Professor Joanna Lewis

Professor Joanna Lewis


Department of International History

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Key Expertise
Modern Africa History

About me

I am a historian of Africa and empire, and Africa in the wider world explored through imperialism, colonialism and legacies. Timewise, I cover the precolonial to the contemporary. My latest book is Women of the Somali Diaspora: Refugees, Rebuilding and Resilience (Hurst, 2021). It is a history of the impact of the end of the Cold War on women mainly from a region of Somalia that was once British Somaliland. Personal testimonies highlight the dramatic stories of those who fled to Britain, whose Somali diaspora had roots in Britain’s nineteenth century  imperial seafaring past. was a history of Britain and Africa  through  the making  of an imperial culture of emotion -  Empire of Sentiment (Cambridge University Press, 2018). It was book of the week in the Times Higher Education; and a review in the Times Literary Supplement praised its “muscular scholarship”. It traces the enduring impact of myths and ideas about race, masculinity, and heroic failure. uncovers the role of Africans in the making of this mythology. Previously I have researched and  written on colonial rule in Africa, chieftaincies, and the violence of the Mau Mau rebellion. I am currently writing an article on the statue of Henry Morton Stanley and imperialism in Wales, as part of an edited collection to honour the career of Prof Jon Parry, Cambridge University (2024) My latest research with Dr Farah Bede will be published by the British Academy Journal (2023). It examines the historical reasons for the high levels of Covid19 mortality rates within a Somali community in the East End. 

After failing my  undergraduate interview for Cambridge University, I  gained a first class honours degree in Social and Political Science with History and Philosophy from Bath University. I then won a Welsh scholarship for graduates who were first generation to go to University, to read for a Master’s in the History Faculty, University of Cambridge. I then won an ESRC Doctoral Fellowship for my doctoral research on colonial Kenya (supervised by Prof John Lonsdale), then a four-year Research and Teaching Fellowship at Churchill College and the African Studies Centre, Cambridge University. I then held lectureships at Durham, SOAS and Cambridge University and have been Director of Studies in History at Churchill and Corpus Christi. I have won numerous student  awards for teaching and in 2016 was runner up the LSE student award for LSEs most dynamic lecturer.  

 I came to LSE in 2004 as the first specialist in Africa, to help set up the first Master’s degree in Empires, Imperialism and Colonialism, the first of its type in the UK, and to establish the Department’s first undergraduate course in the empire in British history and the first course in African history. In 2013, I organised an international conference in Zambia to examine the life and legacy of David Livingstone. I have an active interest in the history of journalism and creative writing. In my spare time  I write a newspaper  column, with a heavy focus on issues around climate change, and combatting loss of biodiversity. This year I hope to publish my first(and last) novel - a satirical comedy about class in academia entitled Manville. 

I have successfully supervised many students through the doctoral degrees, covering topics  that include the European 'scramble for Africa', a the life and times of black activist and intellectual George Padmore, the impact of British rule on the evolution of international women's rights at the UN, the British press and the End of Empire, German botanists in the early C19th Cape,  bi-racial Anglo-Indians at Independence and 'coloured’ soldiers in the Second World War. In line with my own lifelong passion for music, I am excited to currently also have students specialising in the history of  resistance, politics and music, focusing on Algerian rap music and artists in France, and on counter culture and 'Zamrock'. Most recently, I have students working on the reproduction of Indian caste and inequality in South Africa and on politics, memory and trauma in Somalia. 

Other titles: PhD Programme Director and Admissions Advisor, Research Student Seminars 1st year (HY501)

Expertise Details

Modern Africa History

Teaching and supervision


Professor 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 jointly with other members of staff in the Department)

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

At postgraduate level:

HY436: Race, Violence and Colonial Rule in Africa


Professor Joanna Lewis supervises large numbers of students in UG dissertations (HY300) and Master’s thesis (HY498/HY499) 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
Danielle Davenport Scope of belonging: The Uncertainty of Being Biracial or ‘Mixed Race’ in India and Zambia at the End of the British Empire
Celine Mitchell French Algerian Hip-Hop: The Convergence of Colonialism, Islam, Racism, Poverty and Violence
Fergus Richardson-Soar “This is Zambia, a land of W.I.T.C.H”: The Zamrock movement, identity, social change and transnational countercultures in independent Zambia in the long seventies.

