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.
Last Tuesday, the National Archives of Australia finally released the classified “Palace Letters” between the British Monarchy and Governor General Sir John Kerr. The highly anticipated correspondence shed new light on the famous 1975 Constitutional Crisis in Australia, when Kerr employed the reserve powers of the Crown to dismiss Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government. This was a pivotal moment in Commonwealth relations, sparking a diplomatic backlash from Canberra and fueling the movement for an Australian republic.
The constitutional evolution of Australia’s place within the Commonwealth stems from a historic and obsessive desire to protect national autonomy from British overreach. Indeed, the dusty annals of the old Colonial Office is replete with similar instances of British Cabinet ministers or Governors General interfering in the purely domestic affairs of the self-governing Dominions.
However, this trend could be a two-way street.
Nearly sixty years before the Whitlam dismissal, an Australian Labor leader helped to bring down a British Government. At the height of the First World War, Australian Prime Minister William Morris Hughes visited the United Kingdom for high-level consultations. The enigmatic Hughes quickly became a celebrity, rubbing elbows with the royal family and being feted by the press as the savior of the nation. Before long, he became a bit player in the famous palace intrigue against Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. Continue reading “The ‘Palace Papers’ and Australian Meddling in British Politics”→
In the spirit of the current global movement for racial justice, many across the UK have raised the need to decolonize history curriculums. In seeking to learn more about the colonial exploitation upon which the British built their empire, 1919 would be an excellent place to start. Given that Sunday, 7 June, marked the commemoration of the Sette Giugno anti-colonial uprising of 1919 in Malta, this year opens a door to understanding oppression in countries as diverse as India, Ireland, Malta, British Honduras (Belize), Egypt and Trinidad – global outposts where colonizers and colonies clashed throughout that fateful year. Continue reading “1919: Repression, Riots and Revolution”→
A century ago, on January 25, 1919, delegates to the Paris Peace Conference formally agreed on the establishment of a League of Nations, US President Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to create a new international order following the World War I.
Four days earlier, on January 21, Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s national parliament, had met for the first time. Its assembly in Dublin’s Mansion House was politically set to “Paris time”. Proclaiming an Irish Republic, the revolutionary parliament issued a Declaration of Independence from British rule in French, Irish, and English. It also sent A Message to the Free Nations of the World, and delegates to the Paris peace conference. It read:
Ireland today reasserts her historic nationhood confidently before the new world emerging from the War.
Neither the Irish Republic, nor its representatives would be admitted at Versailles. But international recognition of the Irish Republic, under the principles of the “new world order” established in Paris – self-determination, liberal democracy and internationalist development – would become a key battle ground in the Irish war of independence. A century on, it remains a key battle ground of historical debate – where, in this “new world order”, was the Irish Republic won and lost? Continue reading “January 1919: the Irish Republic, the League of Nations and a new world order”→
Reflecting upon the centenary of Armistice Day last Sunday, an article in the Business Standard (India) explores the relationship between economic conflict and the “War to end all wars,” featuring Prof. Biswajit Dhar (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and myself. Such reflections become even more timely in light of the growing speculation just this past month from former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Bloomberg’s Shawn Donnan and Kevin Hamlin, and the Wall Street Journal’s James Mackintosh that the US trade war with China could turn into a new cold war, what Paulson calls an “Economic Iron Curtain.” From the Business Standard:
A hundred years ago from today, the ‘War to end all wars’ came to a close, leaving in its wake 19 million dead and 23 million wounded. There were many culprits, including economic nationalism, but only one victim — humanity, which was exposed to the horror of industrial warfare in those grim, meat-grinding trenches, only to face the same calamity again, magnified manifold, between 1939 and 1945 (Over 60 million people were killed in World War II). Are we seeing the economic drivers of that first great war re-emerge in today’s world of growing protectionism and trade wars?
In a 2016 report, Deutsche Asset Management Chief Global Economist Josh Feinman writes that “we’ve seen this movie before”, while referring to the rise of economic nationalism, reflected in Donald Trump’s election to the White House, the political and popular backlash against globalisation, exemplified today by the US-China trade war, and the hardening of borders against immigrants, which is a driving force behind Brexit. “The first great globalisation wave, in the half-century or so before WWI, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945,” writes Feinman. He goes on to describe “protectionism and economic nationalism” as “culprits” that played a part in causing the two World Wars.
Of course, they were not the only, or perhaps even the most important, causes of the First World War. “While there is a pretty clear causation between protectionism and the era’s trade wars, it is more difficult to prove that trade wars led to the First World War. There is certainly a correlation, but causation is much more difficult to measure,” says Marc-William Palen, senior lecturer of imperial history at the University of Exeter.
This is the newest post kicking off the third week of our 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, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!
During the day in the mid-2000s I took classes in imperial history. On Friday and Saturday nights I descended to the basement of the student center at the University of Auckland to take part in an intense, desperate, and sometimes violent feud with five friends over control of the planet of Arrakis through Avalon Hill’s legendary strategy board game, Dune.
