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Time’s Monster: How History Makes History

Priya Satia, Stanford University

October 28, 2020 · 12:00 pm · virtual

Center for Collaborative History, Department of History

Global History Workshop

Book Talk | “Time’s Monster: How History Makes History”

Priya Satia, Stanford University

Registration is required to attend.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing a unique link to join the meeting. There is no pre-circulated paper for this workshop.


For generations, British thinkers told the history of an empire whose story was still very much in the making. While they wrote of conquest, imperial rule in India, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean was consolidated. While they described the development of imperial governance, rebellions were brutally crushed. As they reimagined empire during the two world wars, decolonization was compromised. Priya Satia shows how these historians not only interpreted the major political events of their time but also shaped the future that followed.

Satia makes clear that historical imagination played a significant role in the unfolding of empire. History emerged as a mode of ethics in the modern period, endowing historians from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill with outsized policymaking power. At key moments in Satia’s telling, we find Britons warding off guilty conscience by recourse to particular notions of history, especially those that spotlighted great men helpless before the will of Providence. Braided with this story is an account of alternative visions articulated by anticolonial thinkers such as William Blake, Mahatma Gandhi, and E. P. Thompson. By the mid-twentieth century, their approaches had reshaped the discipline of history and the ethics that came with it.

Time’s Monster demonstrates the dramatic consequences of writing history today as much as in the past. Against the backdrop of enduring global inequalities, debates about reparations, and the crisis in the humanities, Satia’s is an urgent moral voice.

Priya Satia is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History and Professor of History at Stanford University, where she teaches modern British and British empire history. Her first book, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (2008), won three major prizes including the AHA’s Herbert Baxter Adams Prize. Her second book, Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution (2018), also won three major prizes, including the AHA’s Jerry Bentley Prize, and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in History. She has just published a new book, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History (2020). Her prize-winning work has also appeared in several edited collections and scholarly journals such as the American Historical Review, Past & Present, Technology & Culture, History Workshop Journal, Annales, and Humanity. Prof. Satia also writes frequently for popular media, such as Time, The Nation, Washington Post, The New Republic, and Slate.com.

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