Dr Padraic X. Scanlan

Dr Padraic X. Scanlan

Assistant Professor

Department of International History

+44 (0)20 7107 5075
Room No
SAR 3.05
Connect with me

About me

*on research leave until Summer Term 2018*

Dr Scanlan is an historian of Britain and its relationship to the wider world, with a particular focus on histories of slavery, capitalism and emancipation from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. His research centres on the practices and material history of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, and the effects of abolition on the governance of Britain and the British empire. He is also broadly interested in the social and administrative histories of bureaucrats and bureaucracies, and in the history of everyday economic life.

Dr Scanlan earned a BA (Hons) in History from McGill University in 2008, and a PhD in History from Princeton University in 2013. Before joining the LSE, he was a postdoctoral Prize Fellow in the Program in Economics, History and Politics at Harvard University. He is also a Research Associate at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge.


British Empire; Slavery and Emancipation; Bureaucracy; Economic Life

Teaching & supervision

Dr Scanlan usually teaches the following courses:

At undergraduate level:

HY326: Slavery, Capital and Empire in the British World, 1700-1900 (not running in 2017-18)

At postgraduate level:

HY423: Empire, Colonialism and Globalisation (taught jointly with other faculty members)

 Watch Dr Padraic X. Scanlan talk about HY326, how it is structured and how students can benefit from taking it in order to better understand the world we live in today.



Dr Scanlan’s first book, Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolutions, will be published by Yale University Press in August 2017 as part of the Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. Freedom’s Debtors  argues that British antislavery, widely seen as an historic sacrifice of economic and political capital on the altar of humanitarianism, was in fact profitable, militarily useful, and crucial to the expansion of British power in West Africa. After the British slave trade was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1807, antislavery activists in England profited, officials in the colonial capital, Freetown, came to rely on former slaves as soldiers and as cheap labour, and the British armed forces conscripted former slaves to fight in the West Indies and in West Africa. The book explores in intimate detail the improvisations, miscommunication, military campaigns, utopian Christian missionary projects, moneymaking schemes and everyday violence that occurred in West Africa as the abstractions of abolitionist principle were translated into the practices of imperial expansion and colonial rule.

Dr Scanlan’s new project, Empire Unbound: The Reformed British World1776-1840 is a global history of the ‘age of reform’ in Britain and the empire. Empire Unbound argues that the end of slavery in the British empire in 1833 is essential to understanding the ambition and scope of moral, political and economic reform from the American Revolution to the dawn of the Victorian age. Freedom for enslaved people was the point of origin for experiments in defining, documenting and promoting ‘civilisation,’ and in transforming labour management. Emancipation was a catalyst for the intrusive, bureaucratic measurement of everyday life at home and in the colonies. Techniques for ‘reforming’ freedpeople filtered back to Britain, where they were applied to Irish peasants and English slum-dwellers. British schemes for civilisation and free labour circulated among the states of the American South, the republics of South America and the European colonies of the greater Caribbean.

The first part of this project is an institutional, social and material history of 'special' or 'stipendiary' magistrates, a class of jurists appointed to the geographically and culturally remote parts of the British empire, from Catholic Ireland to rural post-emancipation Jamaica, with wide powers to interpret and enforce imperial laws, and to define in practice the meaning of 'civilised' life in the British world.


“The Colonial Rebirth of British Anti-Slavery: The Liberated African Villages of Sierra Leone, 1815–1824.” The American Historical Review 121, no. 4 (October 1, 2016): 1085–1113.

“Blood, Money and Endless Paper: Slavery and Capital in British Imperial History.” History Compass 14, no. 5 (2016): 218–30.

“The Rewards of their Exertions: Prize Money and British Abolitionism in Sierra Leone, 1808-1823.” Past and Present 225 (2014): 113-142.

For a full list of publications, presentations and lectures, including links to selected works-in-progress and articles under review, please see Dr Scanlan’s curriculum vitae.


News & media


Share Radio

Dr Padraic X. Scanlan appeared on 8 August 2015 as one of the guests on "The History of Booms, Busts and Bubbles," a programme hosted by the presenter Rita Lobo, on the financial news and commentary radio station Share Radio. He talked about slavery and the impact it had on the British Empire. Listen to the podcast of this very interesting broadcast here.