From Lincoln’s forgotten post-war black colonization scheme to misremembering the First World War, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading
Producer and Project Manager, Clapham Film Unit
“My sister needs a film”, my contact said to me in a Community Resource basement on Brixton Hill.
“What’s the story?”
“These women in 1915 got together to try to stop World War 1. They travelled right across war torn Europe. They even had to travel by fishing boat at one point – the ferries weren’t running. They were from warring and neutral nations. The organisation they set up is still running today and my sister is part of it. “
I knew at once it was a great story that had to be told on its centenary. I went to Petts Wood Quaker Meeting House to meet my contact’s sister, Sheila Triggs. She was at a meeting of the Orpington branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the organisation set up in 1915 and still going today. I showed the group my previous work and offered to help raise the funding to engage members of the organisation and outside volunteers to make a documentary, touring exhibition, booklet and set of oral history recordings.
The Heritage Lottery Fund was immediately interested in the project and I got together with the WILPF History Group to write a successful bid. Helen Kay and Katrina Gass from WILPF History Group had already spent years researching the early members of their organisation and they put together a list of women who had been granted passports to attend the International Women’s Congress at the Hague in 1915.
The 1915 Women’s Peace Congress and the Origins of the WILPF
In 1915 women all over Europe were trying to get the vote. They had formed an international women’s suffrage alliance (IWSA) and felt they had a lot in common with other women regardless of national boundaries. When the war broke out, the international meeting planned for 1915 in Berlin couldn’t take place. Continue reading
Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).
Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.
From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life (2014).
This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.
But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading
Anthony Clark is a former speechwriter, committee professional staffer, and legislative director in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 111th Congress he directed hearings and investigations of the National Archives and presidential libraries for the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. His new book The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity and Enshrine Their Legacies was published this month [available on Amazon]. Professor Richard Toye [RT] recently interviewed Clark [AC] about how the presidential library system is influenced by power and politics.
RT: This book has taken you years to research and write. It’s clearly a labour of love. But some people would think that presidential libraries are rather a dry subject. What is it about them that you find so interesting?
AC: I began the book believing I would write a simple history of the presidential library system. But as I discovered more and more about the politics that drive the libraries, and inappropriately was kept from seeing hundreds of thousands of the National Archives’ own records about them, I began to change the focus of the book.
The system has strayed from its original purpose: to preserve presidential records and make them available to the public. The libraries have become taxpayer-funded legacy factories, and arms of the national political parties – particularly the Republican Party.
Modern presidential libraries open about four years after presidents leave office, but the papers of their presidencies will not be opened for 100 or more years. History is being locked up for a century due to conscious choices that Congress and National Archives officials have made and continue to make about our priorities, our budgets, and the sensitivities of powerful people.
The politics are fascinating: the site selection process, and what factors make for a winning bid; how they are funded, both with hundreds of millions of private dollars, and a billion dollars of taxes each decade; the exhibits that spin or ignore controversies; the political events, such as presidential primary debates and “debut” speeches by aspiring candidates; and the complex mechanisms that work to keep records – the core mission – closed, and unavailable for a century or more.
RT: You mention site choice, which is clearly fundamental. There has been a lot of speculation recently about where Barack Obama’s library will be located. What are the factors that influence a library’s location? Continue reading
David Thackeray, Marc Palen and Richard Toye
University of Exeter
As 3rd-year students scramble to finish their dissertations and as 2nd-year students begin formulating topics for their own, it’s worth noting the dramatic expansion in the availability of sources for the study of modern British and British imperial history in recent years.
Many of these sources are free to use. However, it is often hard to keep track of what materials are now available. What follows is a short guide (which is by no means comprehensive) but gives an introduction to some of the most important sources and may be of particular use to students planning dissertations, as well as other researchers. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the ‘comments’ section.
- Mass Observation was a social investigation organisation set up in the 1930s that produced a range of social surveys about British life until its disbandment in the late 1940s. This website provides online access to a range of data held in the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex and is invaluable for social historians. Dr. Lucy Robinson has also produced the excellent Observing the 80s website, which holds material compiled following the modern revival of Mass Observation, as well as oral history recordings from the British Library.
Roundtable Review, cross-posted from H-Diplo
Martin Thomas. Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-19-969827-1 (hardback, £25.00).
- Introduction by Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal 2
- Review by Robert Aldrich, University of Sydney. 7
- Review by Nicholas J. White, Liverpool John Moores University. 14
- Review by Andrew Williams, University of St. Andrews. 18
- Author’s Response by Martin Thomas, University of Exeter. 21
One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cites, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.
