Today activists in Pakistan, particularly ethnic Pakhtuns and Baluch, evoke the idea of colonial governance when criticizing the Pakistani state’s abuses in their war-torn and marginalized homelands. Take the words of leading Pakhtun activist Manzoor Pashteen: “When we demand our rights, equal rights, and protest against this colonial-like treatment of our people, we’re thrown [in]to jails indefinitely.” Colonialism’s legacy continues to dominate the lives of millions. ‘Pathan,’ or more properly Pakhtun or Pashtun, soldiers’ experiences in British service during the First World War are seldom given dedicated coverage. However, they can illuminate important developments in the formation of this colonial legacy in modern Pakistan: both its consolidation through indigenous allies, and resistance to it.
While considerable literatures exist which describe interactions between European modernist art and local forms of culture, Tunisia is quite typical in being a site in which scholars know very little about indigenous forms of artistic production in the late- nineteenth and eraly-twentieth centuries. Colonists generally disparaged the paintings of locals as being instances of folk art, art brut, popular culture or graffiti, while such judgements have also tended to be replicated in the work of scholars of empire right up until our present. While a work of abstraction by Matisse or Klee is accorded value in the setting of a western museum, similar shapes and forms found painted onto walls and paper in north Africa have been viewed as crude instances of a backward culture.
Through a process of what Maziyar Ghiabi calls ‘visual archaeology’, contemporary scholars are, however, able to relocate and, in some cases, reproduce artworks from the margins of colonial-era photography and ephemeral forms such as postcards and advertisements. What such discoveries reveal in Tunisia, and across Islamic Africa, are the existence of vast corpuses of complex, beautiful and powerful works of art almost exclusively made by women. These paintings drew on traditiona forms of cultural expression in radically new ways so as to make pictures which would protect subjugated populations from the violence of colonial rule.
This got me thinking that Instagram could be an interesting place to explore the subject further, as it seems an especially apt venue for those who work primarily with images. As well as potentially exposing wider publics to new research, it has especial appeal as a means of democratically engaging audiences in the global South. I realise that some would question how the granting of intellectual property to a western digital behemoth is any sense a decolonial act, but given the manner in which scholars in the Humanities are in thrall to exclusionary paid-for publishing options, I’d suggest that it merits consideration as a means of speaking outside of the world of paywalls. Continue reading “Researching the Colonial Past on Instagram”→
This is the penultimate post of our five-week roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here,here, here, here, here, here, and here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!
“No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.”
— Prime Directive (United Federation of Planets General Order 1)
“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy…and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” – Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
The Victorian political philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1973) and Star Trek’s far-future United Federation of Planets (the Federation) differ substantially on the colonial question. In particular, Mill the Victorian liberal imperialist thought that it was the duty of the British to help “civilize” less developed states through colonialism. Within his stages of civilization, Mill regarded underdeveloped states like India to be backwards and in need of benign British despotism, which was “a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”
Although Star Trek‘s Federation may share some similar Victorian-era ideas about imperial power structures and civilizational stages, by contrast it has strict rules about not attempting to “civilize” or colonize “backward” societies. It is enshrined in their Prime Directive, which was first introduced in the Original Series (1966-69) as a none-too-subtle anti-imperial rebuke of the US war in Vietnam.
There’s a lot to be said for emphasizing the structuring role of colonialism and anticolonialism across the twentieth century. To contextualize the world wars, the Cold War, and contemporary global capitalism as embedded in a larger set of imperial continuities is to offer an indispensable corrective to the overemphasis of 1945 as epistemic break; the embellishment of US history as an empire-free zone; or the exaggeration of the distance between imperialism and free trade. Fredrik Petersson’s astute Versailles-to-Bandung emplotment of transnational anticolonial activism is thus a very compelling one, especially when read alongside several concurring periodizations. But how we might conceive of antifascism in this empire-centered genealogy requires further attention. Whether antifascism was itself an anticolonialism, in other words, matters much for how we make sense of the twentieth century. Continue reading “Anticolonialism, Antifascism, and Imperial History”→
Professor Martin Thomas’s book Violence and Colonial Order: Police, Workers and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918-1940 is a pioneering, multi-empire account of the relationship between the politics of imperial repression and the economic structures of European colonies between the two World Wars. Ranging across colonial Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, Thomas explores the structure of local police forces, their involvement in colonial labour control and the containment of uprisings and dissent. This work sheds new light on broader trends in the direction and intent of colonial state repression. It shows that the management of colonial economies, particularly in crisis conditions, took precedence over individual imperial powers’ particular methods of rule in determining the forms and functions of colonial police actions. In this Talking Empire podcast, I interview Professor Thomas about the issues raised by the book.
