Emerita Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History, UCL

I am a historian of Britain and its empire, and my focus for the last – I don’t know how long, it feels like a long time – has been on trying to re-think and re-write and teach differently and learn differently what the history of Britain is. So deconstructing the national narrative… And the national narrative in Britain has been one of liberty, freedom, a freedom loving people, prosperity, peace, no conquests, no violence, no expropriation. A peaceful story from beginning to end. A transformation from barbarism to civilisation, but one that has been done in an extraordinary and English way. Which means recognising trouble when it’s coming and dealing with it before it happens, reforming in time, and therefore the slow march of progress. And that Whig story of English history is still phenomenally powerful.”

Catherine spelt out her critique of too much British history at the beginning of her talk at the 2013 Colonial Legacy Conference. She has put forward an influential alternative that which focuses on the ways in which empire impacted upon metropolitan life, how the empire was lived ‘at home’, and how English identities, both masculine and feminine, were constituted in relation to the multiple ‘others’ of the empire.

She is Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at UCL and was Principal Investigator of the ESRC-funded project ‘Legacies of British Slave Ownership’ (2004-12) and the ESRC/AHRC-funded ‘Structure and Significance of British-Caribbean Slave-Ownership, 1763-1833’ (2013-16). At the core of this work is a database containing the identity of all slave-owners in the British Caribbean at the time slavery ended. As the project unfolded, we amassed, analysed and incorporated information about the activities, affiliations and legacies of all the British slave-owners on the database, building the Encyclopedia of British Slave-Owners.

Key Publications