Joanna Lewis

Joanna Lewis

Research Interest


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 came 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.


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:

At postgraduate level:


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', was 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) for Times Higher Education.

Recent academic publications include: