Erik Linstrum

Assistant Professor

(434) 924-7147

Nau 391
Office Hours: On Leave 2017-18
PDF icon CV public.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, challenges the assumption that scientific knowledge served as a reliable bulwark of imperial rule. Laboratory experiments, mental tests, and other techniques in 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 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 current book project, Age of Emergency: Everyday Violence at the End of Empire, explores how counterinsurgency campaigns in Malaya, Kenya, and Cyprus reverberated in Britain after 1945. How did knowledge about atrocity circulate through different groups in British society: from the anticolonial left to the unabashedly imperialist right, from the news media to the Church of England, from veterans' associations to the British Red Cross? Drawing on newspaper stories and radio broadcasts, legal opinions and medical reports, sermons and film scripts, I argue that atrocity stories had wide currency in postwar Britain — but that knowledge about colonial violence remained ambiguous, fragmented, and contested. 

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, 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