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Efram Sera-Shriar

Dr Efram Sera-Shriar


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Education / Academic qualification

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Leeds

  • Master of Arts, York University

  • Bachelor of Arts, York University


Dr Efram Sera-Shriar received his PhD from the University of Leeds in 2011. Since completing his doctoral studies he has worked at Brock University in Canada, York University in Canada, and the University of Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, an editorial board member on the John Tyndall Correspondence Project, a steering committee member for History UK, and the Collaborative Research Officer for the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies.

His research explores the intersection of voyages of exploration, race, visual culture, science, technology, medicine, and society throughout the British Empire from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. In addition, he has published extensively on the history of the human sciences.


His first book, The Making of British Anthropology, 1813-1871, was published through Pickering and Chatto in 2013. In his book he examines the disciplinary history of British anthropology during the nineteenth century and discusses how modern understandings of race were constructed within the British human sciences. British race science in the nineteenth century was a tool of the empire. Researchers and imperial agents used this body of knowledge to justify the control and exploitation of extra-European peoples. Understanding its history affords us an opportunity to see the origins of scientific racism and its legacy today. Through an examination of hitherto neglected aspects of the discipline’s past, the book argues that anthropology at this time went through a process of innovation that built on scientifically grounded observational study, and that racial typologies were heavily influenced by transformations occurring in medicine, natural history and imperial discourses. The research draws on major themes within British imperial history, history of science, technology and medicine, cultural studies, and anthropology.


Sera-Shriar's next major project was an edited collection entitled, Historicising Humans: Deep Time, Evolution and Race in Nineteenth-Century British Sciences, which was published with University of Pittsburgh Press in 2018. This collection of essays looks at some of the ways nineteenth-century scientific and medical researchers historicised humans within Britain and its empire. It shows that when it came to historicising humans, nineteenth-century scientific and medical practitioners were varied in their methodological and theoretical approaches and utilised data from all over the world.  While these varied approaches indicate that there was no absolute consensus on humanity’s past, there were some underlying questions and shared assumptions in all nineteenth-century investigations into human history. Even competing theories such as monogenesis and polygenesis intersected in fascinating ways with new commitments to contingency and chance, and older ones such as providence and progress.


His next major book project examines British anthropology's engagement with the modern spiritualist movement during the late Victorian era. In particular, it focuses on the importance of establishing credible witnesses in the writings of Alfred Russel Wallace, Edward Burnett Tylor, Andrew Lang, and Edward Clodd. The book draws on major themes such as the historical relationship between science and religion, the history of scientific observation, and the emergence of the subfield of anthropology of religion in the second half of the nineteenth century. It argues that debates over the existence of ghosts and psychical powers were at the centre of anthropological discussions on human beliefs, and for secularists such as Tylor and Clodd, spiritualism posed a major obstacle in establishing the legitimacy of the theory of animism.  


Sera-shriar is also co-editing with Nanna Kaalund an annotated editon of Richard King's travel narrative from his journey to the Canadian Arctic as a member of the George Back expedition in the 1830s. King was a founding member of the British ethnological community, and his narrative was an important early ethnographic resource for British ethnologists in London. He championed the rights of North American Indigenous peoples, and he openly criticised the policies of the Hudson's Bay Company. 


Since 2006 Sera-Shriar has been a senior contributing member of the John Tyndall Correspondence Project. He has held several positions on the project including Senior Research Fellow, Project Coordinator, and Senior Transcription Editor. He is currently co-editing volume four of the series with Ian Hesketh. The project brings together one of the most important collections of scientific correspondence from the Victorian era. John Tyndall was an important Victorian populariser of science, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution, and an accomplised mountaineer. He was also an important early contributor to germ theory.


Sera-Shriar is in the early stages of organising a new project that looks at visual and textual representations of South American indigenous populations in the Adventure and Beagle Narratives (1839). During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Royal Navy played a key role in collecting natural history data for scientists in Britain. Figures such as Phillip Parker King and Robert Fitzroy were significant collectors of ethnographic data and recorded important information on the indigenous peoples of South America during their voyages through the Strait of Magellan. Their accounts, along with the illustrations that were included in them, heavily influenced the racial descriptions of South Americans in the armchair-based studies of ethnologists in Britain.


Undergraduate Teaching:

  • Introduction to Modern World History
  • Research and Discovery: A Modern History of Medicine
  • Figuring the Past: Migration and Settlement in the USA, 1800-1950 
  • Themes in Modern World History
  • Presenting the Past
  • Special Subject: Evolution and Victorian Culture
  • Science and Religion: Exploring the Conflict Thesis


He is interested in supervising projects connected to the following topics:

  • Race science in the nineteenth century
  • Imperialism and science (since 1750)
  • History of scientific travel writing (since 1700)
  • History of scientific exploration (esp. in the Americas)  
  • The historical relationship between science and religion in Britain and the USA (since 1800)
  • History of the social sciences (esp. before WWI)
  • Science, medicine and print culture in the nineteenth century
  • History of modern spiritualism and psychical research

Willingness to take PhD. students



I am interested in supervising projects connected to the following topics:

* Race science in the 19th century
* History of Psychical Research of Spiritualism
* Imperialism and science (since 1750)
* History of scientific exploration (esp. in the Americas)
* Religion and science in the 19th century (esp. Britain and North America)
* History of the social sciences (esp. before WWI)
* Science, medicine and print culture in the 19th century