On the Spot: Caroline Elkins

Photograph taken near the Woodstock Festival, 18 August 1969. Ric Manning/Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of the British Empire?

I’m intrigued in how the previous designs the entire world in which we’re residing. The British Empire’s substantial effects about time and area will make it a natural preference.

What is the most essential lesson historical past has taught you? 

How almost never leaders have an understanding of it, much fewer draw upon it in valuable techniques.

Which historical past ebook has had the biggest influence on you?

Eric Hobsbawm’s oeuvre. I couldn’t select just just one.

What reserve in your discipline should all people go through?

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

Which instant would you most like to go back to?

Woodstock, 1969.

Which historian has had the best influence on you?

Susan Pedersen. She ‘adopted’ me when my adviser, Leroy Vail, handed away. Her get the job done and tips (even if I never usually listen!) have still left indelible imprints on me.

Which man or woman in history would you most like to have met? 


How many languages do you have? 

English, fairly good French, so-so KiSwahili and standard Kikuyu.

What historic subject matter have you modified your mind on?

British colonial violence. 

What is the most popular misunderstanding about your subject? 

That the British Empire can be approached as a stability sheet exercising.

Which style of heritage do you like least?

Anything that recycles outdated tropes.

What is the most interesting subject in heritage today?

Any discipline exactly where the historian requires dangers.

Is there an crucial historic text you have not examine? 

In which to commence?!

What is your favorite archive? 

Singapore Countrywide Archive for its oral background collection and the Rhodes Property Library at Oxford when it housed colonial records.

What’s the ideal museum?

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. 

What technological know-how has adjusted the world the most? 

The Maxim Gun.

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean? 

Indian Ocean.

Historical drama or documentary? 


The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu.

What will upcoming generations decide us most harshly for?

Not heeding the warning sirens of environmental destruction.





Caroline Elkins is Professor of Historical past and African and African American Scientific tests at Harvard College and author of Legacy of Violence: A Heritage of the British Empire (Bodley Head, 2022).

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