The recent surge of interest in imperial history has been cross-fertilised by work on a number of other themes, such as knowledge formation, law and governance and trans-national connections. This collected volume of essays very usefully brings together a number of these trends to bear upon the crucial area of colonial medicine. Self-consciously aiming to be a comparative work and taking material from India and South Africa, it takes its cue from earlier works that aimed to ‘de-centre’ the metropolis-periphery model of conceptualising empire and colonialism. While re-asserting the centrality of medical knowledge and practices to colonial rule, and the importance of the bodies of the colonised as sites for the exercise of colonial power, the book aims to move beyond a model of hegemony, domination and control. Instead, as the introductory essay outlines, the book’s trans-national methodology is intended to highlight ‘policies of European adaptation and resistance to initiatives of the colonized’ and the ‘transfer of ideas and knowledge in mutual engagements.’
The histories of Antarctic exploration have generally tended to focus on the narratives of intrepid explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and Robert F. Scott, who led expeditions of endurance to the arduous polar wilderness of Antarctica. In the view of Ben Maddison, this concentration on the heroism of the Antarctic explorers, who he defines as the Antarctic elite or the ‘masters’, was an understandable consequence of how historians had approached ‘Antarctic history almost exclusively from the rhetoric and records of the masters’ . In Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration, 1750-1920 (2014), Maddison suggests that historians have, unintentionally, strengthened the invisibility of the Antarctic working class because they have been hesitant to engage critically with the voices from below on these expeditions.
Indeed, Maddison argues that it was the ‘gentrification’ of Antarctic exploration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that further contributed to the silencing of the working class. This despite the fact that the expeditions to Antarctica were ‘facilitated by multifarious labours of the working class’ . Consequently, Maddison claims to fill this historical vacuum by providing a substantial new interpretation of the history of Antarctic expeditions. Continue reading “How the Antarctic Reframes the Context of Class and Empire”→
Mathilde von Bülow Lecturer in International and Imperial history, University of Nottingham
Today, Germany’s Mannschaft will face Algeria’s Fennecs at Porto Alegre, after both teams made it through the group stage of the FIFA World Cup. Though it has yet to be played, the match is already being hailed as an historic, even epic, event. Why? Because it represents the first time the Algerian squad has progressed to the final sixteen at a World Cup. Its larger symbolism, however, is rooted in a longstanding Algerian resistance to French colonialism, which underpinned the secret history of Algerian-German football relations. Continue reading “The Secret History Behind Today’s Algeria-Germany #WorldCup Match”→
Edward Said (1935-2003) was one of the foremost intellectuals of the Twentieth Century. Heavily influenced by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, his work spanned the fields of literature, history, and post-colonial studies. He was a controversial figure, and none of his work is more debated than his landmark 1978 book Orientalism. Said recast this term so that it referred to the structures of knowledge – or rather discourse – through which Westerners constructed the image of the East. Continue reading “Orientalism and its Legacies: New Talking Empire Podcasts”→
In November 2012, a slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of U.S. statehood. And within the last week, Dr. José M. Saldaña, former president of the University of Puerto Rico, and former mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, each once again raised the call for Puerto Rican statehood. Yet modern-day remnants of the American Empire continue to trouble US relations with Puerto Rico, which still holds a semi-colonial American status. To give the issue some much-needed historical perspective, what follows is a revised version of an article that previously appeared in the History News Network and the Australian newspaper.
Burn your outdated American flags; make room for the fifty-first star on the star-spangled banner.
For the first time in Puerto Rico’s more than hundred-year history as an American territory, on Election Day in November 2012, a slim majority voted in favor of U.S. statehood in a non-binding referendum that now goes to the U.S. Congress.
Puerto Ricans had been given a similar option three times before — in 1967, 1993, and 1998 — but with opposite results.
Why this apparent about face?
Because of a weakening economy, a decreasing population, and because “the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” says Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock.
As it stands, 58 percent of Puerto Ricans now live in the mainland United States. Puerto Rico’s four-million residents — the 42 percent remaining on the island — are American citizens but can’t vote in American elections. Such has been the status quo since 1917.
But all this could change if Puerto Rico becomes the fifty-first state of the Union.
Whatever the outcome, this historic moment deserves due attention. Instead, aside from a brief flurry of superficial analysis, the implications of Puerto Rico’s self-determinative vote have gone largely ignored.
We might easily blame American political ADD for such a short attention span. More uncomfortably, such an imperial absence of mind is also a garish reminder of how much Puerto Rico’s complicated, century-long, semi-colonial status has become an accepted part of the American subconscious. Continue reading “America’s Absentminded Empire”→