Alexander Nicholas Shaw

Alexander Nicholas Shaw

PhD Researcher & Postgraduate Tutor

Summary: My PhD project looks at British intelligence in Singapore during the period of the early Cold War and Malayan Emergency. This is funded by the White Rose College for the Arts and Humanities and AHRC.

Current Research Projects

My PhD project is entitled 'British Intelligence Activities in Singapore, 1946-59: Local Security, Regional Collation and the Cold War in the Far East'. This uses material including records created by various intelligence services, colonial 'Migrated Archives' and personal papers from key government consumers of intelligence such as Commissioner-General Malcolm MacDonald, as well as oral history testimony from Special Branch officers. It moves beyond the history of individual intelligence agencies to interrogate the broader intelligence milieu in Singapore, including Far East regional outposts of MI5, MI6 and the JIC. The thesis evaluates the impact of intelligence, its accuracy and also questions of organisation, particularly the intelligence hierarchies between Whitehall, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Prior to starting my PhD I graduated with First Class Honours in International History and Politics at the University of Leeds in 2014 and earned an MA with Distinction in Modern History at the same institution in 2015.

My PhD is supervised by Professor Simon Ball, Dr Adam Cathcart and previously Dr Martin Thornton.

I am also working on an article evaluating security intelligence production and assessment in Hong Kong during the early years of the Cold War.


Research Interests

  • British intelligence and the Cold War in the Far East
  • Singapore and Hong Kong as intelligence centres
  • Oil, British diplomacy and the origins of the Cold War in the Middle East
  • Counterinsurgency and intelligence in South-East Asia
  • Western art collectors and the inter-section of material culture with diplomatic/decolonisation history



'MI5 and the Cold War in South-East Asia: Examining the Performance of Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE), 1946-1963', Intelligence and National Security (2017)

'Sir Reader Bullard, Frank Roberts and the Azerbaijan Crisis of 1945-46: Bevin's Officials, Perceptions and the Adoption of a Cold War Mentality in British Soviet Policy', Cold War History (2017)

'British Counterinsurgency in Brunei and Sarawak, 1962-63: Developing Best Practices in the Shadow of Malaya', Small Wars & Insurgencies,  27(4) (2016), 702-725

"Strong, United and Independent': The British Foreign Office, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Internationalisation of Iranian Politics at the Dawn of the Cold War, 1945-46', Middle Eastern Studies, 52(3) (2016), 505-524  

"We Have Just About Had It': Jack Slessor, the Foreign Office, and the Anglo-American Strategic Debate over Escalation of the Korean War, 1950-51', Yonsei Journal of International Studies, 6(2) (2014), 294-317


Conference Papers

'Understanding Revolution: British Intelligence, Open Sources and the Struggle to Interpret Mao's China during the Korean War Period, 1950-54', Austrian Centre for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies 1st Student Conference (Graz, May 2017)

'An Instrument of Colonial Domination? The Personnel and Operational Culture of the Singapore Special Branch during the Emergency Years, 1948-59', Workshop on Empire and Policing (Liverpool, 21 October 2016)

'South-East Asian Security and the British Construction of the Cold War in 1947-48: Regional Intelligence, Kremlinist Conspiracy and Colonial Containment', British International History Group 28th Annual Conference (Edinburgh, September 2016)

'Perfidious Albion? Britain, the United States and Triangular Diplomacy with the Qavam Government in Iran, 1946-47', Eleventh Biennial International Society for Iranian Studies Conference (Vienna, August 2016)

"Strong, United and Independent': Great Britain, the Communist Challenge and the Internationalisation of Iranian Politics, 1945-46', Second Biennial Symposia Iranica (Cambridge, April 2015)


Research Seminars

'Hong Kong on the Edge of a Volcano: British Intelligence, Colonial Security and the Showdown with Communism, 1948-50', Oxford International History of East Asia Research Seminar (Oxford China Centre, 14 November 2016)


Impact and Public Engagement

As part of my WRoCAH-funded PhD programme I am working at the Durham Oriental Museum on a project entitled 'Beauty and Diplomacy: The Malcolm MacDonald Collections'. This project aims to create a new installation within existing gallery space re-interpreting the private collections of Malcolm MacDonald by looking at the overlap between his personal and professional lives.



I have previously taught on the undergraduate module HIST 1819 International History 1919-89: Conflict, Cooperation and Change.


Prizes and Awards

WRoCAH AHRC Doctoral Scholarship (2015-18)

University of Leeds School of History Marion Sharples Prize (2014-15) for the best dissertation by a taught MA student in the School of History

University of Leeds School of History MA Scholarship (2014-15)

University of Leeds School of History Outstanding Achievement Award (2013-14) for the best overall performance by a final year student parented by the School of History

University of Leeds School of History Special Subject Prize (2013-14) for the best performance in a History Special Subject by a student parented by the School of History

University of Leeds School of History John Taylor Prize (2012-13) for the best overall performance by a second year student parented by the School of History

University of Leeds School of History John Cox Prize (2011-12) for the best overall performance by a first year student parented by the School of History