On July 26 1971, a top secret cabinet meeting ended what was then Australia’s longest conflict. The public would hear about it for the first time in August, when Prime Minister William McMahon announced the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam.
Eighteen months — and a change of government later — Australia’s Vietnam War was over. Alongside untold Vietnamese, some 521 Australians had died in conflict, including 202 national servicemen.
The end of Australia’s war also saw the wrapping up of a novel and now largely forgotten organisation. The Ex-Services Human Rights Association of Australia was founded in October 1966 by former servicemen and women who “oppose militarism” and “believe that National Service […] should not involve conscription for foreign wars”.
The final issue of the group’s newsletter, Conscience, in February 1972 paid special tribute to Martin Leslie (Les) Waddington, a World War II veteran and leather goods manufacturer, and the group’s “spiritual leader, and greatest workhorse”.
Fifty years since Australia officially began withdrawing from Vietnam, my forthcoming article reflects on how Waddington exemplified an undercurrent of anti-war citizen soldiery in Australia.
From how centuries of US imperialism made surfing an Olympic sport to why it’s not surprising that Simone Biles cheered for Angelina Melnikova, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Lori Lee Oates (@drlorileeoates) Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador
In 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in public scholarship collaborations with political scientists, geographers, and community activists on the climate crisis. This led to lecturing to graduate students on the climate emergency and writing guest essays on the topic for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The criticism from climate change deniers was swift and fierce but not unexpected. It was usually some variation of “What does a humanities scholar or historian know about climate change?” or “These are issues best left to business schools and engineering departments.” The response forced me to grapple with the question: what is the role of global and imperial history in providing commentary on the climate crisis?
The question hits particularly close to home for me; Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I teach in the Master of Philosophy (Humanities) program, is located in one of Canada’s petro provinces. The economy has always been heavily dependent on natural resource sectors and very much dependent on oil since 1997. The one economic golden age the province experienced was fostered by high oil prices. The province has also had a troubled imperial history as it went from being the home of the lost Indigenous people known as the Beothuk, to becoming European fishing grounds, used by imperial powers for its vast natural resources, then to a British colony, to Commonwealth dominion, back to commission of government, all before joining Canada as its tenth province in 1949.
The legacy of imperialism on Newfoundland’s resource-dependent economy was explored back in the mid ‘90s by Valerie Summers in Regime Change in a Resource Economy: The Politics of Underdevelopment in Newfoundland since 1825(1994). In the intervening decades, Newfoundland and Labrador’s approach to economic development continues to be rooted in imperial ways of thinking, which arguably prevent its development as the global economy has moved away from localized natural resources sectors, and towards globalized service sectors. Political economists have effectively documented the phenomenon known as “the resource curse”. Overdependence on natural resources, or a single resource, are problems that afflict many former colonies, that have historically been used as a source for the extraction for their resources. This overdependence, then, is an imperial legacy.
Anne L. Foster (Indiana State University) and Petra Goedde (Temple University) Editors, Diplomatic History
Covid-19 has laid bare the tension between globalism and nationalism, the promise and limits of modern medicine, the persistence of inequality, legacies of imperialism and racism. We have witnessed human beings adapt with remarkable resilience, but also the toll the took on families and individuals beyond the threat of death and disease: isolation, job loss, financial insecurity, uncertainty.
As university teachers and mothers, we scrambled in the spring of 2020 to adjust our living and teaching. As foreign relations scholars and journal editors we were thinking about what all this meant for our work. And so we invited a group of scholars to reflect on this question: What has living through this pandemic revealed or changed about your conception of your scholarship?
We are happy to announce that the twenty-three short essays they wrote have just been published in the June 2021 issue of Diplomatic History, all of which are currently free to read and download online.
Professor Richard Toye (@RichardToye) of the Centre for Imperial and Global History interviews Professor Jürgen Zimmerer (@juergenzimmerer) of the University of Hamburg on the theme of contested German colonial history.
RT: You recently gave a fascinating interview on the theme of repressed/suppressed memories of German colonialism. One point you made is that because Germany had had its colonies taken away after World War I, it did not go through the same post-1945 decolonization process as other European countries; rather at that point it had to deal with the legacy of the Nazi era. But in spite of that – looking at the reactions to your interview on Twitter – it seems that in terms of current debates the UK and Germany, at least, have certain things in common. When you draw attention to German colonial crimes, some Germans say, in effect, “But why do you insist on dragging this up? After all, other empires were much worse than ours.” Something similar happens in Britain – usually people suggest that the French or the Belgians were worse than we were. Why do you think this “whataboutery” or “whataboutism” is so prevalent?
