University of Exeter
If the first casualty of war is truth, the last act of a tyrannical regime is to attempt to expunge all evidence of its crimes. In 1992, with apartheid’s end in sight, South Africa’s President, FW De Klerk, authorised the destruction by the National Intelligence Agency of 44 tonnes of incriminating material. This was incinerated at night at a location outside Pretoria. Vast amounts of other sensitive records have also disappeared, in what Verne Harris has called a “large-scale and systematic sanitisation of official memory”. But Hennie Van Vuuren and his team of researchers from the not-for-profit organisation ‘Open Secrets’ have been driven by the firm belief that apartheid’s secrets must be exposed, and that truth will out. Over five years of meticulous research they have examined around 2 million documents in over two dozen archives across the world. In South Africa itself, through fifty freedom of information requests, they were able to access recently de-classified papers in eight government departments.
The result is a 600-page blockbuster, now available in the UK (Apartheid, Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, London C. Hurst & Co 2018). With a focus on the last fifteen years of apartheid, the author argues that the apartheid regime went to increasingly covert and illegal lengths to defend its position in the face of international sanctions and growing unrest in the townships and on its borders. A war economy was built, and around one-third of the state budget was spent on security and the military (though the scale of the expenditure was concealed). Externally, a network of political, business, intelligence and criminal links were constructed in over fifty countries so that South Africa could evade the oil and arms embargo, launder money and circumvent sanctions. Those nations accused of giving succour to the regime are not only those of the West – such as the USA, France and the UK – but, surprisingly, countries such as East Germany, Russia and China who proclaimed their support for the liberation movements. In the case of China, van Vuuren’s remarkable accusation is that while ostensibly backing the Pan-Africanist Congress and, later, the African National Congress, the People’s Republic supplied arms to the South African regime throughout the 1980s (while also continuing to arm its liberation partners). Continue reading “Apartheid’s Secrets and Lies”
University of Exeter
Cross-posted from Historical Transactions
In the last weekend of April, as part of the program for Professor Elena Smilianskaia, a visiting fellow at the University of Exeter, Dr Julia Leikin, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, organized a trip to the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire, to find out more about Thomas Howard, the third Earl of Effingham (1746-1791). In this post, Julia Leikin recounts the surprising results of the trip.
Howard is, on the surface, an elusive figure. Despite his military and political stature, and a wide range of eccentricities, Howard did not leave behind a substantial archive for historians to exploit. He does have a short entry on Wikipedia, but there is no biography nor even an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to document his military career, his support of the American colonies in the American Revolution, and his short-lived governorship of Jamaica. Neither is he named among Eton College’s notable alumni.
But Thomas Howard is one of the notable figures who appears in my and Prof Smilianskaia’s forthcoming annotated translation of Rear-Admiral John Elphinstone’s Russian Faith, Honour & Courage Displayed in a Faithful Narrative of the Russian Expedition by Sea in the Years 1769 & 1770. Elphinstone offers a rare, first-hand account of the Russian voyage around the continent of Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean and offers a new perspective of his skirmishes with Ottoman forces, including the famous Battle of Çeşme (1770), alongside caustic descriptions of its participants. (This characterization does not extend to Thomas Howard, for whom Elphinstone was full of admiration.) Continue reading “Seeking Thomas Howard in Rotherham: local groundings for a global life”
From globalization’s wrong turn to watching the end of the world, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”
We are delighted to welcome Professor Julia Irwin (University of South Florida), who will be at the University of Exeter on a Visiting International Academic Fellowship on July 4. During her visit, she has kindly offered to give a lecture entitled ‘Confronting Catastrophe: International Disaster Assistance and Twentieth Century U.S. Foreign Relations.’ Her talk is in association with Exeter’s Centre for Imperial and Global History, the Centre for the Study of War, State and Society, and the Centre for Medical History.
When: Thursday, 4 July, 3-4:30pm
Where: Laver LT3 (University of Exeter, Streatham Campus)
Abstract: Prof. Irwin’s talk examines the history and politics of U.S. foreign disaster assistance in the 20th century. More specifically, she considers the ways that the U.S. government, military, and private organizations have historically responded to major natural disasters abroad, and critically analyses the political implications and diplomatic significance of these humanitarian efforts.
Bio: Prof. Irwin is Associate Chair in the History Department at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on the place of humanitarianism and foreign assistance in 20th century U.S. foreign relations and international history. Her first book, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (Oxford University Press, 2013), is a history of U.S. relief efforts for foreign civilians in the era of the First World War, exploring both the diplomatic and the cultural significance of humanitarian aid in these years. Her work has appeared in The Journal of American History, The American Historian, Diplomatic History, First World War Studies, The Bulletin of the History of Medicine, The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Moving the Social, History of Education Quarterly, and Nursing History Review. She was also the senior editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia in American History (2014-16). She is now writing a second book, Catastrophic Diplomacy: A History of U.S. Responses to Global Natural Disasters, which analyzes how U.S. State Department agencies, branches of the U.S. military, American charities and relief organizations, and the American public have responded to foreign disasters caused by tropical storms, earthquakes, floods, and other natural hazards throughout the twentieth century.
Western Sydney University
A 1936 obituary for the poet and novelist Arthur H. Adams begins with the words ‘Arthur H Adams has died an Australian’. This statement reflects a primary preoccupation with Adams for critics. Adams’s legacy as a well-respected writer of the early twentieth century and one-time editor of one of Australia’s most influential literary publications, the Bulletin’s ‘Red Page’, is clouded by the ‘problem’ of his multiple allegiances: to New Zealand, to the United Kingdom, to Australia, and to the British Empire. Adams was born and raised in New Zealand, spent time in China and the United Kingdom, and then spent the last 30 years of his life living in Sydney. A poem he wrote at the age of 18 upon moving to Australia for the first time declared: ‘My heart is hot with discontent / I hate this haggard continent’. These lines are often quoted as evidence of his persistent ambivalence to his place of residence. Because the response to Adams has largely revolved around attempts to reconcile him with imagined notions of national constructions (was he a New Zealander or an Australian?), the realities of the interlinked colonial world he inhabited and wrote about have been obscured or ignored. Continue reading “Arthur H. Adams and the problem with settler colonial studies”