Skip to main content

Archaeology and History

Photo of Professor Martin Thomas

Professor Martin Thomas

D.Phil (Oxon)



01392 724183


I work on the meanings and impacts of colonial disintegration, focusing primarily on the interactions between decolonisation and globalisation. Between 2019 and 2022 I held a three-year Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship Globalising decolonisation: connecting processes of global transformation.

I am especially interested in patterns of empire collapse and the nature and extent of political violence during contested decolonisation. I explore these issues in The End of Empires and a World Remade: A Global History of Decolonization, published with Princeton University Press ( An earlier outcome of this work is Fight or Flight: Britain, France and their Roads from Empire, a book published with Oxford University Press in 2014 (

Between 2016 and 2019 I was Principal Investigator on a Leverhulme Trust network grant, Understanding Insurgencies: Resonances from the Colonial Past. Based in Exeter's Centre for Histories of Violence and Conflict (CHVC), the network brought together six partner institutions: in the UK. the Universities of Warwiick, Oxford and Glasgow; overseas, KITLV Leiden, Sciences Po, Paris, and the Université de Québec, Montreal. More details are available at:

My research has also focused on contested access to colonial economic resources and forms of state violence within colonial societies, notably in North Africa. Working with a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship between 2009-12, I completed a three-year project on 'Political Economies of Empire Violence and Police Repression'. The work centred on comparing the nature and scale of police intervention during colonial labour disputes, urban protests, and anti-colonial violence in the Depression era of the 1920s and 1930s. Ranging from North Africa to French Vietnam, a central proposition of this research is that policing of the colonial workplace remained a more significant priority for security forces than repression of anti-colonial nationalism. The resulting book, Violence and Colonial Order: Police, Workers and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918-40, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. (

I previously worked with my colleague Professor Richard Toye on a further Leverhulme Trust research project on 'The Rhetoric of Empire: Managing Imperial Conflict between Britain and France'. Hosted by CWSS, the project compared the behaviour of British and French political elites by examining the language and rhetorical devices they employed during highpoints of colonial confrontation.

Back to top


My research interests focus on the following broad themes:

  • French colonialism and global decolonization:
  • Forms of anti-colonial protest in North Africa;
  • Colonial security services, policing, and the nature of state violence;
  • 'Dirty wars' and counter-insurgency, particularly human rights abuses in asymmetric conflicts;
  • Global politics since World War I.

My current research addresses two big questions: Was the end of formal empire a global revolution? And what were the underlying political economies of colonial violence in particular places? These questions feed into my work on European decolonization and the socio-economic determinants of coercive policing in North Africa, the Caribbean and colonial South East Asia. This is a development of my previous research into the role of information collection and political surveillance in ordering colonial societies. As part of that work, between 2008 and 2010, I was chief investigator on the ESRC project ‘Cultures of Repression: the Legacy of Colonial Violence and State Repression in the Maghreb’.  

Recent Conference Papers

June 2019: (with roel Frakking), 'Windows onto the micro-dynamics of insurgent and counter-insurgent violence: evidence from late colonial Southeast Asia and Africa compared,' Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies conference, Amsterdam.

May 2019: Co-imperialism, Biopolitics, and the Absence of Imperial Peace after 1919,' Visions of Global Order conference, University of Glasgow.

September 2018: 'Thinking through decolonisation,' University of Geneva conference on post-colonial transitions in West Africa.

September 2016: 'Insurgencies and War to Peace Transitions,' Understanding Insurgencies research network workshop, University of Exeter.

October 2014, ',Recasting Resistance: Delegitimizing Anti-Colonial Violence in Vietnam and Algeria after 1945' University of Quebec, Montreal.

December 2013, 'Violence and Colonial Order: Political Economies of Protest and Repression,' University of Brussels, Colonial Policing conference keynote.

October 2013, 'Feeding the Fury: The Political Economy of Algerian Dissent, 1940-45,' Jacques Berque Research Centre, Rabat.

September 2013, 'Legacies of Fight or Flight: Contested Decolonization in Contested Memory,' Institute of Historical Research, London.

July 2011, 'Coolies, Communists and Capital: Policing the Rubber Crash in Malaya and Indochina,' 'Colonial Circulations' Conference, University of Bristol.

June 2011, 'Locating Colonial Violence: The Role of Police and Labour Control,' Workshop on Comparative Colonial Violence, Paris I.

February 2011, 'Ringleaders, Mobs, and Enemies: Defining ‘Minimum Force’ in Colonial Protest Policing after 1914,' International Studies Association Conference, Montreal.

