David Wilson

AREA OF EXPERTISE: The history of colonialism, maritime activity, and marine governance, particularly surrounding fishing and piracy.

AFFILIATION: University of Strathclyde (UK)

David wilson – Photo: Laurie Lewis

My research focuses on the history of British colonialism, marine spaces, and imperial governance between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, including the subjects of piracy, fishing, environmental sciences, law, and coastal communities. I am particularly interested in historicising and interrogating contemporary ocean / marine governance by looking not just at the recent past but on human-marine relations over the long-term.

For the Hub, I have concentrated on the interactions between colonial and customary laws of the coasts and seas. I have analysed how colonial-imposed governance regimes impacted on, entangled with, and was resisted by indigenous environmental management regimes. Using this historical lens, I have collaborated with colleagues to investigate the continuing impacts and legacies of colonialism on the participation and recognition of ocean users within contemporary decision-making structures.


For the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA) in 2022, David co-organised three workshops on customary laws and (in)tangible heritage within ocean governance. This formed part of the One Ocean Hub’s IYAFA programme with the support of the UN FAO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The first two workshops included speakers from the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Hen Mpoano (Ghana), IUCN (Vanuatu), and LMMA Network (Fiji). The third was organised for the COP27 Virtual Ocean Pavilion and focused on reflections from Indigenous Peoples and local knowledge holders from Namibia, Madagascar, Ghana, and South Africa. Collectively, these workshops focused on elevating key stakeholders in ocean governance whose voices are not as dominant within international decision-making, facilitating close dialogue and knowledge exchange between researchers, NGOs, practitioners, and local knowledge holders.

Building on these discussions, in June 2024, David is co-organising a peer-to-peer workshop at the University of Cape Coast (Ghana) for women in small-scale fisheries in Africa, bringing together knowledge holders from Ghana, Namibia, and South Africa in person for the first time.

The Hub organised four workshops for small-scale fisher (SSF) women in the four coastal regions (Central, Volta, Greater Accra and Western) of Ghana between 2021-2023. Photo: OOH Ghana
Making waves
  • David was part of an early-career researchers group who were shortlisted in the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards in the ‘Heroes’ category in 2022 and 2024. See the promotional video of the ECR group, narrated by David. – watch here
  • David was a guest speaker in the Hub’s podcast pilot episode ‘Connections between human rights, customary laws, and the ocean. – listen here
  • Building on his Hub research, David has also acted as Principal Investigator of the “Lessons from Lake Malawi: British Colonialism, Marine Sciences, & Fisheries Governance in the Mid-Twentieth Century” project.
Recent publication

European colonisation, law, and Indigenous marine dispossession: historical perspectives on the construction and entrenchment of unequal marine governance‘ – read here.

David on leadership

“The Hub has been fundamental in providing a collaborative and interdisciplinary space that empowers early-career researchers like myself to lead on innovative research. Working closely with researchers focused on law, social science, arts-based approaches, and marine sciences has opened my eyes to new potential for embedding historical approaches within transdisciplinary settings and action-oriented research, particularly surrounding marine governance.

By leading on historical-based research, as well as organising Customary Laws of the Coast and Sea Research and more recently the Hub’s Early-Career Research Network, I have been able to develop new skills in leading research groups, dissemination events, and knowledge exchange activities. This has been fundamental to shaping my own research trajectory, as I joined the Hub at a formative time shortly after completing my PhD.”

David’s advice to fellow Early-career researCheRs

“My primary advice would be to think deeply about the benefit of the research being conducted and especially what collaborations (both within and outside academic institutions) are vital to realising this benefit in practice. Such collaborations need to be approached carefully and thoughtfully, with close and constant reflection of your own positionality as well as nuanced historical understanding of the contexts in which you are working. Again, it must be noted that this requires space and time that is not often afforded to emerging researchers and so I would also advise any established researchers and principal investigators to actively support early-career researchers by creating and protecting such space and time for them.”

Read David’s Spotlight interview – here >>