Dr Joanna Lewis

Dr Joanna Lewis

Associate Professor

Department of International History

+44 (0)20 7955 7924
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About me

*on research leave 2017-18*

I am a historian of the historical relationship between Britain and Africa. My research has focused on the ideology and practice of colonial rule from pre-Scramble, through to the end of the Cold War. My early research examined colonial government and development theory in British Kenya. I then became concerned with imperialism, politics and culture from the late nineteenth century, to liberation and the post-colonial state in central Africa. I have just finished a monograph on David Livingstone, ideology and humanitarianism, called Empire of Sentiment: Livingstone and myth of Victorian imperialism. The book will come out in early 2018, published by Cambridge University Press. My sources have always been eclectic reflecting the different conversations between Britain and Africa ranging from deep immersion in official records, to NGOs, literature and last but by no means least, newspapers. I remain interested in the history of death, emotion and memory in the age of globalisation and I am writing a book on the history of British journalists in Africa from Henry Morton Stanley to the present day. I am a heritage activist where I live and I have my own column in weekly newspaper. I am Welsh.

I hold a Master’s and Doctoral degree from the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge where I was supervised by Professor of African History (Emeritus) John Lonsdale. I enjoyed four years as ESRC Research and Teaching Fellow at Churchill College and the African Studies Centre, Cambridge University. I have also had lectureships at Durham, SOAS and Cambridge University and was Director of Studies in History at Churchill and Corpus Christi, Cambridge. I came to this department at LSE in 2004 as the first specialist in Africa and empires and helped set up the first Master’s degree in Empires. In 2013, the LSE Annual Fund generously supported a three day conference in Zambia I organised to mark the bi-centennary of David Livingstone’s birth. This conference was the first and only international conference to be held in Africa bringing British and US specialists together with African historians to debate many contentious issues about colonial rule and its aftermath.

I welcome enquiries from students in my areas of interest: British colonial rule; African violence; media history; death and mourning; chiefs and indirect rule; white settlers and racism; gender studies; liberalism and humanitarianism; class and inequality; and the British monarchy.


Modern Africa History

Teaching and supervision


Dr Joanna Lewis holds an LSE Teaching Prize; was a two-time nominee in the LSE Student Led Teaching Excellent Awards (2014-15 and 2015-16) and 2016-17’s runner up the category of most dynamic lecturer. She usually teaches the following courses on the British Empire and Africa in the department:

At undergraduate level:

HY113: From Empire to Independence: The Extra-European World in the Twentieth Century (taught with other members of staff in the Department)

HY240: From Empire to Commonwealth: War, Race and Imperialism in British History, 1780 to 1979 (taught with other members of staff in the Department)

At postgraduate level:

HY436: Race, Violence and Colonial Rule in Africa


Dr Joanna Lewis supervises large numbers of students in UG dissertations (HY300) and Master’s thesis (HY400) research on topics that range from masculinity, empire and the public schools; late nineteenth century explorers in Tibet; FGM; Ian Smith and UDI; family law in Cote D’Ivoire post-independence; global protest and the student anti-apartheid movement; African and Indian Slavery; Mugabe and African violence; to King Leopold and the Scramble for Africa.

She currently supervises the following PhD students:

 Research student  Provisional thesis title
Katherine Arnold German Scientists in the British Empire, 1780-1850
Grace Carrington Identity in British and French Colonies in the Caribbean
Danielle Davenport Scope of belonging: The Uncertainty of Being Biracial or ‘Mixed Race’ in India and Zambia at the End of the British Empire
Caroline Green Morality and the end of empire


One of Dr Lewis's latest publications is entitled '"White Man in a Wood Pile": Race and the Limits of Macmillan’s great "Wind of Change" in Africa', in Stockwell & Butler, The Wind of Change (Palgrave-Cambridge Post-Colonial Studies Series, 2013) 70-95. This article used  newspaper sources and hitherto lost depositions from African trades union leaders and compared with government records to show that race and racism was a much bigger factor in  a tense and messy decolonisation process than the official record would have us believe. Three months  after this was published, the FCO admitted that in a secret Operation Legacy ordered by Iain Macloed in 1961, officials were instructed to burn and  destroy the ashes of any papers which might embarrass future HMG governments especially if showing signs of ‘racial prejudice or religious bias’ (Ian Cobain, 'Revealed: the bonfire of the papers at the end of Empire', The Guardian, 29 Nov, 2013.

Her 2002 article, 'Daddy wouldn't buy me a Mau Mau', has recently been selected for republication in a collection edition by Martin Shipway on the most influential recent articles on decolonisation.

She is currently researching on Robert Mugabe and Britain's post-colonial hangover.

Read Dr Lewis's review of Ronald Hyam's Understanding the British Empire (2010).

Recent academic publications include:


 LewisEmpireSentiment Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism (Cambridge University Press, out in January 2018)
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News and media


Joanna supports freedom of speech and journalism in a number of ways, commenting on popular cultural issues such as the monarchy and on current affairs in Africa. She also has a personal column in her local newspaper, the Hampshire Chronicle.

She is a regular book reviewer for the Times Higher Education magazine including:

Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba, by Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick | Joanna Lewis on the assassination of the nation’s first democratically elected leader, February 2015

Email from Ngeti: An Ethnography of Sorcery, Redemption, and Friendship in Global Africa, by James H. Smith and Ngeti Mwadime | One-way secrets in a gripping exchange between a Kenyan and an Africanist trouble by Joanna Lewis, November 2014

I Did It To Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone | Joanna Lewis on how cultures and circumstances skew our passions more than we may realise, November 2012


Public lecture at Yale University

Dr Joanna Lewis was at Yale University on 12 October to talk about how she wrote her forthcoming book, Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism. Her public lecture, entitled "Death, Iconicity and Emotion: (the journey) to Livingstone, Africa and an Empire of Sentiment”, is part of the International History Workshop series, sponsored by the History Department and the Council of African Studies. Dr Lewis's book, to be released by Cambridge University Press in January 2018, is the first emotional history of the British Empire. It explores how David Livingstone's death tied together British imperialism and Victorian humanitarianism and inserted it into popular culture.