She supervised the following PhD students in the past:

 Research student  Provisional thesis title
Rishika Yadav (2022) Neglected Legacies: Non-White South Africans serving in the Second World War
Katherine Arnold (2021) German Natural History Collectors in Southern Africa, 1815-1867
Gaurav Sud (2021) 'Disinvestment? Out of the question'. A decade of crisis management in German subsidiaries in the era of P.W. Botha (1978-1989)
Caroline Green (2020) The impact of colonialism on human rights diplomacy: Britain’s colonial legacy and the UN agenda for the advancement of women, 1950-75
Artemis Photiadou (2019) British interrogation culture from war to peace, 1939-1948
Grace Carrington(2019) Non-Sovereign States in the era of Decolonization: Politics, Nationalism, and Assimilation in French and British Caribbean Territories, 1945-80

Student Testimonial

BA Alumna (2008) Shalina Patel was interviewed by the BBC in late June 2020 about how black history is taught in schools. Her experience taking Professor Joanna Lewis’s courses on race, violence and colonial rule in the British Empire, and subsequent experience having her as a dissertation supervisor, has had a profound effect on the way she teaches history. Professor Lewis says of Shalina: she “was an outstanding undergraduate and chose to do her dissertation on the empire and imperial issues featured in extra-curriculum school activities in three elite British public schools in the late Victorian period. It would make for great reading now especially.” From this experience, Shalina has started an Instagram account (The History Corridor) to help teach people about the British Empire and other aspects of history that are typically skipped over, or told from only one perspective. Her first experience with histories that weren’t white-washed was in the HY113 and HY240 courses she took with Dr Lewis during her BA.


One of Dr Lewis's 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', was selected for republication in a collection edition by Martin Shipway on the most influential recent articles on decolonisation.

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

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

Latest book:

Recent academic publications include:


 Lewis-WomenSomaliDiaspora Women of the Somali Diaspora: Refugees, Resilience and Rebuilding after Conflict (Hurst Publishers, 2021)
Read more | Order
 LewisEmpireSentiment Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism (Cambridge University Press, 2018. Paperback, 2020)
Read more | Order

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


Research for the World

Dr Lewis wrote an article for LSE’s online research magazine, Research for the World. As part of their Race Equity issue, she contributed a piece on her new book which explores the lives of the Somali women who arrived in Britain fleeing war, and their resilience in overcoming the barriers facing them as refugees in post-Imperial Britain. Read it here


PhD student supervisee awarded essay prize

Katherine Arnold was the joint winner of this year’s German History Society Postgraduate Essay Prize. Her submission, entitled “German Natural History Collectors and the Pursuit of Desiderata in Early Nineteenth-Century Southern Africa”, comes from her PhD research supervised by Dr David Motadel and Dr Joanna Lewis. Read more about Katherine's research and engagement with the Department.


Race Equity Reading List

The LSE Review of Books has compiled a Race Equity Reading List as part of Research for the World: Race Equity. Dr Lewis offered her recommendation of Professor Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History (Hurst Publishers, 2020). And, her latest publication Women of the Somali Diaspora” also features on the list. See what Dr Lewis and others recommendedRead more about the Race Equity project.


Thesis prize for former PhD student

Dr Gaurav Sud was awarded the 2021 Ivan-Hirst Prize by Volkswagen Heritage for his doctoral dissertation, "Disinvestment? Out of the question. Managing German business subsidiaries in apartheid South Africa during the tenure of P.W. Botha, 1978-1989", supervised by Dr Lewis. The jurors highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the thesis, its important contribution to fostering an understanding of the complex interplay between business, politics, and the public during the apartheid years as well as the method- ology that pre-eminently scrutinised material in underutilised company archives. The Ivan-Hirst-Prize has been awarded since 2000 to up and coming researchers whose work touches upon the history of Volkswagen.


New book

Women of the Somali Diaspora (Hurst Publishers) recounts and analyses the stories of Somali women who survived genocide and refugee camps to arrive in London, helping us to understand their personal histories, a collective history of refugees as rebuilders, and the forgotten history and hidden legacies of Britain’s colonial past. Read more


Postdoctoral fellowship success for two former PhD students supervised by Dr Joanna Lewis

Dr Caroline Green, currently an LSE Fellow with us has won one of the LSE's seven ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowships. She will extend her research on the international history of women's rights, Britain, and the end of Empire.
At the same time, Dr Grace Carrington has become part of a postdoctoral research team funded by the AHRC, based at Royal Holloway, which has won funding for “The Visible Crown: Queen Elizabeth II and the Caribbean, 1952 to the present”. Dr Carrington will be building on her doctoral thesis on Decolonisation and Independence in the Caribbean.


TIME Magazine

Dr Joanna Lewis recently talked with TIME Magazine about the Monarchy’s troubled relationship with race in the aftermath of Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah (10 March). She commented, “if we look to history, we can see how the royals have a complex relationship with people of color, because throughout the last decades, it’s visits to the Commonwealth where the monarchy has felt most popular, and most loved”. Read the article here.


Paperback edition

Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism was published in paperback in December.


British Academy Research Award

Dr Lewis won a British Academy 2020 Special Research Award Grant: Covid-19 Scheme to set up a small team to explore high death rates among Somali communities in some of the poorest parts of London. The project entitled, “A Study of Caabuga-Corona in the Somali Diaspora: Histories of COVID-19, Male Elders and Community Responses in Tower Hamlets and the East End of London”, was selected out of 842 eligible applications with a success rate of 6.6%. Dr Lewis was awarded close to the maximum on offer (£10,000). Read more about the scheme.


