies under colonial rule
  • Maritime frontiers and arid borderlands
  • Mobility, space and transnational networks