JZ: Your observation is correct. My references to the first decades after World War II were meant to explain why what I call “colonial amnesia” could take place. By that I mean the marginalisation or nostalgic idealization of German colonialism in public perception. For the post-war generation the “colonial” question was a British or French one, etc. not a German one. On the one hand, Germany had “lost” its formal colonies already in 1919 and, on the other hand, after 1945 the memory of World War II and the Third Reich took centre stage. Interestingly, what was discussed was neither the Holocaust, which became a matter of broad debate only in the 1980s, nor the German war crimes in the war of annihilation, which led to huge debates in the 1990s, but rather German suffering from the war and German resistance to Hitler.
Already at that time you could find references to the colonial crimes of others, particularly of the victorious powers, what you so poignantly called whataboutery. It was meant to deflect from German guilt and was used as an argument that the enforced De-Nazification was unjust, and that only Germans were being forced to undergo such a humiliating experience. Later on the argument was slightly modified. Now it read: We take responsibility for the Holocaust, and this is enough. We don’t engage with colonialism, like the German genocide of the Herero and Nama people, because we already deal with the Holocaust, and now the others should deal with colonialism first. Now Germany was the role model of coming to terms with the past, attempting to gain the moral high ground.
RT: This is very interesting. In the UK, perhaps it is the other way round. “We stood alone against Hitler in 1940; this is our trump card against all criticism.” However, there is some acknowledgement that some aspects of the British Empire were at least mildly problematic. People argue, however, that taking everything in the round these aspects were eclipsed by benefits, most usually the railways … In Germany, do people try to do the same thing, in other words to claim that although there were some downsides, the German Empire was beneficial to the colonised?
Dr Julia Irwin (USF) and Dr Marc-William Palen (Exeter)
The pandemic has raised important questions and challenges for historical research in both domestic and international archives, which graduate students of history feel particularly keenly. Stemming from this, we held an intensive one-week research workshop May 24-28 designed to assist graduate students at USF and Exeter in overcoming pandemic-related obstacles to archival research.
Participants joined in virtually from Austria, Italy, Germany, Exeter, and Tampa, FL. In addition to learning digital research strategies, this workshop provided students with an opportunity to participate in a virtual global exchange and to learn from renowned experts in their fields. At the end of the week, students who completed this workshop came away knowing: about the existence of many digital archives they can use for their research; how to think critically about these archives and their creation; how to navigate both online and in-person archives; and about the politics associated with funding and preserving the past. In consultation with Drs Irwin and Palen, students also developed concrete individualized research plans for their MA theses and PhD dissertations.
This workshop was supported by generous funding from USF World, the USF History Department, and Exeter’s College of Humanities and Global Partnerships.
Participants and Speakers
Convenors: Dr Julia Irwin (USF) and Dr Marc-William Palen (Exeter)
USF Graduate Student Participants: Patrick Horan; Tamala Malerk; Scott Miller; Alexander Obermueller; Sophia Paschero; Paula Peck; Doug Ponticos; Alaina Scapicchio; Ashley Wessel
Exeter Graduate Student Participants: Ken Clayton; Maria Teresa Marangoni; Iona Ramsay; Marlen von Reith
Speakers: Dr Richard Ward (Exeter); Dr Stacey Hynd (Exeter); Dr Darcie Fontaine (USF); Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill, UK); Dr Matthew Connelly (Columbia University, NYC); Richard Immerman (Temple University, Philadelphia)
On 8 June 2020, protestors in Bristol pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, slave-trader, dragged it through the streets, and threw it in the canal. While the protests in Bristol were largely peaceful, there were some conflicts in London and elsewhere, resulting in injuries to a small number of police personnel. In response, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that ‘tearing down of the statue was “utterly disgraceful”, adding that “it speaks to the acts of public disorder that have become a distraction from the cause people are protesting about”. Professor Ian Cook, Department of Geography, Exeter, captured the range of voices on the topic in his film Colston Falls. During these debates, members of the Decolonising Working Group in History, University of Exeter, pooled their knowledge to produce this collectively written essay on how statues of historical figures have been literally ‘de-platformed’ and the various physical and ethical solutions that have been found to deal with such toppled statues.
