Photo of Dr Simon Stevens.Dr Simon Stevens

M.A., M.Phil. (Cantab), Ph.D. (Columbia)

Lecturer in International History

Modern global, international, and transnational history; imperial and postcolonial history; South Africa; Africa and the world; Britain and the world; the United States and the world.

+44 (0)114 22 22618 | Jessop West 2.76a

Semester Two 2019/20 Office Hours: On Leave (Weeks 1-8); Tuesdays 11:00 - 13:00 (Weeks 9-12)



I joined the Department as a Lecturer in International History in September 2016. Previously I was a Research Fellow at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. I completed my Ph.D. in International and Global History at Columbia University in New York in 2016, and during my postgraduate studies held fellowships at New York University and the University of Virginia.

My research and teaching interests lie in twentieth-century global, international, and transnational history, with a particular focus on transnational mobilisations, political movements, decolonisation, and the histories of Africa, Britain, and the United States in the world. I’m interested in the history of ideas about how to organise international order, and in the strategies and tactics historical actors – especially those from the global south – have adopted in their efforts to bring about political change. I am currently writing my first monograph, an international history of the use of boycotts and sanctions by the global anti-apartheid movement.

Professional Roles

I am a member of the American Historical Association, the African Studies Association, the African Studies Association (UK), the British International History Group, Britain and the World, Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS), the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), and the Southern African Historical Society.

I have served as a peer reviewer for journals including Diplomatic History, the Historical Journal, the Journal of American Studies, and the South African Historical Journal.



My current research focuses on the struggle against South African apartheid, both within South Africa and around the world. My most recent articles focus on the 'turn to violence' by the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa in the early 1960s. I am also working on projects on the All-African People’s Conference, held in Accra, Ghana, in 1958, and on the idea of the ‘non-aligned movement’ in the 1960s.

I am currently writing my first monograph, an international history of the use of boycotts and sanctions by the global anti-apartheid movement, provisionally entitled Laying Siege to South Africa: Anti-Apartheid Boycotts and Sanctions, and the Transformation of Global Politics.

Since the adoption of boycott as a defining feature of the global movement against apartheid, diverse political actors have drawn upon the anti-apartheid movement’s use of boycotts as a model. This project explores how and why various kinds of boycotts and sanctions came to be seen as such central elements of the struggle against apartheid. Drawing on multi-archival research in more than sixty archival repositories in nine countries, it traces the battles over boycotts and sanctions against South Africa as they raged from activist meetings to guerrilla camps, from the chambers of the United Nations to foreign offices and legislatures around the world, from corporate boardrooms to trade union picket lines, and from grocery stores to cricket fields.

Research Supervision

I am happy to supervise students interested in twentieth-century international or African history, in particular those with interests in internationalism, international organisations, transnational mobilisations and movements, British and U.S. diplomatic history, decolonisation, and political violence.

All current students by supervisor | PhD study in History


Journal Articles

'The Turn to Sabotage by the Congress Movement in South Africa,' Past & Present (forthcoming, November 2019).

'The Turn to Sabotage by the Congress Movement in South Africa,' Past & Present (forthcoming, November 2019).

Why did leaders of the Congress movement in South Africa abandon their exclusive reliance on non-violent means in the struggle against apartheid, form an armed unit (Umkhonto we Sizwe), and launch a campaign of spectacular sabotage bombings of symbols of apartheid in 1961? None of the earlier violent struggles from which Congress leaders drew inspiration, and none of the contemporaneous insurgencies against white minority rule elsewhere in southern Africa, involved a similar distinct, preliminary, and extended phase of non-lethal symbolic sabotage.

Following the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, Congress leaders feared the social and political consequences of increased popular enthusiasm for using violence. Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, and the other founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe did not launch their sabotage campaign because they believed it would prompt a change of heart among white South Africans, nor because they believed urban sabotage bombings were a necessary prelude to the launch of rural guerrilla warfare. Rather, the sabotage campaign was a spectacular placeholder, a stopgap intended to advertise the Congress movement's abandonment of exclusive non-violence and thus to discourage opponents of apartheid, both inside and outside South Africa, from supporting rival groups or initiating 'uncontrolled' violent action themselves.

'"From the Viewpoint of a Southern Governor": The Carter Administration and Apartheid, 1977–1981,' Diplomatic History 36.5 (2012), pp. 843–80.

'"From the Viewpoint of a Southern Governor": The Carter Administration and Apartheid, 1977–1981,' Diplomatic History 36.5 (2012), pp. 843–80

The Carter administration's adoption of an approach towards the South African government’s policy of apartheid that was, as Jimmy Carter put it, 'correct but as easy on them as possible,' cannot be explained solely by American economic and strategic interests in the region or by the administration's desire for South Africa's cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and the resolution of the conflicts in neighboring Rhodesia and Namibia. The lessons Carter and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young drew from their earlier personal experiences in the American South in the 1960s were also of great significance. Those experiences not only gave Carter and Young a strong commitment to ending apartheid in South Africa but also strongly influenced the ways in which they thought that objective might be achieved. First, Carter and Young had considerable sympathy for the position of white South Africans and were concerned to work with them toward peaceful change in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation. Second, they believed that American businesses could have a positive impact on race relations in South Africa. They therefore encouraged American investors to adopt 'enlightened employment practices,' and resisted pressure from anti‐apartheid activists to impose economic sanctions.

