Richard Drayton was born in Guyana in 1964, the son of Harry Drayton and Kathleen Drayton of Trinidad. His great-grandfather, the Reverend David Drayton, was a Barbadian who migrated to the island in the 1890s, his family following in 1972. From 1974to 1982, Richard attended Harrison’s College,where he was President of the Student Council and Captain of Armstrong House.
In 1982 he won a Barbados Scholarship to Harvard University. At Harvard he was the centre of the anti-apartheid movement, graduating magna cum laude in 1986, with a prize-winning thesis on the history of Sugar Cane Breeding in Barbados. He went on to Yale for graduate study in History, receiving his M.A. in 1987,then in 1988 winning the Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship which took him to Oxford. He returned to Yale in 1990 to complete his doctoral study, receiving his M.Phil in 1991, and Ph.D in 1993 for a dissertation entitled “Imperial Science and a Scientific Empire: Kew Gardens and the Uses of Nature”.
In 1992 he began his career as a Research Fellow in History of St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge. In 1994 he moved to Oxford to become Darby Fellow and Tutor in History at Lincoln College, then in 1998 to the University of Virginia, where he was Associate Professor of British History from 1998 to 2001. In 2001 he returned to Cambridge as University Lecturer in Imperial and extra- European History since 1500, and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, where he also held office as a Tutor and Director of Studies in History.
In 2001, his Nature’s Government: Science ,Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement of the World was awarded the Forkosch Prize of the American Historical Association. In 2003 he was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize for History. In2009, while retaining a Praelectorship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he moved to King’s College London to become the sixth Rhodes Professor of Imperial History. He has been Visiting Professor at Harvard, the EHESS in Paris, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Drayton has maintained a close involvement with Barbados, the Caribbean and their diasporas. He was nonfiction judge for the Bocas Literary Prize, and in March 2016 gave the Distinguished Jurist’s Lecture to the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago. In November he will give the Sir Winston Scott Lecture of the Central Bank of Barbados. He has been a regular speaker at events of the National Council of Barbadian Associations.