Timothy Parsons

​Professor of History and of African and African-American Studies
PhD, Johns Hopkins University
MA, George Washington University
BA, Wesleyan University
research interests:
  • The Social History of Colonial Africa
  • Africa in the Early National Era
  • Empire
  • Education in Colonial Africa
  • Urban History
  • Ethnicity and the Creation of Identity
  • Islam in Africa
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contact info:

office hours:

  • ​Monday 3:00 - 5:00 pm
  • (in McMillan 236)
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1109
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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​As a social historian of twentieth century Africa, Professor Parsons' research to date has been focused on understanding how ordinary people experienced imperial rule.

Parsons' books to date have explored how Africans from diverse walks of life navigated the shifting realities of repression and opportunity that emerged during the imperial and early national eras. Building on this earlier work, he is currently pursuing several research projects:

  • The Historical Geography of Kenyan Identity Formation
  • The Imperial Inheritance: The Legacies and Consequences of Empire for East Africa, the West, and the Wider World
  • A World History of the Twentieth Century
The Second British Empire: In the Crucible of the Twentieth Century

The Second British Empire: In the Crucible of the Twentieth Century

At its peak, the British Empire spanned the world and linked diverse populations in a vast network of exchange that spread people, wealth, commodities, cultures, and ideas around the globe. By the turn of the twentieth century, this empire, which made Britain one of the premier global superpowers, appeared invincible and eternal. This compelling book reveals, however, that it was actually remarkably fragile. Reconciling the humanitarian ideals of liberal British democracy with the inherent authoritarianism of imperial rule required the men and women who ran the empire to portray their non-Western subjects as backward and in need of the civilizing benefits of British rule. However, their lack of administrative manpower and financial resources meant that they had to recruit cooperative local allies to actually govern their colonies.