This article was the subject of an H-Diplo article review by Andy DeRoche in March 2013, and was a contender for the 2013 Stuart L. Bernath Scholarly Article Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Book Chapters

'Bloke Modisane in East Germany.' In Quinn Slobodian (ed.), Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World (New York, 2015), pp. 117–30.

'Bloke Modisane in East Germany.' In Quinn Slobodian (ed.), Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World (New York, 2015), pp. 117–30.

Publishers webpage

'The third section [of Comrades of Color], 'Ambivalent Solidarities,' begins with a personal letter from black South African writer Bloke Modisane, who compares his special access to scarce luxury goods in East Berlin to that of a white in Johannesburg and agonizes over an encounter with an East German woman desperate to use him as a means of escape… In a biographical essay, Simon Stevens delves into Modisane’s life history to explain how his liminal existence in the GDR may have echoed his experiences in apartheid South Africa.'

'Why South Africa? The Politics of Anti-Apartheid Activism in Britain in the Long 1970s.' In Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds), The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s (Philadelphia, 2014), pp. 204-25.

'Why South Africa? The Politics of Anti-Apartheid Activism in Britain in the Long 1970s.' In Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds), The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s (Philadelphia, 2014), pp. 204-25.

Publishers webpage

'Simon Stevens's essay puts the north and the south in dynamic interrelationship in his well-grounded case study of the British movement against South African apartheid. Like [other contributors to the volume], Stevens emphasizes the role of exiles in transnational advocacy. In other ways his essay dramatizes distinctive dynamics that made the transnational activism around South Africa highly exceptional within the north-south relationship in the long l 970s and later. The protests of Stop the Seventy Tour and the City of London Anti- Apartheid Group, Stevens’s case studies, were historically situated but also a sign of things to come. And Stevens’s argument, when placed in the larger north/south contrast, mainly shows that the campaign against apartheid was not widely (or unilaterally) conceived either in the north or the south as a human rights struggle until the 1980s, as older visions of its character as a fight for self-determination, potentially through force of arms, gave way to a different self-conception and movement strategy.

The chapter was previously published as: 'Warum Südafrika? Die Politik des britischen Anti-Apartheid-Aktivismus in den langen 1970er Jahren.' In Samuel Moyn and Jan Eckel (eds), Moral für die Welt? Menschenrechtspolitik in den 1970er Jahren (Göttingen, 2012) [publisher's webpage; digital reprint]

Review Essays

'The External Struggle Against Apartheid: New Perspectives,' Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 7.2 (2016), pp. 295–315.

'The External Struggle Against Apartheid: New Perspectives,' Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 7.2 (2016), pp. 295–315.

Journal webpage; open access version

Stevens reviews Ryan Irwin's Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order (2012) and Rob Skinner's The Foundations of Anti-Apartheid: Liberal Humanitarians and Transnational Activists in Britain and the United States, c. 1919–64 (2010), two of the first published studies from an emerging stream of more detached and critical scholarship on the global anti-apartheid movement. The review essay addresses the questions of periodization, strategy, ideology, and the kinds of actors on which scholars focus, highlighting the ways in which these books advance the study of the external struggle against apartheid and the avenues for future research that they suggest.


'Non-Alignment and the United States,' H-1960s H-Net Reviews (August 2014).

'Non-Alignment and the United States,' H-1960s H-Net Reviews (August 2014).

Essay-length review of Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

The author responded to my essay in Robert B. Rakove, 'The United States and the Nonaligned World: A Response to Simon Stevens,' H-1960s (September 2014).

'A Grand Design,' Diplomatic History 36.5 (2012), pp. 797–800.

'A Grand Design.' Review of Have You Have You Heard from Johannesburg: Seven Stories of the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement, directed by Connie Field. Diplomatic History 36.5 (2012), pp. 797–800

This review was a contribution to 'Turning the Lens on Film and Foreign Relations,' a forum on Have You Heard from Johannesburg, Connie Field’s seven-part documentary series on the history of the global anti-apartheid movement. The forum also included contributions by Thomas Borstelmann, Mark Philip Bradley, Ryan M. Irwin, and Melani Mcalister, an introduction by Laura A. Belmonte, and a response to the reviews by Connie Field.

The forum was itself reviewed by Eric J. Morgan on H-Diplo in January 2013.


