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Professor David Fieldhouse LittD FBA

Emeritus Fellow
Emeritus Professor
Imperial and naval history

David Fieldhouse is an Emeritus Fellow at Jesus College, specialising in imperial and naval history.

Academic interests

  • Imperial history.
  • Third World economics development.

Degrees obtained

  • BA, MA, LittD.


David Kenneth Fieldhouse, FBA (born 7 June 1925) is a prominent historian of the British Empire who between 1981 and 1992 held the Vere Harmsworth Professorship of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge.

Arguably the world's "leading imperial economic historian" he is most well known for his book, Economics and Empire, 1830-1914 (1973), which offered a trenchant account of how political and strategic factors, rather than economic impulses, comprised the primary motors of European imperial expansion.

Fieldhouse is a critic of the theories of imperialism put forward in the early 20th century by John A. Hobson and Lenin. He argues that they used superficial arguments and weak evidence. Fieldhouse says that the "obvious driving force of British expansion since 1870" came from explorers, missionaries, engineers, and empire-minded politicians. They had little interest in financial investments.

Hobson's approach was to say that faceless financiers manipulated everyone else. "The final determination rests with the financial power." Lenin made the argument that capitalism was in its last stages and had been taken over by monopolists. They were no longer dynamic and sought to maintain profits by even more intensive exploitation of protected markets. Fieldhouse rejects these arguments as unfounded speculation.

During the course of his career he held academic posts at the University of Canterbury, Oxford University, and then the University of Cambridge. Upon his retirement from Cambridge in 1992 his former students and colleagues published a festschrift entitled Managing the Business of Empire: Essays in Honour of David Fieldhouse.

Fieldhouse remains an active Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

Other interests

Music, reading, sailing, golf.

Department link

Hear from students


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