SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar publishes new book on the history of the School for SOAS’s centenary

14 October 2016

A new book looking at the development and history of SOAS University of London has been published to celebrate SOAS’s centenary.

Written by Professor Ian Brown, Emeritus Professor of History at SOAS, The School of Oriental and African Studies: Imperial Training and the Expansion of Learningexplores the history of the School since its founding in 1916 as The School of Oriental Studies (Later The School of Oriental and African Studies).

Professor Brown’s book examines SOAS’s establishment as an institution to train the colonial administrators who ran the British Empire in the languages of Asia and Africa. Founded with an explicitly imperial purpose, the book looks at the way the School come to transcend this function to become a world centre of scholarship and learning, challenging that imperial origin.

Drawing on the School's own extensive administrative records, on interviews with current and past staff, and on the records of government departments, Professor Brown explores the work of the School over its first century. He considers the expansion in the School's configuration of studies from the initial focus on languages, its changing relationships with government, and the major contributions that have been made by the School to scholarly and public understandings of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.


'Insightful, empathetic, and wryly amusing, Brown provides a magisterial account of one of the UK's most idiosyncratic academic institutions.' David Arnold, University of Warwick

'Ian Brown has given us a masterly study of an educational and institutional transformation under pressure' John Lonsdale, University of Cambridge

'The School of Oriental and African Studies is one of the world's foremost centres of teaching and scholarship over its vast range of interests. Ian Brown shows that its very survival is near-miraculous, as it faced other jealous institutions, government bureaucracies full of promise and short on their fulfilment, parsimonious governments and indifferent commercial interests.' M. C. Ricklefs, Australian National University