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The history of the law in Britain is an area of interest for the Centre of Imperial and Global History.

Centre for Imperial and Global History

Understanding how the modern world was shaped by its past is a goal of the University of Exeter's Centre for Imperial and Global History (CIGH).

Launched in late 2013, the Centre aims to show how much of the world’s history was created by empires, to reposition the histories of those empires in a wider global context, and gain insight into the causes and consequences of globalisation.

It does this through researching topics including the histories of humanitarianism and human rights, law and colonialism, regions in a global context, and the relationship between globalisation’s past and present.  

Professor Andrew Thompson directs the CIGH, which boasts one of the largest and most diverse and vibrant groups of imperial historians in the UK.

He explained: “My colleagues are exploring the rise and fall of empires globally, in all their variety, complexity, and brutality, and, in doing so, they are revealing their lasting legacies for today's world.

“Our ambition is to be recognised as one of the world's leading centres for undertaking work of this kind, to build strong collaborative links with other international centres of excellence, and to bring the fruits of our research into the teaching programme.”

He added: “We now live in a world where the nation-state is almost taken for granted as the key political unit and basis of the international order. But much of the world's history was actually forged in the great ethno-cultural entities we call empires.

“Prior to the Second World War empires were the main motor of human history, as well as a key driver of early forms of globalisation. Flows of imperial conquest, contact and communication affected the ways in which people thought about their societies, gauged political possibilities, and carved out trade routes.”

The Centre runs a series of events, bringing together academics from a range of disciplines to discuss a wide range of historical issues with contemporary resonance including the insights we can draw from financial, humanitarian and military crises and conflicts in the past when facing not dissimilar problems today.

A current Centre project is an exhibition organised by the Research Network on Law and Empire, an international network of academics investigating how people from across the world adapted to the British legal system to defend and demand their rights. The network is led by Exeter's Nandini Chatterjee and Reading's Charlotte Smith, with support from others including the CIGH's Stacey Hynd.

The exhibition will tell the story of law and people's experience of it in the British Empire. Focusing on the history of the Privy Council for the UK Supreme Court, the event will take place in Supreme Court's main lobby during the 2014 summer recess.

Internationally renowned academics Professors David Anderson and John McLaren (of the Universities of Warwick and Victoria respectively) will host public lectures at the exhibition, which will also feature postgraduate student workshops and moots for local schools.

Professor Richard Toye, an expert in economic and political history, is working with his colleagues in  the CIGH to produce a series of podcasts to further share their work. The latest edition, which discusses American historian William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, a look at American foreign policy in the 19th and 20th centuries:

The Centre also uses digital media to help people understand how modern politics relates to past events. It runs a Twitter account and Facebook page in addition to a blog, the Imperial and Global Forum.

Dr Marc-William Palen manages and edits much of the CIGH’s web content. He said in the last few months the blog has received thousands of visitors from close to 50 countries.

He added: “The blog is  very good for getting information quickly out to a wider audience. Blog writing helps us talk in a more accessible way to non-experts. You spend so much time speaking with experts you forget how to communicate to anyone outside that circle.

“By talking about news like the French intervention in Africa and tying it with events in decades past, we give a historical perspective that you don’t get from normal news outlets.”

As a result, a variety of blog articles have been featured on the History News Network, among other international outlets, further increasing the global reach of the Centre.

Using multiple platforms to reach their audience helps the CIGH to establish a strong international profile for its research. Oxford University Press have recently commissioned a large-scale study of The Ends of Empires, a comprehensive look at the causes, course and consequences of the ends of empire in the twentieth century.

Written by Professors Thompson and Martin Thomas, the book shows how decolonisation was the foundation to the making of the modern world, conveying its global reach, exploring relationships between the study of decolonisation and globalisation, and to consider the legacies of European empires for formerly colonised societies and for Europe itself.