Masters Admissions Advisor

Dr Joanna Lewis

At LSE you can study this subject at the UK's most established and well known department devoted to International History.


What is your field of history?

I am fascinated by the history of Africa’s interaction with the world. I have specialised in Britain’s contribution to this story from 1800 to the present day. I like my history without limits: so far I’ve studied British colonial rule; explorers and Victorian imperialism; African chiefs; violence, power, masculinity; and the role of emotion in history. Currently I am writing a history of the resilience of Somali women refugees post-conflict in the London diaspora. 

Why are you interested in this subject and why is it important?

If you appreciate drama, intensity, beauty, tragedy and resilience, each at their most extreme, then you will understand why African history is so compelling. Africa has been at the centre of global, imperial and human history for millennia. It is one of the richest and diverse continents on the planet. But outcomes have often been disastrous for its people. And yet Africa’s relations with the outside world produced the first global human rights movement (anti-slavery)  and the world’s most influential and respected  humanitarian campaigner (Nelson Mandela). Unravelling these processes and paradoxes, which begin in the deep past, are major intellectual challenges which help us engage more meaningfully and compassionately with inequality and injustice in today’s world.

Why is it crucial to take an international perspective in studying history?

How nations have interacted and represented their interests - producing conflict or compromise, controls  or new freedoms - have arguably been the most important factors affecting  the world we live in today. Nations have enduring appeal and explanatory significance in our understanding of war, diplomacy and globalisation. But paradoxically this is also fundamentally a history without boundaries. For these interactions are driven by the fluid and continual movement of people, material goods, religious and non-religious ideas, technologies and symbols. And  today, all the major drivers of human behaviour which demand our attention, as never before, and threaten our very existence – humanitarian disasters, conflict, intolerance, environmental destruction, and resource exploitation – are histories without borders.

Why study international history at LSE?

At LSE you can study this subject at  the UK's most established and well known department devoted to International History. Traditionally the IH Department has pioneered the history of nation states, through global conflicts, supranational organisations and diplomacy. The latest approaches to the First world war, Second World, Cold War, US foreign policy, and European integration across the twentieth century can be studied here. But  the Department also reflects how the discipline has evolved. Regional specialists also include international historians of the Middle East, South Asia, China, Africa, Caribbean and Latin America. And last but by no means least, the Department has developed a strong presence in the history of imperialism, colonialism and globalisation. Students of whatever area of intellectual interest, can also find an added edge to their studies by taking advantage of the broader intellectual environment provided by being the world's number two ranked social science institute. LSE is home to some of the most dynamic research centres in the world and a line-up, each year,  of outside speakers unrivalled in influence. And all of this can be enjoyed on the most internationally diverse campus located at the centre of the world’s most cosmopolitan city.

What should a prospective student in International History at the LSE be reading?

Well, apart from reading my latest book (only joking) there's much on offer depending on your taste and interests. Good general introductions to international history include Patrick Finney, International History (2004) and Antony Best, Jussi Hanhimäki, Joseph Maiolo & Kirsten Schulze, International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond (2008) and John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (2002). Two thought-provoking overviews of Europe's twentieth century are Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe's Twentieth Century(1998) and Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes 1914-1994 (1994). Also useful is Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (2014). Odd Arne Westad, The Global history of the Cold War was written while he was at this department. If war is your thing, David Olusoga on the First World War, The World's War (2014) takes a multi-racial perspective.

If you are interested in global and imperial history, see Christopher Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World (2004) or John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire (2007). To get a head start, why not try on Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. Here, Canadian historian Professor Timothy Brook explores the roots of world trade in the 17th century through six paintings by the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. Or what about the award winning Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015).

Turning to regions, if you’re new to this area try Margaret McMillan, From the First World War to the Arab Spring: What's Really Going On in the Middle East? (2016).

For Africa why not lose  yourself in a literary classic like: Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (first published in 1897) or Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (first published 1958).

Would you be happy for prospective students to get in touch with you?

Of course! From 30 September 2019, you can email me here.