Caroline E. Shaw

Associate Professor of History



Pettengill Hall, Room 119

European Studies

Pettengill Hall, Room 119


B.A., Johns Hopkins University; M.A. and Ph.D., The University of California, Berkeley

I am an historian of Britain in the world, with a particular interest in tracing how Britain’s distinctive, self-conscious, often troubled role in the world shaped its contribution to the origins of modern rights and humanitarian outreach. As the modern Europeanist in the department, I situate Europe in its broader global contexts as well. Among others, my courses include explorations of human rights in history, revolutionary Europe, modern Britain, sex and the modern city, empire and decolonization, and the history of race, migration and difference in European history.

My research has focused on the development of refuge as a humanitarian norm. Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief (Oxford University Press, 2015) is a story of nineteenth-century liberalism on the global stage. It offers the first history of Britain’s nineteenth-century invention of modern refuge. This is a story that has several implications for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. First, nineteenth-century British refuge demonstrates the power of a certain brand of moral storytelling to give rise to public enthusiasm for a broad-based humanitarian commitment. Second, it underscores the uneasy relationship between the moral norms created by popular humanitarian movements and their institutionalization as legal categories and codified rights. Third, it emphasizes the importance of power and resources in sustaining humanitarian moral fervor. The interaction between these three elements – cultural narratives, law, and resources – gave shape to British refuge and must be grasped as an ongoing dynamic in order to understand the evolution of this practice in particular and of humanitarian and human rights movements more generally.

My current research is an investigation of modern reputation through its legal defenses. This work is twofold. My second book examines the peculiar status of reputation as a quasi-right in British legal culture. I am also beginning a third project on the history of global business ethics, a project inspired by defamation cases involving, among other litigants, slave masters and opium traffickers hoping to salvage their reputations, as well as strike instigators defending their cause. While my work on the defense of reputation moves me further into the arena of rights and law, this third project will bring me into closer dialogue with histories of humanitarianism and empire once more. As with Britannia’s Embrace, both projects remain intimately concerned with the nature of people’s responsibility to each other, to community, to nation and empire, and to more abstract notions of justice.

Curriculum Vitae


Current Courses

Short Term 2024

EUSS 18 / GSSS 18 / HISTS 18
Wilde Times: Scandal, Celebrity and the Law

Fall Semester 2024

EUS 281 / GSS 281 / HIST 281
Upstairs, Downstairs, and Outside: Gender, Class, and the Household in British History

EUS 301R / HIST 301R
Mere Words? Honor, Reputation, and the Freedom of Speech