After Queen Elizabeth II’s death last week, Harvard history professor Maya Jasanoff urged people to mourn the queen, but not her colonial empire. Jasanoff joined GBH’s Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about the connection between the queen as a public figure and the British royal family’s legacy of colonialism and war. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Maya Jasanoff: One of the things I think we need to remember about the queen is that she was both an individual and an institution as the monarch. And the monarchy is an institution that has historically been entwined not only with the British state, but also with the expansion of the British state around the globe in the form of the British Empire.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, that relationship got tighter and tighter. And even though the queen herself ruled over the decades in which the British Empire largely dissolved, she was bound up with this institution. She was the figurehead of an institution that was ineluctably tied to the empire and its aftermath.

Jeremy Siegel: How would you describe the British Empire's history of colonization for someone who might not be fully aware?

Jasanoff: From around the middle of the 18th century up until the aftermath of World War II, Britain assembled and governed and managed an empire that came to encompass nearly a quarter of the globe. At the time that Queen Elizabeth was born. One in five-ish residents of the entire world's population was a subject of the British Empire. And over the course of that time, what it meant was that one in five people in the world was exposed to British laws, British culture, British wars, British economic priorities, British views about how they ought to be governed. And it was the largest empire the world has ever seen.

"One in five people in the world was exposed to British laws, British culture, British wars, British economic priorities, British views about how they ought to be governed."
-Harvard History Professor Maya Jasanoff

Paris Alston: It was kind of striking to see, so quickly after the queen's passing, how mixed of responses there were to it on social media, for instance. I mean, of course, there were condolences. There was a lot of reflection and paying of respects, but there was also humor and even some disdain. I mean, everything ranging from Irish people and Irish-Americans and Caribbean immigrants, etc., and Black Americans making all these jokes, riding for Meghan Markle, talking about how she would show up to the funeral. What did you make of all of that?

Jasanoff: Well, one thing that is, of course, itself a bit of a consequence of the power of the British Empire is that the queen really was a global figure, and we may not see a figure like that again. She was somebody who was familiar to the vast majority of people on the planet right now and attracted to herself all kinds of feelings — often of affection, often of hatred from all over the world. One of the things that I'm really struck by is just how she became so central to world culture.

And then the other thing, I guess I would say is that as a result of that, she's a figure who, of course, belonged to the British people in some kind of almost formal way. But she became a part of the lives of people with very, very different perspectives. And I think the idea that there is a sort of single way that we ought to remember her is at odds with the plurality of the ways in which people related to her while she was alive.

Siegel: How are you remembering the queen's legacy? I mean, as you just said, it's no secret that everybody's legacy is complicated. There's the connection to the history of colonization. And then at the same time, for many, the queen was a feminist icon, a trailblazer of women rulers, at times being the solo woman on the world stage. How do you parse all of those different feelings, all of those different legacies, in the aftermath of someone's death like this?

Jasanoff: Well, let me come back to that distinction I made between the person and the institution. I think that as a person, it's clear that Queen Elizabeth II was incredibly dedicated to what she understood to be her duty and to a sense of public service. As a woman on the world stage, it's interesting because of course, she wasn't by any means the first queen who had such a role. Queen Victoria had already kind of charted something out for her. And Queen Elizabeth, in a way, followed that model by becoming a mother and a grandmother who was sort of taken up by people in Britain and beyond as a maternal figure.

I think that what I'm struck by now is that she left this world at a time when the values of public service and commitment to duty seem to be under siege, or under threat, in the UK and elsewhere. She, in her final public act, welcomed her 15th Prime Minister, Liz Truss, just after her 14th, Boris Johnson, had been kicked out, partly for his own irresponsibility in office. So what I would like to think is that the better parts of what the queen came to embody with respect to service and duty will be values that will not die with her.

"What I'm struck by now is that she left this world at a time when the values of public service and commitment to duty seem to be under siege."
-Harvard History Professor Maya Jasanoff

Alston: As we move into this next chapter of the British monarchy, and we do that in an era when things are changing politically and socially all across the world as well as in the UK, how do you think the conversation may change around the British monarchy? Around Queen Elizabeth and her legacy? And how might the monarchy respond to that?

Jasanoff: I definitely think that the global role of the monarchy is due for a change. I think we're going to see more nations follow the example of Barbados, which in 2021 became a republic and got rid of the queen as its head of state.

I think that the queen's own commitment to the Commonwealth as a sequel to Empire, a gathering of nations that had formerly been British colonies that she was very invested in — I think that connection between the monarchy and the Commonwealth and what the Commonwealth stands for will probably change in years ahead. I think domestically within Britain, there's a lot of thinking to be done about the fact that the head of state is a person born into hereditary privilege that comes with incredible wealth and an exceptional quality of life that is unavailable to an increasing number of Britons who are finding themselves, as it happens right now, in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in a generation. So I would imagine there might be room, if people were so inclined, to think about a more scaled back type of monarchy with less of the pomp and circumstance.