The research specialisms of Durham’s five Africanist historians lie in eastern Africa and South Africa. Our work foregrounds the everyday; it seeks to understand how power manifests itself, and is disputed, in ordinary life.
Anne Heffernan and Rachel Johnson both work on aspects of the political history of modern South Africa. Cherry Leonardi’s research on South Sudan and Uganda explores questions around borders and boundaries, and the politics of land. Jacob Wiebel’s work on Ethiopia’s Red Terror has sought to understand how and why violence happened, and he is currently developing an environmental approach to the history of the Ethiopian state. Justin Willis’s most recent research has been on the history of elections in Africa since the 1950s, with a particular focus on people’s sense of themselves as political actors.
While our research interests span a considerable period, we share a concern with contemporary history: that is, with an understanding of the past that is relevant and significant in the present. We are active in the dissemination of our research to multiple audiences, and have considerable collective experience in media work, in policy briefing and in devising and delivering continuing professional development courses that draw on our research. The seminar series and blog run by the Durham Centre for Contemporary African History provide one mechanism for reaching out to wider audiences.
Our work benefits significantly from Durham’s unique archival resources. The single most important of these is the Sudan Archive. Durham’s archives also have material on southern Africa, and the library has invested significantly in microfilm and digital collections that support our research.
Durham History Department has particular strengths in medieval Europe, early modern Europe, and both modern British and modern European history. Durham historians work on a range of themes in cultural history, religious history, political history, and economic history, from the end of the Roman Empire, early medieval Europe, through the High Middle Ages, to late medieval Britain and Europe. Our geographical specialism include Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia as well as the Low Countries, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia. Durham has exceptional resources for the study of medieval history, including the archives and library of the great medieval monastery at Durham, as well as world-class resources for the study of early modern and modern history.
US history is a dynamic and growing specialism, and we now have five permanent members of staff in this field: James Callanan (Cold War diplomatic history), Barbara Keys (US and international history), Jennifer Luff (modern American labour and politics), Gabriella Treglia (Native American history and the New Deal), and Kevin Waite (Civil War and Reconstruction). The group’s strength is enhanced by colleagues who work on transnational approaches, including Adrian Green (early American material culture and historical archaeology), Richard Huzzey (transatlantic abolitionism), and David Minto (Anglo-American history of sexuality).
The development of East Asian history is one of the Department’s strategic priorities. We currently have four historians in this field. Research on East Asia includes the social and cultural history of early modern China, as well as the intellectual and cultural history of modern Japan.
Sare Aricanli’s research is in early modern Chinese history. She is particularly interested in the history of science and medicine, human-animal care, visual and material culture, ritual, and knowledge exchange. Her current research is on the social history of early modern imperial medical figures, and the translations of their works across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Adam Bronson’s research is on the circulation of ideas and intellectual practices in modern Japan. He is now working on the history of rumours, as well as on cultural movements that relate to the ideal of a “nation of culture”. John Lee's research is in the environmental history of early modern East Asia, particularly the Korean peninsula. His current projects explore the history of state forestry in pre-industrial Korea and the environmental legacies of the Mongol Empire in eastern Eurasia.
Chris Courtney researches the environmental and social history of modern China. He specialises in the history of the city of Wuhan and its rural hinterland. Much of his previous research has focussed upon the history of disasters, including floods and fires. He is currently researching the problem of heat in modern Chinese cities.
South Asia is a newly established area of research for the Department, one that is already wide-ranging with colleagues whose expertise stretch from Java to Cairo and cover over a millennium of history.
Chris Bahl’s research focuses on the subcontinent’s links with regions and communities across the western Indian Ocean in the early modern period using Arabic texts. Mekhola Gomes studies the history of premodern South and Southeast Asia and is working on a book that traces connections between the state, family, and rule in early India through inscriptions (ca. 200–700 CE). Souvik Naha researches the formation of leisure cultures in global and transnational contexts, particularly the history of cricket in modern India. Jonathan Saha is a historian of British colonial rule in South Asia, with a particular focus on Myanmar (Burma).
The Oriental Museum at Durham holds a range of artefacts, art and archaeological photographs in its dedicated South Asia collection. It also has extensive collections for the Himalayas and Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Western Asia.