Last week, we were dismayed to find that the government of UK is proposing to close off the debate with a new law that will sharply raise the penalties for damaging memorials. We responded by submitting evidence to the Parliamentary Committee deliberating on the matter, working in collaboration with colleagues in Law and Geography. We are generally critical and wary of the ‘extremely wide ranging’ Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which in our opinion, combines a raft of highly risky and unncessary provisions together with ones that are less controversial. There are other published criticisms of the Bill. Here, for purposes of this post, we are particularly concerned with the way one tiny section of the Bill, tucked into a mammoth text of more than 300 pages, proposes to close off debate on the place of public memorials in present-day Britain.
This is the section in question.
46 Criminal damage to memorials: mode of trial (1) In Schedule 2 to the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (offences for which the value involved is relevant to the mode of trial), in paragraph 1 (offences under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971), in the first column, for the words from “any offence” to the end substitute “— (a) any offence committed by destroying or damaging property by fire, and (b) any offence committed by destroying or damaging a memorial (see section 22(11A) to (11D)).” (2) In section 22 of that Act, after subsection (11) insert— “(11A) In paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 “memorial” means— (a) a building or other structure, or any other thing, erected or installed on land (or in or on any building or other structure on land), or (b) a garden or any other thing planted or grown on land, which has a commemorative purpose.
(11B) For the purposes of that paragraph, any moveable thing (such as a bunch of flowers) which— (a) is left in, on or at a memorial within the meaning of subsection (11A), and (b) has (or can reasonably be assumed to have) a commemorative purpose, is also to be regarded as a memorial. (11C) For the purposes of subsections (11A) and (11B)— (a) references to a building or a structure include a reference to part of a building or part of a structure (as the case may be), and (b) something has a commemorative purpose if at least one of its purposes is to commemorate— (i) one or more individuals or animals (or a particular description of individuals or animals), or (ii) an event or a series of events (such as an armed conflict). (11D) It is immaterial for the purposes of subsection (11C)(b)(i) whether or not any individuals or animals concerned are or were (at any material time)— (a) living or deceased, or (b) capable of being identified.” (3) The amendments made by this section do not apply in relation to offences committed before it comes into force.
As the text of the proposed law says, this provision ‘strengthens the courts’ sentencing powers in relation to criminal damage to memorials’. It does so by amending the Magistrate’s Courts Act 1980 and the Criminal Damage Act 1971, increasing the maximum penalty from the existing 3 months’ imprisonment to 10 years, making it an offence more severe than most offences of sexual and physical violence. Women readers, please read that again. A statue of a dead slave trader is worth more than your bones.
Secondary Supervisor – Dr Stacey Hynd (University of Exeter) and Ms Anne Archer at BT Archives. Mr James Elder will provide cover for Anne Archer prior to her anticipated return from Maternity Leave shortly after the start of the studentship.
Applications are invited for a PhD studentship on race, ethnicity and telecommunications in the British empire from 1850 to the present at the University of Exeter in partnership with BT Archives (London). The studentship is awarded by the Science Museum and Archives Consortium under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme.
This project is a systematic study of the Black, Middle Eastern and South/East Asian people who worked for the British domestic and overseas telecommunications services from the 1850s to the present.
It examines their working experiences and their significant contributions to the construction, operation and technological development of telegraphic and telephonic services – questions largely overlooked by historians. By close and critical study of a wealth of underexplored texts, images and other sources in BT Archives, PK Porthcurno Museum of Global Communications and other collections, as well as the engagement with retired and active telecommunications workers, this project aims to plug this historiographical gap and contribute to the decolonizing of histories of telecommunications in Britain and its empire.
It will also raise the profile of significant materials within British telecommunications archive collections.
The student will produce a highly original piece of historical research and contribute to the enrichment of BT Archives’ catalogue (by providing context and other details to records) and to its physical displays and related activities in telecommunications heritage.
The project focuses on the following questions, but the student will be encouraged to pursue other, related questions that reflect their particular areas of expertise and strengths of the research materials:
Lori Lee Oates Memorial University of Newfoundland
It has long been established by historians such as Christopher Bayly and scholars of post-colonialism such as Leela Gandhi that theosophy was an important nineteenth-century intellectual current. Bayly, for example, credits theosophy with diffusing the Bhavagad Gita throughout India and bringing it to the attention of the wider world. However, what has been less well-established is how those ideas were moving across international lines or the links between theosophy and empire.
My recently published article in The International History Review drew on new primary sources to demonstrate that the Theosophical Society was actively building print networks to expand and move their occult philosophies across the globe. The article paid closer attention to how theosophical texts were moving internationally than previous research. It also demonstrated how Theosophical Society leaders were using expanding imperial networks such as steam ships, telegraphs, and international banking to grow the society across the globe.