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School of History

Dr Simon Layton


Lecturer in Early Global History

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 2898
Room Number: ArtsTwo 2.10


Originally from Aotearoa New Zealand, I completed my doctorate under the supervision of C. A. Bayly at the University of Cambridge, where I then lectured in World History for two years before joining the School of History at QMUL. I have also taught at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and at the University of Otago. My work explores the epistemological collision of local and indigenous concepts of maritime sovereignty and environmental custodianship with European imperial expansion in Asia and the Pacific.



I currently teach undergraduate courses in global history, including two modules on ‘piracy’ as a concept, phenomenon, and imperialist discourse from Antiquity to the present. I co-convene the first-year introductory module in global history, and contribute a block on oceanic history to the postgraduate Masters programme.



Undergraduate Teaching


Research Interests:

My research interests fall within the fields of imperial history, world history, environmental history and the ‘oceanic turn’, with regional focuses on littoral, riparian, and archipelagic spaces across the Indian Ocean and Pacific worlds. My forthcoming monograph (with Cambridge University Press) considers local and indigenous resistance to Britain’s naval and mercantile expansion from the eighteenth century, westwards from the Indian subcontinent into the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, and eastwards into the Straits of Melaka, Riau Archipelago, northwest Borneo and the South China Sea. My current research plumbs the depths of seaweed cultivation in the early modern world, tracing its production and exchange to explore the intersections of indigenous knowledge and global patterns of trade, politics, and society.  



  • Piratical States: British Imperialism in the Indian Ocean world (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). 


Book Chapters: 

  • 'Primitive Liberals and Pirate Tribes: Black-Flag Radicalism and the Kibbo Kift'Liberal Ideals and the Politics of Decolonisation, ed. Harshan Kumarasingham (Routledge, 2020). Co-authored. 





I welcome applications from candidates wishing to undertake doctoral research in any area of imperial, maritime, or environmental history between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly with focus on the Indian Ocean and Pacific worlds (broadly defined). 


Current PhD students: 

  • Max Easterbrooke, ‘Merchant Intellectualism in the British Imperial Tea Trade during the 19th Century’  

Past PhD students:

  • Timothy Riding, ‘Producing space in the English East India Company’s Western Presidency, 1612-1780’ (QMUL, 2018)
  • Steven Johnstone, ‘The Role of the Maritime Frontier in the Formation of White Australia, 1850-1914’ (QMUL, 2024)


  • Anshul Avijit, ‘Visual Culture of the Santals and their Image: Myth, Morals and Materiality’ (University of Cambridge, 2018) 
  • Rebecca Simon, ‘The Crime of Piracy and its Punishment: The Performance of Maritime Supremacy and its Representations in the British Atlantic World, 1670-1830’ (King’s College London, 2017) 



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