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School of History

Professor Kim A. Wagner

Kim A.

Professor of Global and Imperial History

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 8428
Room Number: ArtsTwo 3.31


I did my Ph.D. in South Asian history at the University of Cambridge (2000-03), supervised by the late Professor Sir C.A. Bayly. This was followed by a four-year Research Fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, and a two-year Research Associate post at the University of Edinburgh. I was subsequently employed as Lecturer in Imperial and World History at the University of Birmingham, before joining Queen Mary in 2012. Between 2015 and 2018, I had a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship working with Dane Kennedy at George Washington University, DC.

My latest book, Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre, will be published by Yale University Press during the centenary year of 2019.


Undergraduate Teaching

HST5343: Narratives of the Raj: The History of Modern India, 1757-1947

HST6747: Anxieties of Empire: Rumours, Rebellion and the British Imagination

HST6367: Heritage after Empire: Decolonising Public History

HST7338: Readings in Global History

Undergraduate Teaching


Research Interests:

My research explores the forms and functions of violence and cultural (mis-)understanding within British and other imperial formations, and between the Western and the non-Western Worlds more generally. My work has largely focussed on key conflicts and turning-points in the history of British India, and especially on indigenous resistance, involving ‘Thugs’, rebels, ‘fanatics’, or nationalists. The attempt to reconstruct multiple perspectives, and move beyond conventional imperial history, has been central to this endeavour, for which I draw from the insights of anthropology and literary- and post-colonial studies. In my recent book, The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and death of a Rebel of 1857 (Hurst/OUP/Penguin India, 2017), I sought to recover the experience of an Indian rebel through a critical reading of the colonial archive ‘against the grain’. The micro-history of one man’s skull was furthermore situated within a broader, globally comparative, exploration of the wider colonial phenomenon of collecting war-trophies and exhibiting human remains. My latest book on the Amritsar massacre of 1919 relies on the concept of ‘thick periodization’ to demonstrate how colonial anxieties, originating in the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857, shaped the British interpretation of unrest, and, crucially, dictated the levels of violence required to suppress it. This work speaks directly to current debates on the legacies of Empire, and especially the calls for reparations, repatriation and the decolonization of museums and universities in the West. Current research projects include:

  • Legacies and afterlives of Empire in contemporary Britain
  • The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 (Jallianwala Bagh)
  • ‘Savage Warfare’ – colonial violence and counterinsurgency in the American and British Empires, 1895-1913
  • The concept of ‘going native’ as a (fictional) mode of colonial governance
  • ‘Yellow Peril’ scares and the Boxer Rebellion 1900 in a global perspective
  • The ‘Rashomon’-effect and historical narratives


Single-authored Books

Articles in Peer-reviewed journals

  • ‘Fear and Loathing in Amritsar: An Intimate Account of Colonial Crisis’, in Itinerario, The Private Lives of Empire, 42, 1 (Aril 2018), pp. 67-84.
  • ‘Savage Warfare: Violence and the Rule of Colonial Difference in Early British Counterinsurgency’, History Workshop Journal, 85, 1 (April 2018), pp. 217-37.
  • ‘Calculated to Strike Terror: The Amritsar Massacre and the Spectacle of Colonial Violence’, Past & Present, 233, 1 (Nov., 2016), pp. 185-225.
  • ‘Treading Upon Fires’: The ‘Mutiny’-Motif and Colonial Anxieties in British India’, Past & Present, 218, 1 (Feb., 2013), pp. 159-97.
  • ‘The Marginal Mutiny: The New Historiography of the Indian Uprising of 1857’, History Compass, 9, 10 (Oct. 2011), pp. 760-66.
  • ‘Confessions of a Skull: Phrenology and Colonial Knowledge in early nineteenth-century India’, History Workshop Journal, 69 (Spring, 2010), pp. 28-51.
  • ‘Thuggee and Social Banditry Reconsidered’, The Historical Journal, 50, 2 (2007), pp. 353-76.
  • ‘The Deconstructed Stranglers – A Reassessment of Thuggee’, Modern Asian Studies, 38, 4, (2004), pp. 931-63.

Contributions to Edited Volumes

  • ‘Rebellion, Resistance, and the Subaltern’, in Peter Fibiger Bang and Walter Scheidel (eds.), The Oxford World History of Empire (forthcoming 2019).

  • 'Seeing Like a Soldier: The Amritsar Massacre and the Politics of Military History’, in Martin Thomas and Gareth Curless (eds.) Colonial Counterinsurgency (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), pp. 23-37.

  • ‘‘Thugs and Assassins’: New Terrorism and the Resurrection of Colonial Knowledge’, in Carola Dietze and Claudia Verhoeven (eds.) Oxford Handbook of the History of Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  • ‘‘In Unrestrained Conversation’: Approvers and the Colonial Ethnography of Crime in nineteenth-century India’, in Kim A. Wagner & Ricardo Roque (eds) Engaging Colonial Knowledge: Reading European Archives in World History (link is external) (Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011), 135-162.

  • ‘‘Vengeance Against England!’: Hermann Goedsche and the Indian Uprising’, in Crispin Bates & Marina Carter (eds.) New Perspectives on 1857 (Delhi: Sage, 2013), pp. 150-169.

Co-authored and Co-edited Work



I welcome applications from candidates wishing to undertake doctoral research in the following areas:

  • British Imperialism and South Asia 1757-1947
  • Colonial knowledge, policing and intelligence gathering
  • Colonial panics and popular culture
  • Crime and banditry in World History
  • Orientalism and Postcolonial Theory
  • Micro-history and Anthropology
  • Counter-insurgency and colonial state violence
  • Riots, resistance and rebellion in South Asia
  • Anglo-Indian literature

Current PhD Students

  • Jacob Smith – Imperial Retribution: The hunt for Nana Sahib and rebel leaders in the aftermath of the Indian “Mutiny” of 1857

Current PHD Students

  • Maria Awan – A Discourse of Sympathy: Syed Ahmed Khan as Navigator of Feeling in Colonial India
  • Jacob Smith – Imperial Retribution: The hunt for Nana Sahib and rebel leaders in the aftermath of the Indian “Mutiny” of 1857