The board game was released in 1979, the same year as Edward Said’s Orientalism. These sessions extended long into the night (the game can take ten hours to complete) and both tested and forged friendships as we schemed with, tricked, and betrayed each other. At the time, I didn’t consider any connection between my history classes (or even discussions about Said with the same friends) and these nocturnal contests. In hindsight, though, the source material for the game, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, built on nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial fantasies of knowledge, control, and power.
On the surface, the novel Dune fulfills a popular imperialist fantasy by granting its main character mastery over native “others” whose superstition and history makes them comprehensible and exploitable. However, it is also a book of schemes, assassination, betrayal, hidden motives, and unexpected consequences. Like the novel’s main antagonists, this fantasy ends stabbed and poisoned on the floor of a broken palace. In certain ways, Herbert’s embrace and subversion of orientalist tropes around knowledge even anticipated modern critiques of empire. Continue reading ““Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides”→
1917 was a key year in a crucial decade. This was a decade of change, or, rather, transformation; of the destruction of what became old orders; and of the replacement of existing currents and practices.
From the perspective of 2017, possibly the most important changes of the decade came in 1910-11: alongside revolutionary crises in Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti was the crisis and overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China. There had been a series of such crises in China before, of course notably with the Ming in the 1640s, and the Mongols in the 1360s. What made the crisis of the 1910s different, however, was the replacement of a dynasty by a republic and the difficulty, for the new system, of establishing its legitimacy. Indeed, China atomised, so that, by 1925, it was divided between a large number of independent polities, most of which were under the thumb of warlords and expressions of their power. China’s fragmentation made it vulnerable to Japanese invasion and, ultimately, to a destructive civil war and communist revolution in 1949. Continue reading “1917: The Year of the Century”→
In 2019, India will embark upon a uniquely postcolonial set of centenaries. During the Great War the Defence of India Act (1915) had given the Government of India exceptional powers to silence dissent and crush any nascent “terrorist” or “revolutionary” movement. So effective had the powers proven, against both radical and moderate nationalists, that there were many within the colonial state who sought their extension into peace time. The “Rowlatt” (Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes) Act of 1919 attempted this, and the resistance against the act was led by the ex-lawyer and future-Mahatma, Mr MK Gandhi. The centenary of the Rowlatt “Satyagraha” (the name for Gandhi’s non-violent, political “truth-force”, protest movement) will doubtless by commemorated by the Congress party and many others in India.
Yet both these commemorations may well be overshadowed in 2019 by the centenary of the “Jallianwala Bagh” massacre, in which the colonial state displayed the violence inherent in the Rowlatt regulations in Amritsar; the shooting of unarmed civilians that sparked a global outcry. While India was enduring violence at home it was plotting peace abroad. The year 1919 will also mark the centenary of India’s contribution to the Peace Treaty of Versailles. Few anticipated that India’s attendance at the conference would automatically make it a founder of the League of Nations, the only non-self-governing state to ever become a member. 1919 will be a busy year for centenaries; all of the above, in some way, are legacies of the First World War.
Call for Papers for an Interdisciplinary Workshop as part of the research project
Cultural Exchange in Times of Global Conflict:Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents during the First World War
Colonialism, War & Photography
London – 17 September 2015
If the First World War is usually defined as the military clash of empires, it can also be reconceptualised as a turning point in the history of cultural encounters. Between 1914 and 1918, more than four million non-white men were drafted mostly as soldiers or labourers into the Allied armies: they served in different parts of the world – from Europe and Africa to Mesopotamia, the Middle East and China – resulting in an unprecedented range of cultural encounters. The war was also a turning point in the history of photographic documentation as such moments and processes were recorded in hundreds of thousands of photographs by fellow soldiers, official photographers, amateurs, civilians and the press. In the absence of written records, these photographs are some of our most important – and hitherto largely neglected – sources of the lives of these men: in trenches, fields, billets, hospitals, towns, markets, POW camps. But how do we ‘read’ these photographs?
Using the First World War as a focal point, this interdisciplinary one-day workshop aims to examine the complex intersections between war, colonialism and photography. What is the use and influence of (colonial) photography on the practice of history? What is the relationship between its formal and historical aspects? How are the photographs themselves involved in the processes of cultural contact that they record and how do they negotiate structures of power? Continue reading “Call For Papers – Colonialism, War & Photography”→
BBC Radio 4 recently featured the Centre’s Dr. Gajendra Singh in its ‘Soldiers of Empire’ series, ‘The Fight for Fairyland’ (especially at 17 minutes and 26 minutes). This episode:
tells the story of the Indian Army on the Western Front, from disembarkation in Marseilles where the troops were greeted by excited crowds, to the grim reality of the trenches. Ill-equipped and inadequately trained for industrial combat, they nonetheless resolutely held one third of the British frontline between October and December 1914.
Today (19 September) is the centenary of David Lloyd George’s speech at the Queen’s Hall in the West End of London. As we digest the news that Scotland’s voters have rejected independence, it is interesting to reflect on the role that a different form of Celtic nationalism played in shaping the rhetoric of the Great War.