ERC Anniversary Week: Nomadic Empires: A World-Historical Perspective


In 2007, the European Commission established the European Research Council with the mission to encourage excellent frontier research in Europe through competitive funding, supporting top researchers across all fields and of any nationality. In 2017 the European Research Council is marking its 10th anniversary, an important milestone in making Europe a global centre of excellence in research. 

The University of Oxford is the number one university recipient of ERC awards across the whole of the EU, and the Faculty of History currently holds 5 such awards, an indication of the world-class  quality of our historians and their research ambitions. To celebrate this important anniversary, we have talked to those leading ERC projects in History here at Oxford, to find out what big ideas this funding is enabling them to explore, and what the ERC means to them.


Nomadic Empires


Ranging over five continents and covering a time span of two millennia, this project provides the first comprehensive study of nomadic empires in world history. For far too long nomads have been reduced to a kind of ‘dark matter’ of history. Scholars have tended to look right through them into things that seem to matter more, that seem to move history: settler empires, nation states, and agro-capitalist regimes. Stepping outside of stale stereotypes, this project reveals nomadic regimes as a formative world-shaping phenomenon. It invites us to ask the simple but vital question that challenges the hegemony of sedentary societies in historical investigation: how might world history look like when viewed from seemingly peripheral places—grasslands, steppes, and deserts—outward?

A project like Nomadic Empires would not have been possible without substantial funding such as that provided by an ERC grant. It has enabled expert scholars specialising in different corners of the world to come together as a team in Oxford. The large scope of the project allows the researchers to pool ideas whilst developing individual approaches and interpretations, and me as a Principal Investigator to realise an exciting and ambitious vision.