Research collaborations

From April to June 2019 I was a fellow of the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies, Amsterdam, working with colleagues on a long-term research project, Comparing the wars of decolonization: Extreme violence during reoccupation and counter-insurgency, 1945-1975.

Back to top


I am happy to offer research supervision in the following broad areas:

  • French colonial history in the late nineteenth and twentieth century;
  • Insurgencies and late colonial conflicts in Africa and Asia;
  • Colonial policing and the collection of information in colonial societies;
  • French international politics since 1919;
  • European decolonisation.

Research students

I have supervised PhD students working on various facets of French, imperial, and international history in the twentieth century. Their research topics have followed two channels: French political and social history and histories of colonial disintegration and violence. These have included doctorates on the following topics:

  • the treatment of Displaced Persons in the French Zone of Occupation in post-war Germany;
  • colonial worker protest and trade unionism;
  • the construction and political culture of French Mandate Syria;
  • colonial counter-insurgency and cultures of violence in wars of decolonisation;
  • the political and imperial culture of the early RAF;
  • Franco-British colonial rivalry and the politics of imperial rhetoric.

Back to top


Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2023 | 2022 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1998 |


  • Thomas M. (2023) The Oxford Handbook of Late Colonial Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies, Oxford University Press.



  • Thomas M, Thompson A. (2019) The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire, Oxford Handbooks.



  • Thomas M, Toye R. (2017) Introduction: Rhetorics of empire, DOI:10.7765/msi/9781526120496.01.
  • Thomas M, Toye R. (2017) Arguing about Empire, DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198749196.001.0001. [PDF]
  • Toye R. (2017) Rhetorics of Empire Languages of Colonial Conflict After 1900, Studies in Imperialism.
  • Thomas MC. (2017) Repression, reprisals and rhetorics of massacre in Algeria's war, Rhetorics of Empire: Languages of Colonial Conflict after 1900, Manchester University Press, 161-186.
  • Toye R. (2017) Arguing about Empire Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956, Oxford University Press, USA.
  • Curless GM, Thomas M. (2017) Decolonization and Conflict: Colonial Comparisons and Legacies, Bloomsbury Academic.




  • Thomas MC, Thompson A. (2013) Empire and Globalisation: from ‘High Imperialism’ to Decolonisation, International History Review, volume 36, no. 1, pages 142-170, DOI:10.1080/07075332.2013.828643.
  • Thomas MC. (2013) France and the Ethiopian Crisis, 1935-36: Security Dilemmas and Adjustable Interests, Collision of Empires: Italy's Invasion of Ethiopia and its International Impact, Ashgate, 109-134.
  • Thomas MC. (2013) A path not taken? British perspectives on French colonial violence after 1945, The Wind of Change: Harold Macmillan and British Decolonization, Palgrave-Macmillan, 159-179.


  • Thomas M. (2012) Violence and Colonial Order, DOI:10.1017/cbo9781139045643. [PDF]
  • Thomas M. (2012) Violence and Colonial Order: Police, Workers, and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918-40, Cambridge University Press.


  • Thomas MC. (2011) Réflexions sur les conflits coloniaux: perceptions françaises sur le mouvement Mau Mau et perceptions britanniques sur la guerre d’Indochine, 1952-1955, Revue Historique des Armées, volume 3, no. 264, pages 75-93.
  • Thomas MC. (2011) Intelligence Providers and the Fabric of the Late Colonial State, Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century, Palgrave-Macmillan, 11-35.
  • Thomas MC. (2011) Eradicating ‘Communist Banditry’ in French Vietnam: The Rhetoric of Repression after the Yen Bay Uprising, 1930-32, French Historical Studies, volume 34, no. 3, pages 611-648.
  • Thomas MC. (2011) Resource War, Civil War, Rights War: Factoring Empire into French North Africa’s Second World War, War in History, volume 18, no. 2, pages 225-248.
  • Thomas MC. (2011) Colonial Violence in Algeria and the Distorted Logic of State Retribution: The Sétif uprising of 1945, Journal of Military History, volume 75, no. 1.


  • Thomas M. (2010) The Gendarmerie, Information Collection, and Colonial Violence in French North Africa between the Wars, Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques, volume 36, no. 2, pages 76-96.


