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Karl Hack

k.a.hack @

I am Chair of A326 Empire 1492-1975 and Director of the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies. Prior to joining the Open University in 2006 I spent a decade at the Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. It was a fascinating job, which included working with schools, on heritage sites such as the Johore Battery, and reviewing the national history curriculum. It also gave me the opportunity to interview people for their memories of Empire, counterinsurgency, and the Cold War. I planted papaya and rambutan trees, and fully anticipated harvesting their first fruits. In 2006, however, the Open University wanted someone to help write a course on Empires. I found this chance to make empire come alive for several hundred students a year irresistible, and now live in Oxford with my family and our Singapore rescue dog, ‘Tess’.


I am course team chair for the presentation of A326 Empire 1492-1975, having been co-chair during production. I have been on the course teams for A312 Total War and Social Change: Europe 1914-1955, and AXR312, the related summer school, as well as monitoring for A200 Exploring History: Medieval to Modern. I also contributed units to AD281 Introducing Global Heritage and A327 Europe 1914-89: War, Peace, Modernity.


I was on the History Department’s 2008 RAE group, and its Research Steering Group until 2010.  As departmental coordinator for postgraduates from 2007-9, I reorganised the history graduate prospectus, writing guide, and recruitment procedures. Since joining the Arts Faculty Partnerships Sub-committee, I have become an academic reviewer for a number of external institutions.

Research Interests

Funded Research Projects
During 2008-10 I had a British Academy funded project entitled ‘New sources and perspectives on the Asian Cold War’. For 2012-14 I have a British Academy grant for a project on violence and decolonisation.

Thematic interests:
Decolonisation, insurgency, empire port cities, and insurgent and anti-colonial perspectives. I have interviewed ex-insurgents up to the level of party Secretary-General.

Geographical interests:
Empire east of India, and Southeast Asia historical to contemporary; British Empire in general for comparative research on insurgency, port cities, and decolonisation.

Research students
I have supervised research students in related areas - both at the Open University and in my previous job in Singapore - and would welcome further enquiries. Current theses under supervision: Jane Berney, ‘The Contagious Diseases Ordinances of Hong Kong’, and Richard Duckett, ‘Special Operations Executive in Burma’.

Public Engagement and Impact

Television and radio
In 2010-2012 I was academic consultant for the BBC series Empire, a major five-part series telling the story of the British Empire in a new, thematic way, and wrote the free wallchart on ‘Selling the Empire’ (download free here), of which more than 50,000 were requested and an online series of lectures on Selling Empire.

Military and Foreign Policy
I have spoken at the Royal United Services Institute, provided an article for their website in 2009, and have contributed to the Small Wars Journal. I have given papers at events open to military practitioners and the public in the UK, USA, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Public Memory and Commemoration
I have been interviewed for the National Museum of Singapore History Gallery, and publish on war memory. On 16 February 2012 I addressed ‘The Battle for Singapore’ event for more than 200 students and public, at Singapore’s Supreme Court. In October 2012 I testified as expert historical witness on communists in the case of Mohamad Sabu versus Utusan Malaysia, in the Penang High Court, Malaysia.

Select Publications:


Karl Hack, with El Mechat, Marc Frey, Arnaud Nanta, Solofo Randrianja and Jean-Marc Regnault sous la direction de Pierre Brocheux, Les Decolonisations au XXe Siecle: Le Fin Des Empires Européens et Japonais (Paris: Colin Armand: 2012).

Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2012).

Karl Hack and Jean-Louis Margolin (eds.) with Karine Delaye, Singapore from Temasek to the 21st Century: Reinventing the Global City (Singapore: NUS Press, 2010).

Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn (eds.), Forgotten Captives in Japanese Occupied Asia (London: Routledge, 2008, paperback and ebook 2009).

Karl Hack and Tobias Rettig (eds.), Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia (London: Routledge, 2006, paperback and ebook 2008).

Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn, Did Singapore Have to Fall? (London: Routledge, 2004, paperback 2005).

C.C. Chin and Karl Hack (eds.), Dialogues with Chin Peng: New Light on the Malayan Communist Party (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2004).  

Karl Hack, Defence and Decolonisation in Southeast Asia (Richmond: Curzon, 2001).

Special Editions

Karl Hack (Special Editor), Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39, 4 (November 2011), on ‘Negotiating with the enemy’.

Karl Hack (Joint editor with Geoff Wade), ‘Asian Cold War Symposium’, special edition of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 40, 3 (October 2009).

Articles and Chapters

Karl Hack, ‘ “Between two terrors”: People’s History and the Malayan Emergency’, in Hannah Gurman (ed.), A People’s History of Insurgency (New York: Free Press, 2013).

Karl Hack, ‘ “Everyone lived in fear”: Malaya and the “British Way in Counter-Insurgency” ’: Small Wars & Insurgencies 23, 4/5 (2012).

Karl Hack, ‘Framing the History of Singapore’, in Nicholas Tarling (ed.), Studying Singapore's Past: C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2012).

Karl Hack interviewed by Octavian Manea, 'Setting the Record Straight on the Malayan Emergency', Small Wars Journal (February 2011); read this online [PDF], associated blog entry.

Karl Hack, ‘Remaking Singapore 1990-2004: From Disciplinarian Development to Bureaucratic Proxy Democracy’, in Karl Hack and Jean-Louis Margolin (with Karine Delaye) (ed.), Singapore from Temasek to the 21st Century (Singapore: NUS Press, 2011), pp. 345-83. One of three chapters in this edited book.

Karl Hack, ‘The Malayan Emergency as counterinsurgency paradigm’, Journal of Strategic Studies 32, 3 (June 2009): 383-414.
Karl Hack, ‘Extracting Counterinsurgency Lessons: the Malayan Emergency (1948-60) and Afghanistan’, available online at ‘Expanding the Learning Curve’, RUSI website, (Autumn 2009).

Karl Hack, editor of ‘Asian Cold War Symposium’, special edition of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 40, 3 (October 2009).

Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn (eds.), Forgotten Captives in Japanese Occupied Asia (London: Routledge, 2008). Including an overview and a chapter on ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.

Karl Hack, ‘“Iron Claws on Malaya”: the Historiography of the Malayan Emergency’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 30, 1 (1999), 99-125. The most comprehensive historiographical overview of the conflict available, reprinted in Martin Thomas, European Decolonization (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 319-46.

See also Open Research Online for further details of Karl Hack’s research publications.

Karl Hack

Empire wallchart

Les Decolonisations au XXe Siecle - book cover

War, Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore - cover

Singapore from Temasek book cover

book cover

book cover

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