Photo of Professor Martin Thomas

Professor Martin Thomas


D.Phil (Oxon)


Extension: 4183

Telephone: 01392 724183

My research and teaching focus on the following five main themes:

  • French colonial empire and European decolonization
  • Anti-colonial nationalism in North Africa
  • Colonial security services and state violence
  • Colonial insurgencies and ’dirty wars’
  • Intra-state conflicts and civilan casualties

I am currently working on the causes and consequences of the collapse of French and British colonial empires in Africa and Asia. I am especially interested in patterns of empire collapse and the nature and extent of political violence during contested decolonization. One outcome of this work is Fight or Flight: Britain, France and their Roads from Empire, a book published with Oxford University Press in 2014 (

I am also Principal Investigator on a three-year Leverhulme Trust network grant, Understanding Insugencies: Resonances from the Colonial Past. Based in Exeter's Centre for War, State and Society (CWSS), the network includes six partner inistitutions: 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. (

From 2012 I have 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 Exeter's Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, the aims of the project research are:

  • to compare the behaviour of British and French political elites by examining the language and rhetorical devices they employed during highpoints of imperial tension;
  • to reassess well-known colonial clashes between the two imperial powers as transformative experiences in the political cultures of Britain and France;
  • to use imperial crisis management as an index of colonialism in decline.