Padraic X. Scanlan

Associate Professor
CIRHR Building, Room 303, 121 St. George St., Toronto, ON, M5S 2E8


Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies

Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

  • History of labour
  • British imperial and colonial history
  • Slavery and emancipation
  • Political economy
  • Economic life
  • Industrialisation
  • Governance
  • Labour reform

Full publications list


I am an Associate Professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, cross-appointed to the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies. I am also a Research Associate at the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St. Michael's College.

My research focuses on the history of labour, enslaved and free, in Britain and the British empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I’m currently in the early stages of research on a new project, on the transformation of the line between ‘home’ and ‘work’ in the industrial era. 

My most recent book, Rot: An Imperial History of the Irish Famine, forthcoming in 2025 from Robinson Books and Basic Books, reinterprets the history of the Irish Great Famine (1845-1851). In the first half of the nineteenth century, nowhere in Europe – or the world – did the working poor depend as completely on potatoes as in Ireland. To many British observers, potatoes were evidence of a lack of modernity and ‘civilization’ among the Irish. Ireland before the Famine, however, more closely resembled capitalism’s future than its past. Irish labourers were paid some of the lowest wages in the British empire, and relied on the abundance of the potato to survive. I show how the staggering inequality, pervasive debt, outrageous rent-gouging, precarious employment, and vulnerability to changes in commodity prices that torment so many in the twenty-first century were rehearsed in the Irish countryside before the potatoes failed.

My second book, Slave Empire: How Slavery Made Modern Britain, published by Robinson Books (2020; paperback ed. 2022), is a history of the rise and fall of plantation slavery in the British empire, and of the relationship between antislavery, imperial conquest and global capitalism. My first book, Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution (2017) was published by Yale University Press. I have also published in peer-reviewed journals of historical research; my work has appeared in American Historical Review, History and Anthropology, Journal of Modern History, Journal of British Studies, Past & Present, and other publications. I occasionally write essays and reviews of new books for newspapers and periodicals.

I supervise graduate students interested in the historical dimensions of labour and employment relations, broadly construed. I’m especially excited to hear from potential doctoral students with an interest in the history of public sector unions in Canada or in ‘anti-work’ and anti-technology movements in the past or the present. 

Before coming to the University of Toronto, I was an Assistant Professor in the Department of International History at the London School of Economics (2015-2019), and a postdoctoral Prize Fellow in Economics, History and Politics at Harvard University (2013-2015). I hold a BA in History from McGill University and a PhD in History from Princeton University.

Access curriculum vitae online


PhD, Princeton University
BA (Hons), McGill University