University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Erik Linstrum

Associate Professor, Department of History


Age of Emergency: Living with Violence at the End of Empire

How did British society respond — or fail to respond — to the use of torture, summary executions, and other atrocities in its overseas empire after 1945?  Although the absence of sustained outrage at the time has often been attributed to the absence of information, awareness of brutal violence was in fact widespread.  Many different communities or “circles of knowing” — soldiers, missionaries, activists, aid workers, journalists, playwrights, filmmakers, novelists — bridged the gap between the conflict zones of empire and everyday life in Britain.  But the same ways of knowing which eroded secrecy about violence also undermined action to stop it.  Age of Emergency chronicles the tactics of accommodation which surfaced again and again in post-1945 Britain: insisting on the unknowability of definitive truth about violence; distinguishing between knowledge of violence and the duty to act on it; valorizing the acceptance of “hard truths” as a virtue in itself; and dissolving specific acts of harm into universal morality tales. 


Erik Linstrum is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 2015.  He is a historian of British imperialism in the twentieth century, with interests in science and technology, war and violence, and decolonization.  His prize-winning first book is Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire (Harvard, 2016).  He has previously held fellowships with the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, the Institute of History Research in London, and the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan.