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London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street

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in Sardinia House (SAR)

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Dr Joanna Lewis

Assistant Professor

Other Titles: Undergraduate Tutor 
Research Interests:
Modern Africa History
Room: SAR.3.03
Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 7924

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 2017, 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.


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 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

At Masters level:

HY436: Race, Violence and Colonial Rule in Africa

Watch Dr Joanna Lewis talk about her courses, how they are structured and how students can benefit from taking them in order to better understand the world we live in today.

HY240: From Empire to Commonwealth

HY436: Race, Violence and Colonial Rule in Africa

Videos recorded in May 2015 | All information accurate at time of recording


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
Grace Carrington               Identity in British and French Colonies in the Caribbean
Danielle Davenport Coming Soon
Caroline Green Morality and the end of empire

Former PhD students include Dr Jonas Fossli Gjersø and Dr Rosalind Coffey:

Dr Jonas Fossli Gjersø's PhD thesis re-examined the grounds upon which Britain annexed a portion of East Africa that today forms part of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It was completed in 2015 and entitled: ‘Continuity of Moral Policy’: A Reconsideration of British Motives for the Partition of East Africa in light of Anti-Slave Trade Policy and Imperial Agency, 1878-96. The project was supervised by Dr Joanna Lewis and was examined by Professor John Darwin of the University of Oxford and Professor Ian Phimister of the University of the Free State. The thesis refuted the Egypto-centric geo-strategic explanatory model of the East African partition and proposed a new theory in which annexation largely resulted from sub-imperial commercial interests and the cost-effective transplantation of British anti-slave trade policy from the maritime to the continental sphere, a shift facilitated by railway technology. Some of his research findings have already been published in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History ('The Scramble for East Africa: British Motives Reconsidered, 1884-95'), whilst a full version of the thesis is available from LSE's These Online.

Gjersø is currently teaching international and imperial history at the LSE and at Goldsmiths Collge, in addition to turning his thesis into a monograph provisionally entitled: 'The Scramble and the Slave Trade: A New History of East Africa's Partition, 1873-1902'. He can be contacted at
Dr Rosalind Coffey’s doctoral thesis is entitled ‘The British Press, British Public Opinion and the End of Empire in Africa, 1957-60’. It was examined in mid-November 2015. The project was supervised by Dr Joanna Lewis and examined by Professor Philip Murphy, the Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Dr Simon Potter, Reader in Modern History at the University of Bristol. The thesis examines the relation between British newspaper coverage of Africa and the process of decolonisation. It is the first broad study of the role of the British press in, and in relation to, Africa at the end of empire and spans three regions. It underscores the significance of British newspapers, journalists and editors. Further, the thesis offers a reassessment of the view that the broader British low political and cultural context to the end of empire was extraneous to the process; and presents a ‘different’ (non-official) history of decolonisation as seen through the eyes of the press.

Rosie’s first article will be published in November/December 2015 in the Journal of Southern African Studies and is entitled ‘“Does the Daily Paper rule Britannia”: British Press Coverage of a Malawi Youth League Demonstration in Blantyre, Nyasaland, in January 1960’. Her doctoral thesis will be available in LSE Theses Online over the coming weeks.

This academic year Rosie is teaching in the International History Department at the LSE on the course entitled ‘From Empire to Independence: The Extra-European World in the Twentieth Century’, and on ‘LSE100’, whilst endeavouring to turn her doctoral thesis into a monograph. In 2014, Rosie won the LSE Student Union Student-led Teaching Excellence Award for Excellent Feedback and Communication and shared the International History Department’s Martin Abel Gonzalez Prize for graduate teaching assistants.

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:

  • "Empires of sentiment; intimacies from death: David Livingstone and African slavery and the 'heart of the nation' in 1874", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 43, 2 (2015) 210-237;
  • "'Whiteman in a woodpile': Race and the limits of Macmillan’s Wind of Change" in L J Butler and S Stockwell (eds) The Wind of Change. Harold Macmillan and British Decolonsiation. (Palgrave. Cambridge Studies in Imperial and Post-colonial Studies Series, May 2013);
  • "Rivers of white: David Livingstone and the 1955 commemorations in the 'Lost Henley-upon-Thames of Central Africa'" in G. Macola et al (eds) Living the end of empire: politics and society in late colonial Zambia (Lieden, University of Leiden Press 2011)
  • 'Harold MacMillan and the Wind of Change', in Wm. Roger Louis (ed.), Resurgent adventures with Britannia, Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain (I. B. Tauris, 2011);
  • "The British Empire and world history: welfare imperialism and soft power in the rise and fall of colonial rule" in David Piachaud and James Wrigley (eds) Colonialism and Social Welfare: Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy (Edward Elgar, 2010)
  • 'Nasty, brutish and in shorts? British colonial rule, violence and the historians of Mau Mau', The Round Table Journal, (April 2008);
  • 'Carry on up the Solent: Southampton's reception for the mortal remains of Dr David Livingstone', in Miles Taylor (ed) Southampton: Gateway to Empire? (I. B. Tauris, 2008);
  • with Philip Murphy, '"The old pal's protection society": The Colonial Office and the media on the eve of decolonisation', in Chandrika Kaul (ed) The press and empire (Manchester University Press, 2006);
  • '"Daddy wouldn't buy me a Mau Mau": the British popular press and the demoralisation of empire' in J. Lonsdale & A. Odhiambo, (eds.) Mau Mau and nationhood: arms, authority and narration (James Currey: Oxford, 2003)

Full list of publications on LSE Research Online


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


Dr Joanna Lewis Reviews 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 here.
Dr Joanna Lewis's Summer Reads in the Times Higher Education

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 here.
Dr Joanna Lewis 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 here.
Dr Joanna Lewis '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. More information.
Dr Joanna Lewis in the 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). Read why here.


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.