In Plain Sight: Decolonising the Museum

Detail from Joy Gregory’s The Sweetest Thing (2021)

Anabelle Howorth, Alex Jones, and Tim Robertson

As students on the British World module at Exeter we recently discussed why the place of the colonial past has become so contentious over the last thirty years. In doing so, we considered the concerns of the ‘new museology’ in seeking to make museums fora for public engagement and discussion of this past. We also considered recent attempts to raise awareness of the region’s connections with colonialism, such as the ‘In Plain Sight’ exhibition at the RAMM in Exeter, which traces Devon’s connections with the Atlantic slave trade. The exhibition does an excellent job of providing a new understanding of the overlooked connections between places we see everyday and one of the darkest episodes in history. In particular, Joy Gregory’s commissioned work, ‘The Sweetest Thing’ highlights the connections between local wealthy families and slavery in the Caribbean. The tapestry includes compensation figures, which were awarded to claimants by the British government following the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Knowledge of the huge sums awarded to former slave owners has become more widespread over recent years through the digitisation of records by the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project but it is still rare for a regional museum to feature this history prominently.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Map of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Park in London. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From new online West African archives to the problems with the ‘balance sheet’ approach to the history of imperialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Ben Jones, History Today

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the race to archive Ukrainian websites to the end of globalization, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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Dutch Colonial Violence and the Missing Voices of Indonesians

Indonesia-Netherlands_indonesian-veterans-victims_@Adek-Berry-AFP-730x486
Indonesian veterans commemorate victims of massacres by the Dutch army in the 1940s in 2013. The Indonesian experience of colonial violence is often overlooked in the Netherlands. © Adek Berry / AFP
 
Roel Frakking and Anne Van Mourik

The Dutch continue to widely underestimate their colonial violence of the past. The publication of the hard-hitting conclusions of the Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia 1945-1950-program revealed the Dutch state actively condoning systematic and structural violence during Indonesia’s War for Independence. Discourse management, short-term perspectives and diminished Indonesian perspectives explain how Dutch perpetratorship is still under negotiation in the Netherlands.

On February 17, researchers of the Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia 1945-1950 program (IDVWI) presented their results. They concluded that Dutch armed forces structurally and systematically utilised “extreme violence” to stamp out the Republic of Indonesia that had declared itself independent on 17 August 1945. They added that politicians, civilian and military authorities, including their legal systems, looked away, condoned and silenced colonial violence both in Indonesia and The Hague, the Netherlands’ capital city. 

Reactions came fast and furious. Prime minister Mark Rutte apologised to “the people of Indonesia”, but also to Dutch veterans and all the communities violently touched by the war, from 1945 onwards. The displaced Indo-European community feared rehabilitation of those who had forced them from Indonesia. Veterans, in turn, accused researchers of writing about matters they do not understand. 

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Taberna de Moe. San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. Tamlin Magee.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From whether sanctions can stop Russia to why bootleg Moe’s Taverns are all over Latin America, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A sign indicates the highest fire alert level. Sydney, Australia, December 2019. Photograph: David Gray/Getty Images

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From humanity’s weird history with fire to Putin’s parallels with 19th-century US imperialism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Adolf Hitler and his army parade, Prague, March 15, 1939, the day of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Wehrmacht. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Russia’s long history of economic isolation to Putin’s Hitler-like tactics, a special Ukrainian edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Living Timeline: Paul Robeson Mural by Art Bloc DC. Exterior wall of 1351 U Street, NW, Washington DC, June 21, 2015. Captured by Elvert Barnes Photography (Flickr)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Paul Robeson the revolutionary to Biden’s new Cold war, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From racism and the history of international relations to how UK propaganda leaflets inspired the massacre of Indonesian communists, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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Losing China: Revisiting American Involvement in China in the Early Cold War

PLA advancements in central China and Manchuria. China – Communist Controlled Areas as of 17 November 1948. National Security Council File; Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

Giuseppe Paparella
University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @giuspaparella

Debates over the post-Second World War origins of Sino-American relations continue to inform – and daunt — policymakers and foreign policy experts in their effort to figure out a viable strategy to deal with Beijing. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2018, Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner – Biden’s National Security Council Indo-Pacific Affairs Coordinator and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs respectively – branded the Truman Administrations’ various efforts to shape China’s behaviour as a failure. However, in commenting on the article James Curran – an Australian scholar on U.S. foreign policy – noticed that both this piece and the several respondents to it collectively failed “to acknowledge … the pervasive influence of American nationalist mythology on U.S.-China policy over the last seventy years.” In conclusion, Curran noted that “a critical but to date sadly neglected part of that process must surely involve taking a good, hard look at how the myths of American nationalism have influenced the course of U.S.-China policy since 1949.”

My newly published open-access article in The International History Review takes a fresh perspective and contributes to these debates. In it, I argue that between late 1948 and early 1949 Communist China and the United States might have been able to strike a more collaborative relationship had Truman applied more restraint to his nationalist colony image of China – a concept developed in-depth in the article – and been more willing to listen to Dean Acheson and advisors in the Division of Chinese Affairs, who promoted the “Chinese Titoism” strategy.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

US General Smedley Butler. Illustration by Colin Verdi, via The New Republic.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the marine who turned against US empire to the afterlives of German colonialism in East Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Dune / Production Stills / Warner Brothers Pictures

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Joseph Schumpeter and the economics of imperialism to Frank Herbert the Republican Salafist, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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AHRC SWW DTP Collaborative Doctoral Award Studentship for Sept 2022 entry – The Overseas Development Institute: From Decolonisation to Decolonising

Supervisors:

Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley, University of Southampton c.l.riley@soton.ac.uk

Dr Stacey Hynd, University of Exeter s.hynd@exeter.ac.uk

Dr Kerrie Holloway, The Overseas Development Institute k.holloway@odi.org.uk

This project contributes to the decolonising of knowledge around overseas aid and development. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) seeks to explore and understand its own history, having been established as an international development-focused think tank in 1960 during the decolonisation of the British Empire. Sixty years on, the international development sector is ever increasing in size, with its actions highly contested: lauded by some as a crucial source of redistributive justice, but criticised by others as a damaging form of neo-colonialism that perpetuates the very structures of global inequality that it protests. This project will not be an institutional history of ODI, but a critical reappraisal of the foundation, functioning and impact of the institution, using this case study to explore shifting ideas and practices of development, and the racialized structures of power that underpin it.

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New ‘Talking Empire’ Podcast: Richard Toye and Henry Knight Lozano on U.S. Settler Colonialism and the Pacific West

In the newest in CIGH’s ‘Talking Empire‘ series, Professor Richard Toye interviews Dr. Henry Knight Lozano about his book California and Hawai’i Bound: U.S. Settler Colonialism and the Pacific West, 1848-1959, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2021.

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the Walter Rodney murder mystery 40 years later to British collaborators in Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


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