Professor Simon Ball

Professor Simon Ball

Chair of International History and Politics

Director of Research in History

(0)113 343 1094

Summary: Chair of International History and Politics

Location: Michael Sadler

The Chair of International History & Politics

Simon Ball was appointed to the University’s chair of International History & Politics in 2012. He was previously Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Glasgow. His tenure is the latest chapter in the University of Leeds’ sustained commitment to the study of modern and contemporary international history: the chair of International History was created in 1966 as Leeds' second established professorship of Modern History. The title was changed to International History & Politics in 1969, when the holder became director of a specialised undergraduate degree programme in the discipline. International History and Politics (IHP) remains a highly successful history degree at Leeds. In 2016 IHP scored 100% in the National Student Survey.


Professor Ball leads a team of international historians with a wide range of expertise in the history of international relations and security. Simon Ball’s own work has concentrated on five interrelated themes: the international history of the Cold War; the international history of the Second World War; the legacy of the First World War; Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in international politics; and war, security & intelligence in the twentieth century. He is the editor of War in History and sits on the editorial boards of Intelligence & National Security and Diplomacy & Statecraft


Simon Ball is the author of a number of important studies including: The Bitter Sea: The Struggle for Mastery in the Mediterranean, 1935-1949 (London: Harper Press, 2009); The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends, and the World They Made (London: HarperCollins, 2004); The Cold War: An International History 1947-1991 (London: Arnold & New York: OUP, 1998, reprinted Bloomsbury USA, 2009); The Bomber in British Strategy: Doctrine, Strategy and Britain’s World Role, 1945-1960 (Boulder, Co. and Oxford: Westview, 1995).  His latest book is a history of the cultural afterlife of the battle of El Alamein. His recent publications include:

Alamein (Oxford: OUP, 2016). ISBN 978-0-19-968203-4.  

 'The Mediterranean and North Africa, 1940-1944' in John Ferris and Evan Mawdsley, eds, The Cambridge History of the Second World War: Volume I - Fighting the War (Cambridge: CUP, 2015), pp. 358-388. 

'The Assassination Culture of Imperial Britain, 1909-1979', The Historical Journal, 56 (2013), pp. 231-256.

'The Battle of Dubai: Firearms on Britain's Arabian Frontier, 1906-1915' in Karen Jones, Giacomo Macola and David Welch, eds, A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 165-190.

'The Wind of Change as Generational Drama' in L. J. Butler and Sarah Stockwell, eds, The Wind of Change: Harold Macmillan and British Decolonization (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013), pp. 96-115. 

AHRC Projects

Simon Ball was the Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project AH/J000175/1 Cultures of Intelligence: Military Intelligence Services in Germany, Great Britain and the USA: Britain, 1918-1947 which ran between 2012 and 2016. The main aim of the project was to deepen our knowledge of the mid-twentieth century intelligence services in Britain. It did so by going beyond the institutional history of particular intelligence services and interrogating the nature of an overarching culture of intelligence, manifested both in the intelligence community and the wider public sphere. Britain was placed in comparative perspective through formal co-operation with a parallel project Kulturen der Intelligence: Ein Forschungsprojekt zur Geschichte der militärischen Nachrichtendientse in Deutschland, Grossbritannien und der USA , 1900-1947 funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, Dusseldorf. In 2014 a German documentary film was made about the project. Simon Ball and Peter Jackson (University of Glasgow) are currently leading The Practice of International History in the 21st Century (PIH21) an international network that interrogates the underlying practice-based conceptual framework of international history in the contemporary era. The project partner is the Chief Historian, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ph.D Supervision

Professor Ball has a track-record of successful Ph.D supervision and welcomes new candidates in any field of international or military history. His previous students have tackled topics such as: imperial rule in India and Canada; aid to Greece in the Cold War; the international history of the Northern Ireland Troubles; minority government in the 1970s; the British military-industrial complex; land and sea-based maritime air power; the Royal Navy and oil; and Great War memoirs. He currently supervises an outstanding group of funded Ph.D researchers.

White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities

In 2014 Simon Ball was appointed to serve as the inaugural chairman of the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) History Subject Panel. WRoCAH is the Collaborative Doctoral Training Partnership of the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. It has received £19m from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to fund Ph.D studentships over the next five years. WRoCAH is the top-ranked and largest AHRC doctoral training partnership in Britain. Ball completed his three year term of office in April 2016. Ball previously sat on the International Advisory Board of Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The role of the IAB was to advise IRCHSS on the award of Government of Ireland Scholarships for doctoral candidates.

External Collaboration

BBC Radio 4

Professor Ball has collaborated closely with BBC Radio 4’s Document series. Document is Radio 4’s historical investigation programme, taking a document as a starting point from which to shed new light on past events. The series has won Sony Radio Academy Gold and Radio Story of the Year awards. On 16 November 2009 Ball’s research formed the centrepiece of an investigation of Britain’s use of torture in WW2. The investigation centred on Edinburgh University professor, Alexander Kennedy. In 1960 Kennedy made a speech at the Royal Institution on the subject of ‘brainwashing’. He stirred a controversy, culminating in the prime minister denying to the House of Commons that Britain had ever indulged in such techniques. Ball was able to identify Kennedy as a member of SIME (Security Intelligence Middle East) and provide the ‘crucial’ ‘document’: an MI5 report on SIME and Kennedy. On 12 March 2012 a further programme aired on the basis of Ball’s research. The programme re-investigated the assassination of the Governor of Sarawak in 1949. It questioned the blame laid at the door of the deposed Raja Muda, Anthony Brooke. The programme charts the involvement of Indonesia and the suppression of information during the trial of the assassins.  Ball was involved in further programmes on secret intelligence and torture in 2013. He was a major participant in Radio 4's documentary series, Conservatism: The Grand Tour, presented by Anne McElvoy. Professor Ball has been consulted also by Germany’s leading public-service television channel, ZDF, to assist in the making of historical documentaries, including  Rommel: Mythos und Wahrheit as as part of ZDF’s major documentary series Geheimnisse des Dritten Reiches and Die Akte Heẞ, the first episode of Geheimnisse des Zweiten Weltkriegs.

AlliiertenMuseum, Berlin

Professor Ball sits on International Board (Beirat) of the AlliiertenMuseum, Clayallee 135, Berlin 14195. The museum was created in 1994 by the government of the Federal Republic to mark the end of the post-war occupation regime in Berlin. It is part of the Federal museums system. Members of the board are nominated by the director of the museum but are approved by the military attachés of Britain, the USA and France on behalf of their respective governments. The main business of the board concerns the long-running project to establish the museum as the museum in residence at the Templehof complex in central Berlin. In November 2015 the Federal Government announced that it had awarded the AlliiertenMuseum 26 million euros to complete the Templehof Project. Ball has also worked on the creation of Liberation Route Europe, a European Union-funded alliance of museums collaborating to commemorate the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule in 1944-1945.


Professor Ball looks forward to further collaborations with media organisations, public sector bodies, and companies. He can be contacted at the address above.