  • THOMAS M. (2009) FRENCH EMPIRE ELITES AND THE POLITICS OF ECONOMIC OBLIGATION IN THE INTERWAR YEARS*, The Historical Journal, volume 52, no. 4, pages 989-1016, DOI:10.1017/s0018246x09990379.
  • Thomas MC. (2009) French Empire Elites and the Politics of Economic Obligation in the Inter-War years, Historical Journal, volume 52, no. 4, pages 1-28.
  • Thomas MC. (2009) Processing Decolonization: British Strategic Analysis of Conflict in Vietnam and Indonesia, 1945–1950, Connecting Histories. Decolonization and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, Stanford University Press, 84-120.
  • Thomas MC. (2009) 'Communautés en contact. Les colons, une elite coloniale en Afrique du Nord au XXe siècle', Au Sommet de l’Empire. Les élites européennes dans les colonies, P.I.E. Peter Lang, 261-281.


  • Thomas MC, Moore B, Butler LJ. (2008) Crises of Empire: Decolonization and Europe's Imperial States, 1918-1975, Arnold.
  • Thomas MC. (2008) Appeasement in the Late Third Republic, Diplomacy & Statecraft, volume 19, no. 3, pages 566-607.
  • Thomas MC. (2008) 'France and the Algerian War: Diplomacy and the Internationalization of Decolonization', War & Diplomacy from World War I to the War on Terrorism, Potomac, 58-80.
  • Thomas MC. (2008) Innocent abroad? Decolonisation and US engagement with French West Africa, 1945-56, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, volume 36, no. 1, pages 47-73, DOI:10.1080/03086530801889384.


  • Thomas M. (2007) Insurgent intelligence: Information gathering and anti-colonial rebellion, Intelligence & National Security, volume 22, no. 1, pages 155-163, DOI:10.1080/02684520701200913.
  • Thomas MC. (2007) France's North African Crisis: Cold War and Colonial Imperatives, 1945-1955, History, volume 2, pages 207-234.
  • Thomas MC. (2007) Empires of Intelligence. Security Services and Colonial Disorder after 1914, University of California Press.
  • Thomas MC. (2007) Insurgent Intelligence: Information Gathering and Anti-Colonial Rebellion, Intelligence and National Security, volume 22, no. 1, pages 156-165.
  • Thomas MC. (2007) 'Party Politics and Colonial Conflict: the Fourth Republic and the Indochina War, 1945-54', The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis,, Harvard University Press.


  • Thomas MC. (2006) Anglo-French Imperial Relations in the Arab World: Intelligence Liaison and Nationalist Disorder, Diplomacy & Statecraft, volume 17, no. 1, pages 1-28.
  • Thomas MC. (2006) Crisis Management in Colonial States: Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency in Morocco and Syria after the First World War, Intelligence and National Security, volume 21, no. 5, pages 697-716.


  • Thomas MC. (2005) The French Empire between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society, Manchester University Press.
  • Thomas, M.. (2005) Economic Conditions and the Limits to French Colonial Mobilisation, 1936-39, Historical Journal, volume 48, no. 2, pages 471-498.
  • Thomas MC. (2005) Colonial States as Intelligence States: Security Policing and the Limits to Colonial Rule in France's Muslim Territories, 1920-40, Journal of Strategic Studies, volume 28, no. 2, pages 1033-1060.
  • Thomas MC. (2005) 'Salvation By Empire?': Economic Conditions and the Limits to French Colonial Mobilisation, The Historical Journal, volume 48, no. 2, pages 471-498, DOI:10.1017/S0018246X05004474.
  • Thomas MC. (2005) Albert Sarraut, French Colonial Development, and the Communist Threat, 1919-1930, The Journal of Modern History, volume 77, no. 4, pages 917-955, DOI:10.1086/499830.


  • Thomas MC. (2004) 'Prisonniers de Guerre coloniaux: Idéologie, propagande, et expérience, 1940-44', L'Empire colonial sous Vichy, Editions Odile Jacob, 305-331.


  • Thomas MC. (2003) Imperial Defence or Diversionary Attack: Anglo-French Strategy in the Near East, 1935-40, Anglo-French Defence Relations between the Wars, Palgrave.
  • Thomas MC. (2003) Bedouin Tribes and the Imperial Intelligence Services in Syria, Iraq and Transjordan in the 1920s, Journal of Contemporary History, volume 38, no. 4, pages 539-562.
  • Thomas MC. (2003) The Colonial Policies of the Mouvement Republicain Populaire, 1944-54: From Reform to Reaction, English Historical Review, volume 118, no. 476, pages 380-411.