-J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
In the comparative study under review here, Fight or Flight, the talented and prolific British historian Martin Thomas provides an in-depth account of how and why the French and the British tried to hold on to their empires against all odds but in the end had to let go. Sometimes, Thomas tells us, the colonizers chose to cut their losses and get out in order to focus on other parts of the empire. It was a question of preservation. On other occasions, Thomas counters, they went to war to hold on to their prize possessions. In both cases, it –what we now call decolonization – was a messy, complicated, unpredictable, and terribly bloody business. There was no roadmap for ending empires because, at least in the immediate wake of World War II, neither the French nor the British decision-makers could fathom that imperial time was perhaps not universal.
Nor could they imagine that the ‘barbarians’ were thinking of historical time in different terms and were willing to fight to force that change upon their colonizers. While Thomas’s comparison turns on the French and British imperial endgames, he successfully weaves in the stories of the Africans and Asians. For many colonial nationalists, Thomas reminds us, decolonization did not magically begin in the wake of World War II; but emerged in many colonial minds as the only response to failed reformist promises. Nicholas White is right to suggest that Thomas is on to something big by suggesting that the colonial crisis that coalesced in the 1930s was as important as anything that came after ‘1945.’ Some chose communism, like Ho Chi Minh, the future father of Vietnam, and Thomas shows how that pre-WWII communist connection would differentiate the French war of decolonization in Indochina from other ‘fight experiences’ in French Algeria and British Malaya. Continue reading
Combining world class research with very high levels of student satisfaction we are a member of the Russell Group and now have over 19,000 students. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) Exeter was ranked 16th nationally with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. We are ranked 7th in The Times andSunday Times Good University Guide league table, 10th in The Complete University Guide and 12th in the Guardian University Guide.
The full time, permanent post of Lecturer in Imperial or Global History will extend the research profile of these subjects within the Centre for Imperial & Global History in the History department at Exeter in relation to the history of European empires, including colonial Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America . The post will require the candidate to contribute to teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level of a range of courses including team-taught modules HIH1420 Understanding the Modern World and HIH2002 Uses of the Past, and contribute to the MA programme, and supervision of independent work at levels 2, 3 and MA level. The candidate may also devise a Level 2 Option Module and a Level 3 Special Subject. Continue reading
In his 2004 book The Absent-minded Imperialists, Bernard Porter argues that there was little sustained general interest about the British Empire in British domestic society. The supply of products from the Empire to Britain and references to imperial matters in British cultural activities did not mean that society was steeped in the Empire, he suggests. His book is one side of the argument between “minimalists” and “maximalists”, the protagonists in the historiographical debate about the magnitude of the effect of Empire on society in Britain.
The protagonists of minimalism and maximalism, although taking strongly opposing views, have in common a desire to answer the question: how widespread was awareness of the Empire in British society? This question quickly leads to two more: How might this be done? And is it possible to quantify imperial awareness? The seed of a mechanism for answering these questions can be found in Porter’s book in which he lists some of the “imperial associations that mushroomed” in Britain at the end on the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. By examining a wide range of imperial groups and their memberships, I have been able to estimate the extent of imperial activism, identify the aspects of Empire activists cared about, and examine the class structure of groups’ memberships. Continue reading
Camels, Cars and Colonial Control
When: Thursday 12th March, 6-8pm
Where: Parker Moot Room, Amory Building, University of Exeter
In conjunction with the Exeter branch of The Historical Association, today’s event will mark the launch of Dr. Robert Fletcher’s (@rsgfletcher) new book British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East, 1919-1936 (Oxford, 2015). The lecture will be followed by drinks and nibbles from 7 pm.
British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’ reconstructs the history of Britain’s presence in the deserts of the interwar Middle East, making the case for its significance to scholars of imperialism and of the region’s past. It tells the story of what happened when the British Empire and Bedouin communities met on the desert frontiers between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. It traces the workings of the resulting practices of ‘desert administration’ from their origins in the wake of one World War to their eclipse after the next, as British officials, Bedouin shaykhs, and nationalist politicians jostled to influence desert affairs.
Drawn to the commanding heights of political society in the region’s towns and cities, historians have tended to afford frontier ‘margins’ merely marginal treatment. Instead, this volume combines the study of imperialism, nomads, and the desert itself to reveal the centrality of ‘desert administration’ to the working of Britain’s empire, repositioning neglected frontier areas as nerve centres of imperial activity. British Imperialism and ‘The Tribal Question’ leads the shift in historians’ attentions from the familiar, urban seats of power to the desert ‘hinterlands’ that have long been obscured.
We look forward to seeing you there!
King’s College London
Undertaking archival research in Africa is not always easy. This is why we have created a website dedicated to the colonial archives of French Equatorial Africa. Our first aim was to give details on access conditions for potential researchers who need to contact the director of the archives. We have also added a map showing the precise location of the archives centre next to the presidential palace in Brazzaville. This building is only temporary and the archives might be relocated in a distant future but at the beginning of 2015, this is where scholars and journalists can undertake research on the history of Congo-Brazzaville or French Equatorial Africa. Continue reading