Professor Alan Strathern

Professor Alan Strathern

Associate College Lecturer in Early Modern History


I teach primarily early modern European and World History, with a particular interest in the wide-ranging so-called ‘General History’ papers. For Prelims (the first year) this means General III, (1400–1650), and  for finals General VIII (1500-1618). Both of these papers are mainly focussed on Europe but I am also involved in creating a new General History paper on the early modern world, which will have its heart in Asia. I also teach General 18, Imperial and Global History 1750-1914, which adopts a more global focus on the modern period.

Given the inter-disciplinary nature of my research (see below) I have a particular interest in teaching Anthropology and Sociology for Approaches, and for demonstrating the huge intellectual gains to be gained from comparative history in the Finals Disciplines of History paper.

For prelims I also teach an Optional Subject on Spanish encounters with the societies of the New World in the sixteenth century. At a graduate level I teach a course on the theory and methods of history, and a course on the early modern world, which ranges from the North American Comanches to Neo-Confucianism in Song China.

I welcome research students in early modern world history, particularly cultural and religious encounters in Asia, and in Sri Lankan history.

Research Interests

My most recent publication is a theoretical book about religion and politics in the premodern world: Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge 2019). I am close to completion of a companion book, Converting Kings: Kongo, Japan, Thailand and Hawaii Compared 1450-1850  (Cambridge), about why rulers in some parts of the world converted to Christianity and others did not.

I initially specialized in the history of Sri Lanka c.1500-1650, which is when the island came under the influence of Portuguese imperialism. My work has increasingly adopted a more comparative or inter-disciplinary approach, and addressed such themes as origin myths, ethnic consciousness, sacred kingship, and first encounters.