Module Leader

HST3178/3179 Resistance & Liberation in South Africa: Gandhi to Mandela

Resistance & Liberation in South Africa: Gandhi to Mandela, HST3178/3179

This special subject analyses resistance to segregation, apartheid, and white supremacy in South Africa. Drawing upon memoirs, oral histories, novels, films, speeches, news reporting, online databases, and document collections, we begin with the non-violent campaigns led by Mohandas Gandhi in the 1900s against the segregation of Indians in South Africa, and end with Nelson Mandela's election as president in the country's first non-racial democratic elections in 1994. We will explore the inspirations, nature, and effects of a wide range of forms of political, social, and cultural resistance by opponents of white supremacy – from ordinary people to elite politicians – both inside South Africa and around the world.


HST2514 Decolonisation: The End of Empire & the Future of the World

Decolonisation: The End of Empire & the Future of the World, HST2514

The world was transformed in the twentieth century. A world of empires and colonies became a world of independent states. In this module we analyse this global transformation. Why did it happen – and how? How much really changed? For people around the globe – from imperial rulers in Europe to anti-colonial nationalists in the 'third world' – the crumbling of European empires was an opportunity to shape the future of their own communities and of the world. Sometimes negotiated, often violent, these hard-fought struggles over the future created the world we live in today.


HST6076 International Order in the Twentieth Century

International Order in the Twentieth Century, HST6076

How should international relations be organised? This was a central question in the international history of the twentieth century. This module explores the ideas of international organisation that emerged, and how they were realised in practice in bodies like the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as subaltern internationalist projects like the Afro-Asian and Non-Aligned movements. Why did governments and non-governmental actors create and participate in international organisations? What was the significance and impact of those organisations? And why should historians study these past internationalist projects today? Much of the most exciting recent work by international and global historians has grappled with these questions.


Contributions to Team-Taught Modules

HST6606 The World in Connection: Themes in Global History

The World in Connection: Themes in Global History, HST6606

This core module introduces students to some of the most important and innovative themes, debates and controversies relating to global history and its linked fields of imperial, international, transnational, transregional and world history. Through discursive seminars students will acquire an informed understanding of global forces, structures and processes that have shaped and reshaped our world, including empires, trade, technology, religion, decolonisation, migration, war, diplomacy, humanitarianism, disease and the environment. Students will thus be enabled to explore connections, comparisons and exchanges across broad geographical and chronological terrain, while also considering relationships between the global, regional and local.


HST202 Historians and History

Historians and History, HST202

This module introduces students to some of the most influential and significant developments which have shaped the ways in which historians think about and write about the past. Since History became professionalised as a specific academic discipline in the nineteenth century, historians have adopted a variety of different approaches to their studies. For some, ideas about the past have been shaped by political beliefs, by the application of political ideologies and philosophies, and by the desire to produce a more inclusive version of history, focusing on the experience of the working classes, women, and groups marginalised in established accounts. Others have been influenced by different methods of research, and the opportunities offered by particular types of source material to tell different stories about the past. Others still have been inspired by intellectual theories and by borrowings from other disciplines, like literary studies and anthropology, to explore new ways of thinking about history. The module allows students to think more about the different ways in which we can study History, and to engage with the work of a number of historians whose influence can still be felt today.

It aims to equip students with the necessary background to develop a more critical approach to the secondary literature which they encounter throughout their degree course and to build bridges between the various modules they are studying at levels 2 and 3.


HST117 The Making of the Twentieth Century

The Making of the Twentieth Century, HST117

This course looks back at key developments in the political, social and cultural history of the twentieth century. Its aim is to broaden students' views of twentieth-century history by highlighting the ways in which barbarism and civilising forces [sic] went hand in hand in forging twentieth-century history. Rather than proceeding purely chronologically, this module focuses on a series of key themes that have shaped twentieth-century history, such as, for example, globalisation and fragmentation; revolutions; the political, social and cultural history of war; and democracy and mass politics. Each topic is introduced by a series of four lectures given by a subject specialist. An accompanying seminar programme allows for the in-depth discussion of specific issues and case studies.


Public Engagement

Public Engagement

I tweet in a personal capacity at @simonmstevens, on topics including history and historiography, contemporary politics, pedagogy, and UK Higher Education politics and policy.

In 2014 my twitter commentary on visual clichés in western representations of Africa generated widespread media coverage, including in Africa is a Country, the Guardian, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, the Millennium Post (New Delhi), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Public Radio International (PRI).

Administrative Duties

Current Administrative Duties

I currently serve as the Level Tutor for single honours students at Level 3. Students seeking information on requesting deadline extensions and documenting extenuating circumstances should see the information here.

I also serve as the Research Ethics Officer for the Department of History. For information on aspects of the University's ethics policy that are most likely to be relevant to staff and students in the Department of History, and for details of the ethics review procedure, please see the Department's research ethics webpages.

I have been a member of the Department of History's Research Committee since 2017. In the 2018-19 academic year I am also serving on three ad hoc working parties in the Department: the Race, Equality, and Decolonisation Working Party; the Workload Allocation Working Party; and the Assessment and Feedback Working Party.

I am an elected member of the branch committee of Sheffield UCU. I currently serve as one of the committee's 'co-leads' on the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and am a member of the University of Sheffield/SUCU Joint Committee.