The research specialisms of Durham’s six Africanist historians span much of the African continent and cover a range of periods and historical lenses, including social, economic, political, and environmental history.
Laura Channing works on the economic history of West Africa, especially taxation, inequality and labour. Anne Heffernan and Rachel Johnson both work on aspects of the political history of modern South Africa: Rachel works in particular on young women’s political participation and the South African Parliament and Constitutional Court, and Anne’s research focuses on student politics and the history of segregated education. Cherry Leonardi’s research on South Sudan and northern Uganda has focused on traditional authorities, justice, borders and land governance; she is currently working on histories of interspecies relations, conservation and the ivory trade. Jacob Wiebel’s work on the Ethiopian Red Terror has sought to understand why this violence happened, how it was rooted in the country's social as well as political history, what its effects have been, and how it has been remembered; he is currently preparing a monograph on the subject, while also researching and writing on the transnational history and political ecology of state-led wildlife conservation in Ethiopia. Justin Willis' current research interests focus on ideas around saving, debt and obligation in Africa over the last century.
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 have four permanent members of staff in this field: James Callanan (Cold War diplomatic history), Barbara Keys (US and international history), 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 across the subcontinent, from Pakistan to Myanmar, including the region’s connections to centres in southeast Asia and north Africa, from Java to Cairo.
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. Radha Kapuria researches the social, cultural, and gender histories (eighteenth century to the present) of South Asia, with an emphasis on the lives of musicians and dancers in India and Pakistan. 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.