Ben Fanstone


  Division: History & Politics


  Twitter: @BFanstone

Title of research topic

The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in Kenya, c. 1890-1963: the history of the contested development of state forestry within a colonial settler state.


Dr Phia Steyn

Dr Paul Adderley


I began my student life by studying a BA in history and an MA in international relations at Leicester University, where my research focused on the theoretical connections between the environment and violent conflict. This is a topic that gains occasional media coverage with alarmist projections of possible scenarios like 'water wars' in Africa, although these usually lack historical precedent.

Upon beginning my MRes in environmental history at the University of Stirling I took this topic further by applying theoretical models of adaption to environmental change, which include the possibility of conflict, to the colonial period of Nigerian history. This research allowed the way in which colonial rule used the environment, specifically state forestry, as a tool for both economic and political dominance to be highlighted, but also showed the resourcefulness and adaptability of African peoples that allowed them to avoid violent conflict.  The discipline of environmental history is well suited to this topic, allowing the integration of traditional document analysis with scientific investigation of the land.

I am now continuing my research at the University of Stirling with a PhD entitled “The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in colonial Kenya”, investigating the development of the colonial forestry department in Kenya in terms of how it related to the other sections of the colonial administration and how its twin goals of forest conservation and sustainable timber harvesting were met, or not, in the face of competing demands for agricultural land both from indigenous Africans and the white settler community.

Based on archival fieldwork in the UK and Kenya, as well as oral histories from past colonial personnel, this research will yield new insight into whether scientific forestry was truly a coherent ideology that guided colonial forest control or whether it was merely a theoretical ideal that bore little resemblance to the reality of colonial forestry. The history of state forestry in Kenya also allows further exploration within the theme of the growth and evolution of scientific doctrines of development and how these were placed within and competed with other elements of colonialism.

The findings of such a study have continued resonance today, as many forest communities in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America are currently experiencing the encroachment of state or private forestry onto their lands. Concurrently, the discipline of forestry, now firmly a part of the development narrative, continues to evolve through systems such as agroforestry that can theoretically meet the conflicting needs of agriculture and forestry.

Research Interests

  • Colonial and post-colonial Africa
  • British Empire
  • Scientific/state forestry history
  • The history of development
  • Colonial administrative history
  • Environmental conflict
  • Environmental history

Academic Profiles


Funding awarded for study

Full funding for PhD at the University of Stirling provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and University of Stirling Impact.

Fieldwork in Kenya funded by awards from the Royal Forestry Society (Randle Travel Fund) and the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA).

Organisational memberships;

Historical Perspective (Scottish postgraduate historical society) board member, University of Stirling representative, and principle lead on 2015 rebranding.

Royal African Society (2013 to present)

Royal Forestry Society (2013 to present)

Scottish Forestry Society (2013 to present)

British Scholar Society (2016 to present)


  • B. Fanstone, ‘Sowing the Seeds of Modernity: the Colonial Kenyan Forestry Department’, Quarterly Journal of Forestry (Royal Forestry Society), 109:1 (Jan 2015), pp.42-46
  • B. Fanstone, ‘Shamba Forestry in Colonial Kenya: Colonial Dominance or African Opportunity?’ in Environmental Change and African Societies-Past, Present, Future, ed. by JuliaTischler and Ingo Haltermann, Climate and Culture (forthcoming, Brill, 2016)


  • University of Stirling HISU921 - Britain in the World, 1707-2000 (Autumn, 2014) – teaching assistant
  • University of Stirling HISU9X2 - Concepts of History: Themes and Transformations (Spring 2016) - teaching assistant
  • University of Stirling HISU921 - Britain in the World, 1707-2000 (Autumn, 2016) - teaching assistant
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