Dr Joanna Lewis was officially promoted to Associate Professor on 1 August 2017.


BBC Four's A Timewatch Guide

Dr Joanna Lewis participated in an episode of BBC Four’s A Timewatch Guide, called Dictators and Despots, showed on 25 July. Through the examination of fifty years of BBC documentary archives, the episode looked at how dictators, such as Cesar, Castro Gaddafi, Saddam and Mugabe, have risen in unsettling times and why they can have such a powerful appeal. Watch it on BBC iPlayer (UK only).



Award winner of IGA-Rockefeller Grant

Dr Joanna Lewis was awarded an LSE Institute of Global Affairs-Rockefeller Grant for two years to lead a project on Somalia, entitled “‘Pathways to Resilience’: The Role of an Urban Diaspora in Post-Conflict Reconstruction, London and Hargeisa, 1991 to the Present Day.” The project will be based at the Firoz Lalji LSE Centre for Africa.


Review of Keith Somerville's Ivory for the the Africa at LSE Blog

Dr Joanna Lewis contributed a passionate and analytical review of BBC broadcaster Keith Somerville’s newest book, Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa for the Africa at LSE blog (27 January 2017). Dr Lewis describes Somerville’s book as the best academic account to date of the history of the supply side of ivory trade. "He argues, that it is more the petty, everyday reality of corruption, crime and politics, which enables illegal poaching to survive (and even surge) when there is any kind of international push for a more extensive ban on the trade. The logic then is that hunting and therefore the trade should be regulated.” Dr Lewis, herself a passionate animal lover, concedes that “when the argument comes from Somerville, the heart has to yield to the head”. “Supporting and strengthening communities so they can manage wildlife responsibly from the bottom up, with some controlled hunting, is an argument that many wildlife experts have come to see is the only long term viable solution.” “Still”, concludes Dr Lewis, “what a deterrent it could be that, if caught, those men who organise the hunting and butchering of elephants for pleasure and for their tusks, also have something they hold dear cut off…” Read Dr Joanna Lewis’s full review of Ivory.


Review of Martin Plaut's Understanding Eritrea for the Times Higher Education

Dr Joanna Lewis reviewed Matin Plaut’s newest book, Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa’s Most Repressive State, in the Times Higher Education (26 January 2017). “Plaut’s extensive evidence shows how the regime’s repressive stance in power is a consequence of its ruler,” writes Dr Lewis. “A study of the North African country lays bare a ruler at war with his own people”. Read Dr Joanna Lewis’s review.


Review of Hansen's Al-Shabaab in Somalia for the “Africa at LSE” blog

Dr Joanna Lewis, our expert in Modern Africa History, contributed a book review to the Africa at LSE blog on 28 October 2016. She reviewed the revised and updated version of Stig Jarle Hansen’s Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, recently released with a new preface. Dr Joanna Lewis praises the volume for providing a comprehensive history of the militant Islamist group. Read her full review.


Times Higher Education Summer reads

Alongside other members of the higher education community, Dr Joanna Lewis told the readers of the Times Higher Education (14 July 2016) about two books she planned to take on holiday - a new must-read and a classic worthy of a second look. Read her suggestions.


On Benedict Anderson's Final Book in The Times Higher Education

Dr Joanna Lewis wrote a feature on Benedict Anderson’s last and final book, A Life Beyond Boundaries, for the The Times Higher Education on 2 June 2016. Dr Lewis’s review provides insight into Anderson’s most famous book, Imagined Communities, and his latest intellectual memoir, completed months before his death in December 2015. Read Dr Lewis's opinion on nationalism’s truest friend and the books that made him a world authority.


'Highly Commended' for a LSESU Teaching Excellence Award

In May 2016,  Dr Joanna Lewis was shortlisted for the Student Union LSE Teaching Excellence Award in the category of Innovative Teaching, for which she was ‘highly commended’. She already holds an LSE Teaching Prize from a previous year, and last year she was also nominated for an award. The Teaching Excellence Awards are the only awards at LSE that are student-led - students make the nominations and students choose the winners. It is the students who know the teachers that really make a difference. 


Introduction to academia in Times Higher Education

Dr Joanna Lewis, our specialist in African and Imperial History, was featured in an article published in the Times Higher Education on 14 April. She is one of several scholars around the world recommending ‘essential’ texts to introduce sixth-formers to the academy. Her choice is Owen Jones’s The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It (2014). Learn why.


Media appearances

Dr Joanna Lewis’s  most recent media appearances include Radio 4 Melvyn Bragg In Our Time on the Scramble for Africa last broadcast on 31 October 2013; and a  Sky/National Geographic Magazine’s documentary on The Lost Diary of Dr Livingstone in their award winning  Secrets of the Dead series.


International History student in Row Zambezi Expedition 2011

Dr Lewis has written a short essay in support of the Row Zambezi Expedition 2011. A charity event, designed to raise money for Water Aid, it is being organised by a second year History student, Oliver Cook. Dr Lewis was happy to be able to support this event following Livingstone's journey down the river, and she looks forward to seeing the team at the finishing line near Victoria Falls in the summer.