THE Book Review

Another book review by Dr Lewis was published in the 16 January issue of the Times Higher Education. She offered her comments on Licentious Worlds: Sex and Exploitation in Global Empires by Julie Peakman, a panoramic study of sexual behaviour and attempts to control it across five centuries of globalising empires. Find out what Dr Lewis had to say about this new release.


Channel 4 documentary

Dr Lewis was featured as an expert in the first two episodes of Channel 4's documentary The Queen’s Lost Family. Using never-before-seen personal letters, diaries and photograph albums, the documentary tells the inside story of the royal family over three turbulent decades from the 1920s to the end of World War Two. First episode was aired on Sunday, 11 August, and the second episode followed one week later.



THE book review

Dr Joanna Lewis reviewed Jeffrey A. Auerbach's Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire for the Times Higher Education on 29 November. She argues that his fascinating study takes boredom to a new level. Auerbach maintains that a unifying feature of the British Empire was the prolonged experience of being bored. So bored had the British become, he insists, it even laid “the emotional foundations for the British to leave their empire in the twentieth [century]”. Read the review.


LSE Research Showcase

The first LSE Research Showcase organised by Knowledge Exchange for the School community was held on 13 November and featured exhibits with film and photography, hands-on activities and games. One of 14 stands, Dr Joanna Lewis's research was featured in the exhibition. She presented her research with Dr Shane Marotta and Mohammed Ismail, on a contemporary case study in human resilience during and after the Somali civil war in 1991, “Rebuilding Somaliland After Conflict: The role of a London diaspora”.


Outreach lecture at Somali Cultural Festival

As part of the Somali Cultural Festival, Dr Joanna Lewis gave a public lecture on Monday, 22 October, at the Anglo-Somali Society. The lecture, entitled “Somali Women, the Diaspora and Resilience”, was based on Dr Lewis’s current research project at LSE funded by the Institute of Global Affairs. She talked about how Somali refugees, forced to flee conflict after 1990, survived the trauma of dislocation, rebuilt or remade new lives in London and then turned their attention to helping the homeland.


British Academy-funded workshop in South Africa

Dr Joanna Lewis presented at a British Academy-funded international workshop in South Africa on 11 October. The workshop, “Connecting the Local and the Global in Nineteenth Century Southern Africa” took place between 9 and 11 October and was jointly hosted by the International Studies Group, University of the Free State, and the University of Dundee in Scotland. Dr Lewis delivered one of the keynote lectures, entitled “The Pathetic Death of Bwana Ingeleshi: Late 19th Century British Imperialisms in South-Central Africa and the Graveyard of Ambition”. The lecture was based on two chapters in her recently released monograph Empire of Sentiment on the death and myth of David Livingstone.


Africa at LSE Blog

As a new exhibition commemorating the Somali effort during the First World War opened in London, Dr Joanna Lewis contributed a new article to the Africa at LSE Blog, analysing how scholarship of the Great War is increasingly encompassing the global contribution of the conflict. Read the article, "Somalis in the First World War".


Fieldwork in Somaliland

Dr Joanna Lewis left the UK on Friday, 20 July, to conduct research in Somaliland for her project on the reconstruction of post conflict states. In 2017, she 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, based at the Firoz Lalji LSE Centre for Africa, investigates the role of the Somali diaspora in building frameworks of social, political and financial resilience in a post-conflict urban environment. It case-studies the diasporic relationship between London and Hargeisa, capital of the unrecognised state of Somaliland, since civil war ended in 1991. As part of her research, Dr Lewis will interview Somaliland's Foreign Minister Dr Edna Adan in the Horn of Africa. Incidentally, Dr Adan and the issue of Somaliland’s status are discussed in an article in the Guardian on 20 July.


Empire of Sentiment Book of the Week

Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism was proclaimed Book of the Week by The Times Higher Education (22 March). Joanna Bourke reviews the manuscript while giving an account of Dr Lewis’s analysis of Livingstone’s mythologised death, as well as Livingstone’s legacy in post-imperial contexts. “Her new book on the ‘myth of imperialism’", Bourke argues, “is an enthralling analysis of the cult of Livingstone”. Read the full review in the THE website.


New book released by CUP

Dr Lewis’s new book, Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism, was released by Cambridge University Press in January 2018. The book argues that one singular moment, the death of David Livingstone, shaped Britain’s perception of itself as a humane power overseas when the colonial reality fell far short. The images and myths surrounding Livingstone’s death were passed down through generations, inspiring waves of sentimental feeling and further colonial rule in Africa. Order the book on Amazon UK. Watch the promo trailed for the book on Vimeo.


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.


Career promotion

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.