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Dame Linda Colley, the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History, is an expert on British, imperial and global history since 1700. Born in Britain, she graduated from Bristol University with First Class Honors in history, and completed her Ph.D. in history at Cambridge University. The first female Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, she moved to Yale University in 1982.
Her first book, In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714-1760 (1982), challenged the then-dominant view by arguing that the Tory party remained active and influential during its years out of power, exploring the consequences of this for ideas, popular politics and political action. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (1992), which won the Wolfson Prize for History, and has passed through five editions, investigated how - and how far - inhabitants of England, Scotland, and Wales came to see themselves as British over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 1998, Professor Colley accepted a Senior Leverhulme Research Professorship at the London School of Economics. She spent the next five years researching the experiences of thousands of Britons taken captive in North America, South Asia, and the Mediterranean and North Africa. Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850 (2002), the result of this work, used captivity narratives of different kinds to investigate the under-belly and sporadic vulnerability of this empire and its makers.
Colley is also the author of Namier, a reappraisal of the Polish-born and Zionist historian Lewis Namier, and The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History. Named as one of the best books of 2007 by The New York Times, this was a pioneer of the technique of using the life experiences of an individual to explore trans-national and trans-continental histories.
In 2008-9, Colley guest-curated an exhibition at the British Library, London, Taking Liberties, on the meanings of constitutional texts, publishing an interpretative essay "Taking Stock of Taking Liberties: A Personal View" (2008). In 2014, and in advance of the referendum on Scottish independence, she was invited to deliver fourteen talks on BBC Radio 4 on the formation and fractures of the United Kingdom, and these were published as Acts of Union and Disunion (2014). Her next book The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World is scheduled to appear in spring 2021.
In 1999, Colley delivered the Prime Minister’s Millennium Lecture at 10 Downing Street. Among other scholarly and public lectures, she has delivered the Trevelyan Lectures at Cambridge University, the Wiles Lectures at Queen’s University, Belfast, Ford and Bateman Lectures at Oxford, the Nehru Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics, the Lewis Walpole Memorial Lecture at Yale, the Carnochan Lecture at Stanford, the President's Lecture at Princeton University in 2007, and the Robb Lectures at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2015.
In 1999, Colley was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Academia Europaea, and a non-resident Permanent Fellow in history at the Swedish Collegium of Advanced Study. In 2009, she was awarded a C.B.E. In 2022, Colley received the Order of the British Empire: DBE (Dame of the Order of the British Empire) as part of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II's, platinum jubilee birthday honours. She holds seven honorary degrees. Professor Colley joined Princeton University’s History Department in 2003.
At Princeton, Colley regularly offers lecture courses on British and British imperial history from 1700 to 2000. She has also recently taught undergraduate seminars on the American Revolution in world history, and on the uses of ego-documents in history. She regularly heads a graduate seminar on Britain and global history from 1700 to 1950; and runs a senior seminar with Professors David Bell and Yair Mintzker on new research into the 18th century. Previous graduate students supervised by Colley have gone on to gain academic positions in the USA, Canada, the UK and Germany, and she continues to accept new graduate students.
M.A. and Ph.D., Cambridge University