Professor Mary Chamberlain

Professor Emerita of Caribbean History

School of Education, Humanities and Languages

Mary Chamberlain


Professor Chamberlain has worked with oral history and life story methods, and has published widely on these, on women’s history and since 1991, on Caribbean history, notably on Caribbean migration and, latterly, the role of migration in the development of West Indian consciousness and independent nationhood. Since 2009 she has been using creative writing as a way of exploring contemporary historical questions particularly, though not exclusively, around the silences and untold stories of the Second World War and, in particular, women and memory.   

She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has held a range of senior administrative, academic, editorial and government service appointments. She was also a founding and principal editor of the Memory and Narrative series, a Trustee of and current advisor to the National Life Story Collection of the British Library, the Raphael Samuel History Centre. She has been consultant to the Barbados Government's National Oral History Project, and a member of the UK Government’s Caribbean Advisory Group (1998-2002). She has also held visiting professorships at the University of the West Indies and at New York University, has been a recipient of major ESRC and AHRC research awards, and was a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College. She has also been lead external academic for two Quality Assessment reviews for the University of the West Indies. 

Teaching and supervision


Professor Chamberlain has supervised doctoral theses on various aspects of Caribbean history, and women’s history


Research interests

  • Gender history
  • Oral history
  • The Caribbean Diaspora

Research Dissemination

Some recent keynote and plenary addresses are: University of Michigan, Atlantic Studies Initiative (2004); National Archives (2003); ESRC Transnational Communities (2002); 4th International Metropolis Conference (1997); Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture (1997); Narrating Selves and Others conference, Antwerp 1997.

Recent invited presentations include University of Pittsburg (2008); Carnegie Mellon University (2008); German Historical Institute (2008); Centre for Documentation and Research, Sarajevo (2006); Akademie Schloss Solitude (2005); Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University (2004); Masaryk University (2002); Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (2002)

Research group membership

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Research projects

  • Creative Writing



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Professional information


Conference papers given since 2001

  • Small Worlds: Childhood and Empire Annual Conference of Association of Caribbean Historians, University of the West Indies,Trinidad April 2001.
  • Narratives of the Caribbean Family: Narratives of Belonging Conference, University of London, Goldsmiths College, April 2001.
  • Families and Transnationality Caribbean Diaspora Conference, South Bank University, August 2001.
  • Reading Narratives and Cultural Identity: Life Stories from the Caribbean European Social Science History Conference, March 2002, The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Language, Identity and Caribbean Families: Transnational Narratives Les migrations caraïbéennes vers les métropoles: identité, citoyenneté, modèles d'intégration. Colloque à la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris, June 2002.
  • Caribbean kinship in a Global setting Leeds Transnational Kinship Seminar, ESRC Research Group for the Study of Care, values and the Future of Welfare (CAVA), University of Leeds, September 2003.
  • The consolation of freedom George Lamming: Philosopher of the Caribbean, symposium, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, October 2003.
  • Language, Identity and Caribbean Families: Transnational Narratives Narrative Identity and Self and Family and Relationship Research, ESRC Research Group for the Study of Care, values and the Future of Welfare (CAVA), University of Leeds, November 2003.
  • Memories of Race and the Formation of Nation, Memory and Narrative SYmposium, University of California, Berkeley, October 2006
  • Barbados and the Moral Economy: 1937-1966, Association of Caribbean Historians, Jamaica 2007; ASWAD conference, Barbados, 2007

Further details

Mary Chamberlain’s passion in life has been writing, and her two great loves are history and literature. After an acclaimed career as an academic historian, she began a new life as a novelist, graduating from the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, London University in 2010.  Not surprisingly, the setting for her novels are in the past, rather than the present.

“There are still so many questions from the past that remain unanswered, so much that we need to understand. Fiction is another way into that understanding, can open imaginative doors that may be closed to historians. Without knowing our history, we cannot know ourselves.”

Mary Chamberlain was born in South London in 1947, and holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh, the London School of Economics and Royal Holloway, University of London. She has lived in the UK and the Caribbean, is Emeritus Professor of Caribbean History, Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has been a member of a range of academic, editorial and government advisory boards. She now lives in London.

Other experience

Guest editor:

  • Global Networks Vol. IV, No. 3, July 2004 (with Selma Leydesdorff).
  • History Workshop Journal Vol. 58, Autumn 2004, (with Catherine Hall and Bill Schwarz)