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Dr. Alastair McClure

Assistant Professor Alastair McClure

Chief Examiner


BA, MA, Cardiff University, PhD Cantab


Email Address

Office: 10.38


Research Projects | Publications | Courses



I am a historian of modern South Asia and the British Empire with research interests that focus largely on criminal law in colonial India and the wider British imperial world. My most recent publications have examined corporal punishment, capital punishment and censorship. This research has been supported by grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy and the University Grants Council, Hong Kong. Before joining the University of Hong Kong, I completed postdoctoral fellowships at McGill University and the University of Chicago. Between September to December of 2023 I will be a ICAS:MP research fellow based in New Delhi.




Current Research Projects


I am currently completing my first book project, entitled Trials of Sovereignty: Mercy, Violence and the Making of Criminal Law in British India, 1857-1922. This book offers the first detailed study of the formative role played by mercy and discretionary justice in the construction of India’s modern political and legal order in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. To examine this question, this book examines the politics of mercy during the foundational violence of 1857-58, the codification of criminal law, the royal prerogative of mercy, the spectacle of the scaffold, and the politics of sedition trials in India. In doing so, I argue that while historians have hitherto focused almost singularly on colonial terror and physical violence during this period, it would be the promise of mercy that the most important expressions of state authority and sovereign power were both performed and contested during this period.


I have also begun research on two future projects. The first focuses on the history of legal aid and under-trial detention in the British Empire, with a particular focus on colonial South Asia. The second examines deportation and repatriation across the British Empire. Framed around the question of who could be moved, and where they could be moved to, this project draws on legal cases thrown up from subaltern actors at the social and geographic peripheries of empire. This project draw on cases from Aden, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.








'Unpublished Court Records from the Allahabad High Court', History Workshop Journal, Forthcoming.


'Law, Courts and Constitutions in Twentieth Century South Asia', Law and History Review, (2023), 1-11. Co-written with Saumya Saxena.


'Killing in the Name of? Capital Punishment in Colonial and Postcolonial India', Law and History Review, (2023), 1-21.


'Fleet-Footed Performers at the Edges of Colonial Law: Jack Johnson, Maud Allan and the Struggles of Cinema Censorship in British India', Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 50:2 (2022): 264-297.


'Archaic Sovereignty and Colonial Law: The Reintroduction of Corporal Punishment in Colonial India, 1864-1909', Modern Asian Studies, 54:5. (2020): 1712-1747.


'Sovereignty, Law and the Politics of Forgiveness in Colonial India', Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 38:3 (Dec, 2018): 385-401.


'Law and Legality in India: New Directions in Indian Legal History: Introduction', Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 38:2 (Dec, 2018): 367-374. Co-written with Saumya Saxena.


'Making and Unmaking the Nation in World History: Introduction', History Compass, 15:1 (2017): 1-9. Co-written with Joseph McQuade and Sophie-Jung Kim.


Book Chapters


'State Building and Problematic Geopolitical Spaces in South Asia: The Himalayas and the Extradition Treaty of 1855'. In Transnational Frontiers of Asia and South America since 1800, edited by Jaime Moreno Tejado and Bradley Tatar, pp. 98-110. (New York: Routledge, 2017).


Public Writings


Sedition Then and Now: Gandhi's Great Trial a Hundred Years On




Teaching and Courses Taught


  • HIST1021 Introduction to modern legal history
  • HIST2178 Trials of history: The courtroom from historical perspective
  • HIST2179 Law, empire and world history: From pirates to human rights?
  • HIST3077 Gandhi: A global history