About


I first travelled somewhere new when I was three years old, travelling from Australia to Britain in the last year of the 1970s. Since then, I have not stopped.

History, writing, travel, and trying to understand the world we live in have been constant pleasures and fascinations. Along the way, I have been fortunate enough to work on a wide range of international issues, to study in Britain, Germany and France, to speak to an extraordinary variety of people and to travel to countries and regions at critical inflexion points in their history - the Soviet Union in 1990, Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, and Ukraine, Ethiopia, China, Lebanon, Turkey, the South Caucasus and all across the Arctic in the 2000s. I have learned two somewhat contradictory things: never to underestimate the role of the past in shaping the present, and never to forget the possibilities for radical change thrown up by shifts in political power, economic development, climate change, technological innovation or culture. Global maps of power, interests and influence are constantly being redrawn, now perhaps more than ever. I do not think that future historians need fear underemployment.

In The Future History of the Arctic (2010) I set out to uncover the twentieth century history of the north - the tail-end of the heroic age of Arctic exploration, the encounter of Europeans and indigenous peoples, the Soviet Union's northern drive, and the Cold War - and to understand how the northern regions of the world are changing now, in the twenty-first century, under pressure from climate change, resource stress and geopolitical shifts. The Arctic was opening up, everyone said, but what did that mean and where might it lead? Travelling around the north and its capitals, from Murmansk to Barrow, from remote scientific research stations to the offices of diplomats and oil company executives, I wanted to bring our understanding of the north up to date, challenging a vision of the Arctic as a blank canvas on which to project either our romantic southern imagination of what the north should be - or our geopolitical and economic ambitions.

In 1913: The World Before the Great War (2013) I returned to a subject which had haunted me for years - the question of how the world looked on the eve of the Great War. Was it possible to view the world of those years as contemporaries might have viewed it, eschewing hindsight of the horrors which followed? Widening one's horizons from the immediate question of why war broke out in Europe in 1914, how did things stand in Asia, in Africa or in America? Was it possible to see the world of 1913 not in drab sepia-tone, as a time forever lost, but in colour, with its future still undecided - a time not entirely unlike our own? This was to be a very different book from The Future History of the Arctic: written from archives, diaries and newspapers rather than from live sources. But it had a similar objective: to rethink a time or place, to look at it with fresh eyes, anew. And a sense of place was important here, too. In 1913, I viewed the world through the prism of twenty-three cities - from the old favourites of London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and St. Petersburg to the less familiar stories of Tehran, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Detroit, Mexico City and others - allowing a telescoping from the immediate and local affairs of a particular city, to the global context in which all these cities were embedded.

There will be another project, another book - I hope. In a year, or two, or three. In the meantime I hope to write, learn and understand more.
Charles Emmerson


Short Professional Biography
Charles Emmerson was born in Melbourne Australia, and grew up in London, where he now lives. After studying Modern History at Oxford University he took up an Entente Cordiale scholarship to continue his studies in international relations and international public law at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. Since then he has worked as a researcher for the International Crisis Group working on international security issues, an Associate Director and Fellow of the World Economic Forum, responsible for their global risks' work, a leader writer for the Financial Times, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, working on resource security issues, foreign policy and global geopolitics. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic (2010) and 1913: The World Before the Great War (2013). He has provided briefings on a range of international issues for governments, businesses and research institutes, and writes regularly on international affairs.