  • Thomas MC. (2002) The British Government and the End of French Algeria, 1958-62, France and the Algerian War 1954-62: Strategy, Operations and Diplomacy,, FRank Cass, 172-198.
  • Thomas MC. (2002) French Intelligence-gathering in the Syrian Mandate, 1920-40, Middle Eastern Studies, volume 38, no. 2, pages 1-35.
  • Thomas MC. (2002) 'Defending a Lost Cause? France and the United States Vision of French North Africa, 1945-1956', Diplomatic History, volume 26, no. 2.
  • Thomas, M.. (2002) The Vichy Government and French Colonial Prisoners of War, 1940-1944, French Historical Studies, volume 25, no. 4, pages 657-692.
  • Thomas MC. (2002) The Vichy Government and French Colonial Prisoners of War, 1940-1944, French Historical Studies, volume 25, no. 4, pages 657-692.
  • Thomas MC. (2002) 'Disaster Foreseen: France and the Fall of Singapore', The Fall of Singapore: Sixty Years On, Eastern Universities Press.
  • Thomas MC. (2002) The Syrian Revolt and Anglo-French Imperial Relations, 1925-27, Incidents and International Relations. People, Power, and Personalities, Praeger, 65-82.


  • Thomas MC. (2001) Le Royaume Uni et la France Libre, Relations Internationales, volume 108, no. Hiver, pages 575-593.
  • Thomas MC. (2001) France Accused: French North Africa before the United Nations, 1952-1962, Contemporary European History, volume 10, no. 1, pages 91-121.
  • Thomas MC. (2001) Divisive Decolonization: The Anglo-French Withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon, 1944-46, International Diplomacy and Colonial Retreat, Frank Cass, 71-93.
  • Thomas MC, Federowich K. (2001) International Diplomacy and Colonial Retreat, Frank Cass.


  • Thomas MC. (2000) The French North African Crisis: Colonial Breakdown and Anglo-French Relations, 1945-1962, Palgrave-Macmillan.


  • Thomas M. (1998) The French Empire at War, 1940-45, Manchester Univ Pr.

Back to top

External impact and engagement

Contribution to discipline

Member of the editorial board for Cambridge University Press Studies in the Social & Cultural History of Modern Warfare.

Back to top


Martin studied Modern History at Oxford University, graduating in 1985. He returned to Oxford where he completed his D.Phil in 1991. He taught at the University of the West of England, Bristol for eleven years before joining the Exeter History Department in 2003. He was awarded a Philip Leverhulme prize for outstanding research in 2002 and has been both a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow and a fellow of the Independent Social Research Foundation.

He is the author of twelve books and several articles and book chapters on various aspects of decolonization, French foreign and colonial policy, colonial security services, violence and colonialism. His study of colonial 'intelligence states', Empires of Intelligence: Security Services and Colonial Disorder after 1914 was published by the University of California Press in 2007. A co-authored study of the collapse of European colonial empires, Crises of Empire: Decolonization and Europe's Imperial States, 1918-1975, was published by Hodder Education in 2008. A further comparative study, Violence and Colonial Order: Police, Workers and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918-40, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2012. Recent works include Fight or Flight: Britain, France and the their Roads from Empire, and, with Richard Toye, Arguing about Empire, both books published with Oxford University Press in 2014 and 2017 respectively. In 2019 Martin and Andrew Thompson co-edited The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire, and in 2023, he and Gareth Curless co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Late Colonial Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies (

Martin is Co-Director of the Centre for Histories of Violence and Conflict (CHVC), a research centre dedicated to the study of histories and conceptualizations of collective violence. He is also a member of the British International History Group, the French Colonial History Society, and the Study Group on Intelligence, and has served on the editorial boards of the International History Review, Intelligence and National Security, Diplomacy & Statecraft, War & Society, French Historical Studies, and the Cambridge University Press series Studies in the Social & Cultural History of Modern Warfare. In 2016 he was a professeur invité at Sciences Po. Saint-Germain-en-Laye and held a three-month fellowship at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies in 2019.

Back to top

More information

First Director of the University’s Centre for the Study of War, State and Society

Associate Fellow, Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies

Member of the Editorial Advisory Board: Intelligence and National Security, War & Society.

Member of the Editorial Advisory Board: International History Review, 2000-2003; French Historical Studies, 2008-11.

Member of the Society for French Historical Studies and the French Colonial History Society

Member of the Study Group on Intelligence

Member of the British International History Group

Member of the Peer Review College of the ESRC

Reviewer for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

External Examiner, King’s College, London, BA War Studies programme, 2000-2004; London School of Economics, BA International History programme, 2005-2009; and the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, BA History programme, 2005-2009.

PhD External Examiner for the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, King’s College, London, UEA, and Sydney.

Back to top

 Edit profile