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Dr Thomas Simpson

Associate Professor of Environmental History and Director of First-Year Studies

Contact Details

Office: 3.44, Faculty of Arts Building, third floor

Office hours: Monday 2-3pm; Tuesday 1.30-2.30pm

Academic profile

2023-present: Associate Professor of Environmental History, University of Warwick

2020-2023: Research Associate, Making Climate History, University of Cambridge

2015-2020: Research Fellow, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge

2016-2017: Teaching Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London

2015: PhD History, University of Cambridge

2010: MSc History of International Relations, London School of Economics

2009: BA International History, London School of Economics


HI2K2: Imperial Natures: Environments and Empires from the Little Ice Age to the Great Acceleration (c.1450 to the present)

HI2E2: Historiography II: Recent and Emerging Trends in History Writing, 1990 to today

HI2K1: How Did We Get to Where We Are Today? A Political History of the Contemporary World

HI153: Making of the Modern World

HI995: Themes and Approaches to the Historical Study of Empire

HI997: Themes in Global & Comparative History

IL907: Habitability in the Universe


I am a historian of environmental and climate sciences. My research and teaching lie at the intersection of environmental history, history of science, and imperial and colonial history. My earlier research focused particularly on British India and its mountainous and desert-bound frontiers, and I continue to have an interest in the borderlands of South, Central, and Southeast Asia.

I am currently co-writing Making Global Temperature with seven colleagues on the 'Making Climate History' project based at the University of Cambridge. The book considers the long history of concepts and measures of global temperature from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries. I contribute chapters focusing on c.1830 to c.1940, covering topics including the development of thermometry in colonial India, the extension of temperature records through imperial networks, theories of temperature change in deep time, and the use of glaciers as climatic instruments.

Alongside this work, I have established interests in histories of mountainous and riverine spaces, the history of cartography and anthropology, the interaction of European imperial and non-Western knowledge systems, and the question of how history should be written and taught in the Anthropocene. All of these areas feed into an ongoing book project entitled Maps that made climate change, which explores how climate has been depicted and conceptualised in various cartographic traditions across the world.


The Frontier in British India: Space, Science, and Power in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2021; paperback 2023)


'Planetary pictures: historicising environmental and climate sciences in the Anthropocene', British Journal for the History of Science Themes, 8 (forthcoming, 2024)

'Find the river: Discovering the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra in the age of empire'Link opens in a new window, Modern Asian Studies (online 2023)

'Imperialism, colonialism, and climate change science', with Harriet Mercer, WIREs Climate Change, 14, 6 (2023), e851

'Climate, cartography, and the life and death of the "natural region" in British geography', with Mike Hulme, Journal of Historical Geography, 80 (2023), pp. 44-57

'Modern mountains from the Enlightenment to the Anthropocene', The Historical Journal, 62, 2 (2019), pp. 553-81

'"Clean out of the map": Knowing and doubting space at India's high imperial frontiers', History of Science, 55, 1 (2017), pp. 3-36

'Bordering and frontier-making in nineteenth-century British India', The Historical Journal, 58, 2 (2015), pp. 513-42


'Imperial slippages: Encountering and understanding ice in colonial India', in Ice Humanities: Living, thinking, and working in a melting world, ed. Klaus Dodds and Sverker Sörlin (Manchester University Press, 2022), pp. 205-27

'Cartography and empire from early modernity to postmodernity', in The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire, ed. Andrew Goss (Routledge: 2021), pp. 21-34

'Forgetting like a state in colonial north-east India', in Mountstuart Elphinstone in South Asia: Pioneer of British colonial rule, ed. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 223-47

'Historicizing humans in colonial India', in Historicizing humans: Deep time, evolution, and race in nineteenth-century British sciences, ed. Efram Sera-Shriar (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), pp. 113-37

'A fragmented gaze: Depictions of frontier tribes and the beginnings of colonial anthropology', in Visual Histories of South Asia, ed. Marcus Banks and Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (Primus, 2018), pp. 73-92

Book reviews

'Making margins visible'Link opens in a new window, Dialogues in Human Geography (online 2023)

'Science on the Roof of the World: Empire and the Remaking of the Himalaya, by Lachlan Fleetwood', Isis, 114, 1 (2023), pp. 206-7

'The Frontier Complex: Geopolitics and the Making of the India-China Border, by Kyle S. Gardner', Journal of Historical Geography 80 (2023), pp. 106-7

'Weather, Climate, and the Geographical Imagination: Placing Atmospheric Knowledges, edited by Martin Mahony and Samuel Randalls', Journal of Historical Geography, 72 (2021), pp. 90-91

'Unearthing the Past to Forge the Future: Colin Mackenzie, the Early Colonial State, and the Comprehensive Survey of India, by Tobias Wolffhardt', Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 21, 2 (2020)

'Science Without Frontiers: Cosmopolitanism and National Interests in the World of Learning, 1870-1940, by Robert Fox', English Historical Review, 133 (2018), pp. 996-8

'After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century, by William Rankin', Reviews in History (6 July 2017)

'New Histories of the Andaman Islands: Landscape, Place, and Identity in the Bay of Bengal, 1790-2012, by Clare Anderson, et al', Journal of Historical Geography, 57 (2017), pp. 116-17

'Geography, Technology, and Instruments of Exploration, edited by Fraser MacDonald and Charles W. J. Withers', British Journal for the History of Science, 49, 3 (2016), pp. 494-6