Linda Colley, the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History, is an expert on Britain since 1700. She favors cross-disciplinary history, and in both her writing and teaching examines Britain’s past in broader European, imperial, and global contexts. Born in Britain, she graduated from Bristol University with First Class Honors in history (1972) and completed her Ph.D. in history at Cambridge University (1977). 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 potent during its years out of power, exploring the consequences of this in regards to ideas, electoral and popular politics and political action. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (1992), which won the Wolfson Prize for History and which has been re-issued in a revised 5th paperback edition, investigated how - and how far - the 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 in History at the London School of Economics. She spent the next five years researching the experiences of the thousands of Britons who were taken captive in North America, South Asia, and the Mediterranean and North Africa between 1600 and 1850 as the British Empire expanded. Captives (2002), the result of this work, used captivity narratives of different kinds to investigate the under-belly and sporadic vulnerability of empire, the complex relations between British imperialists and the societies they sought to invade, and the quality and flexibility of individual identity under pressure. Colley is also the author of Namier (1989), a reappraisal of the Polish-born and Zionist historian Lewis Namier, and The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History, which was named as one of the ten best books of 2007 by the New York Times. An exercise in meshing biography with trans-continental history, The Ordeal used the life experience and peregrinations of a single, self made woman to chart and discuss the extent of proto-globalization in the later 18th century, and the degree to which individuals at the time were cognizant of it. In 2008-9, Colley guest-curated a major 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). The exhibition attracted 100,000 visitors and was opened by the then British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. In 2014, and in advance of the referendum on Scottish independence, she was invited to deliver fifteen talks on BBC Radio 4 on the formation and fractures of the United Kingdom. These were published as Acts of Union and Disunion (2014)
Professor Colley also writes occasionally for the London Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Review of Books. In 1999 she 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 (1997), the Wiles Lectures at Queen’s University, Belfast (1997), a Ford and the Bateman Lectures at Oxford (1999 and 2003), the Nehru Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics (2003), the Lewis Walpole Memorial Lecture at Yale (2000), the Carnochan Lecture at Stanford (1998), the President's Lecture at Princeton University in 2007, and the Robb Lectures at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in 2015. In 2016, she was interviewed by the British Academy about her career and current work.
In 1999 she was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Academia Europaea. In 2009, she was awarded a C.B.E. She holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Bristol, East Anglia, Essex, Hull and Southbank. Professor Colley joined Princeton University’s History Department in 2003.
Professor Colley is currently writing a book on war, empire and the spread of constitution making after 1750. She is the Princeton representative of the Wolfson Foundation funded "Global Nodes, Global Orders" project, which links senior scholars at work on global history at the Universities of Oxford, Osaka, Konstanz, Leiden, Kolkata, and Princeton University.
Colley regularly teaches undergraduate survey lecture courses on Britain from 1688 to 1945. She has also taught undergraduate seminars on travel and travel narratives, and on life writing and writing lives from the 17th century to the present. As well as directing individual graduate students, she heads a two semester graduate seminar on British history in a global perspective from c. 1700-c. 1960. She has also taught graduate seminars on British and American empire, and on Britain and France in the 18th century.
Professor Colley runs a senior seminar with Professors David Bell and Yair Mintzker on new research into the 18th century. This meets regularly in the Department of History.
M.A. and Ph.D., Cambridge University