Corey D. Ross

Prof. Dr. Corey D. Ross
Director of the Institute / Professor for European Global Studies
Institute for European Global Studies
University of Basel
Riehenstrasse 154
CH-4058 Basel
Office 01.001

Tel: +41 (0) 61 207 48 92

My principal areas of research are imperialism and global environmental history in the 19th-20th centuries – or, what one might call the socio-environmental history of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world. My work in this area is shaped by three main aims:

First, it seeks to learn wherever possible from other disciplines in order to reconstruct the past in a way that is thematically and methodologically integrative. It draws on various concepts and methods to weave together topics that are often treated separately – resource exploitation, technology, trade, competing knowledge systems – focusing in particular on the interrelationships between cultural, social, and material factors in human history: how the biophysical environment set outer parameters within which human action could take place, and how human action, refracted as always through different social habits, institutions, and cultural expectations, produced a wide range of outcomes.

Second, my research places particular emphasis on the global, trans-imperial, and trans-national circulation of ideas, goods, and people, as well as the barriers that channelled and impeded it. It is predicated on the idea that the states and empires of the 19th and 20th centuries are best understood not on their own terms but in connection with other empires, states, and non-state actors (whether knowledge networks, markets, or formal organizations), sometimes as rivals but often as entities whose commonalities opened up spaces for cooperation and mutual exchange. This multi-directional approach is based on a desire to move beyond Eurocentric perspectives by exploring how the material and cultural flows between Europe and the wider world shaped the globalization of Europe itself.

Third, and most generally, my research is motivated by a commitment to write history that directly ‘matters’ to contemporary concerns. By studying the links between European power and global socio-ecological change, it ultimately seeks to provide a historical perspective on some of the most vital political and environmental challenges that we face – and will continue to face – in the 21st century.

My recent projects reflect these aims. My last project was an environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from roughly 1880 through the end of the colonial period to the present (Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire, 2017; winner of the 2018 George Louis Beer Prize, AHA). It explores the environmental transformations and interconnections associated with the explosive growth of commodity production and global trade in the tropical regions under European (mainly British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian) control – transformations that still visibly shape our world today – and how they fitted into broader patterns of social, cultural and political change. I am currently finishing a related book project (Liquid Empire, to appear with Princeton University Press) that interprets the history of European empire through the lens of water. Focusing mainly on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and geographically on the European colonies of Asia and Africa, it tells the story of how different technologies, institutions, and forms of knowledge transformed human engagements with water in the colonial world, and how aquatic nature was reshaped in the process – with lasting consequences for the post-colonial world.

Beyond my primary interests in global environmental history and the history of empire, I previously focused on a variety subjects: the history of mass communications, publicity and popular culture; the global history of preservation; and the history of post-war Germany. Details of my publications are available below. 

Academic Assistants

Doctoral Students

  • Haixing Wang, SUSTech-University of Birmingham collaborative PhD scholarship
  • Gemma Jennings, AHRC M4C PhD scholarship

Most recent Academic Positions

Director of the Institute for European Global Studies, Professor of European Global Studies, Universität Basel

June 2023 -

Deputy Head of the College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham

2021 - 2023

Interim Head of the College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham

Jan. - Sept. 2022

Professor of Modern History, University of Birmingham

2009 - present


Most recent Fellowships, Prizes, Awards

Vincent Wright Chair, Sciences-Po Paris (6-month appointment)


George Louis Beer Prize (American Historical Association) for Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire (Oxford, 2017)


Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship

2018 - 2021

National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship



Please see the detailed Curriculum Vitae (PDF, 274.41 KB).

For the supervision of Masters theses in European Global Studies, I am happy to consider enquiries from students interested in a variety of different areas, including:

  • any topic related to European and global environmental history in the modern era
  • the history of empire (especially 19th-20th centuries) and decolonization
  • the history of commodities and commodity frontiers, history of capitalism
  • global mobility, travel, migration, networks of knowledge and transcultural exchange
  • media, communications, and publicity in European and global perspective