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Dr Michael Collins

Dr Michael Collins is Associate Professor of Modern British History. He joined UCL History as a permanent lecturer in 2007 and was awarded his PhD in History by the University of Oxford in 2009. He had previously studied the history of political thought at Cambridge University and politics at the London School of Economics.

He is a historian of politics, broadly defined, with a particular interest in the intellectual and social contexts that shape the formation of political ideas, both in terms of ‘elite’ networks and broader strands of public opinion and belief. He is interested in how political ideas are developed and legitimated in national and international public spheres, and how imperial, international and transnational historical forces impact upon this process. The historical problem within which Dr Collins explores these themes is decolonization: the end of the European empires in the twentieth century. 

His current book project, which builds upon British Academy Small Research Grant SG112645 – ‘Decolonization and Imperial Ideology in British Africa, 1945-1968’ – develops the concept of ‘race thinking’ in 1950s and 1960s Britain. It looks at the complex evolution of ideas about Britain’s self-styled ‘liberal empire’ and the ‘civilising mission’ as the empire came to a formal end, asking questions about the legacy of these ideas in the metropole. 

The book is part of a wider research agenda that seeks to understand and evaluate the diverse ways in which the experience of decolonization shaped Britain from the late 1940s onwards, specifically with regard to questions of immigration, race and national identity.

Whilst Britain constitutes the primary focus of his research, Dr Collins is also interested in comparative perspectives, particularly with the French experience. To this end, he recently secured a UCL Global Engagement grant to establish a PHD/ECR research network on the ‘afterlives of empire’, linking scholars in London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. 

PhD supervision

Dr Collins welcomes applications from students wishing to study for a PhD connected to imperialism and decolonization in relation to the metropolitan legacies of empire post-1945.

Currently supervising: Saffron East, 'The Indian Workers' Association, the Southall Black Sisters and "black" politics in 1970s Britain'; Gavin Bacon, 'Teaching the history of empire in English secondary schools after decolonization'

Recently completed: Jack Saunders, ‘The British motor industry 1945-77: how workplace cultures shaped labour militancy’; Kieran O’Leary, ‘From Birmingham to Bulawayo: The Labour government, race and decolonization, 1964-1970’; Kevin Guyan, ‘Masculinities, planning knowledge and domestic space in Britain, c.1941-1961’; Jack Taylor, ‘The Attlee Government and the collapse of British Power in Iran, 1945-1951’; Hana Qugana, ‘The cultural politics of Englishness: John Gordon Hargrave, the Kibbo Kift and Social Credit, 1920-1939’.

Major publications

For a full list of publications, see Michael's Iris profile.

Teaching

  • British History, 1850-1997 (first- and second-year undergraduate survey course)
  • Britain and Decolonization since 1945 (second-year undergraduate research seminar)
  • London in the Twentieth Century (second- and third-year advanced seminar module)
  • MA History and European History core course
  • Decolonization: Britain and the Afterlives of Empire (elective course for MA students)