Erik Linstrum

Assistant Professor

(434) 924-7147

Nau 391
Office Hours: W 2:00-3:30 & by appointment
PDF icon Linstrum CV public F16.pdf

Field & Specialties

Modern Britain and British Empire; science; European cultural and intellectual


Ph.D., Harvard University, 2012
A.M., Harvard University, 2009
A.B., Princeton University, 2006


Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire (Harvard University Press, 2016)

“Facts about Atrocity: Reporting Colonial Violence in Postwar Britain,” History Workshop Journal (forthcoming fall 2017)

"Spectres of Dependency: Psychoanalysis in the Age of Decolonization," in Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism, ed. Matt ffytche and Daniel Pick (Routledge, 2016)

Current Research

I am interested in the imperial and global dimensions of modern British history. My first book, Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire, offers a new perspective on the relationship between expertise and empire. Challenging the assumption that scientific knowledge always strengthened imperial rule, the science of mind sometimes fueled protests against racial hierarchies and authoritarian politics. By complicating theories of racial difference, however — by constructing universal models across groups and charting individual variations within them — psychology also opened up new possibilities for governing colonized populations. From the use of mental testing with workers, soldiers, students, and rebels to the role of psychoanalysis in development planning, psychology mattered to imperial rule in surprisingly wide-ranging ways. Ruling Minds traces researchers, missionaries, bureaucrats, and military officers from the Pacific to India, Africa, the West Indies, and Britain itself, exploring the tensions which arose from their attempts to reconcile universal models of laboratory science with the particularities of place and culture. The book has been featured in New York magazine, Libération, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications.


My next project is a study of knowledge about violence in the postwar British Empire.  I ask how professional communities in the imperial world — lawyers, doctors, activists, and journalists — made sense of torture and other brutal acts in the context of counterinsurgency, translating traumatic events into empirical facts in ways that frustrated public scrutiny. 

Awards & Honors

Kluge Fellowship, Library of Congress, 2016

Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan, 2012-15

Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society, 2013

Walter D. Love Article Prize, North American Conference on British Studies, 2013

FHHS Article Prize, Forum for History of Human Science, 2013

Harold K. Gross Prize, Department of History, Harvard University, 2012

Mellon Research Fellowship, Institute of Historical Research, London, 2010-11

Courses Taught

I teach surveys of modern British and British imperial history and seminars on a wide range of topics, including colonial knowledge, colonial violence, London, comparative empires, and the human sciences.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts