We will be running our next Decolonization Workshop here at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in Senate House, London, on Monday 16 March 2020. The day will run from 11.00am to 6.00pm.
As on previous occasions, we aim to have a series panel discussions over the course of the day. Each panel will consist of three papers lasting for 15-20 minutes. We are particularly appealing for proposals for presentations from research students and early-career researchers, although we welcome the participation of more established scholars. The workshop will provide an informal and supportive forum in which to discuss work in progress. Continue reading “CFP: Decolonization Workshop @ICwS_SAS, Monday 16 March 2020”→
Development and Securitisation, and (Counter)-Insurgency
Joint research workshop:
Understanding Insurgencies network and The worlds of (under)development: processes and legacies of the Portuguese colonial empire in a comparative perspective (1945-1975)
Lisbon, Portugal, 14-15 March 2019
Call for Papers
Proposals for papers are invited from members of the Understanding Insurgencies network and others for a two-day research workshop exploring the connections between development initiatives and counter-insurgent efforts to restore, impose, or otherwise establish forms of social control.
Enmeshed in rhetoric of poverty reduction and enhanced social opportunity, colonial development is increasingly viewed by scholars more sceptically: less as evidence of imperial goodwill than as an instrument of social and geo-political control in the face of mounting anti-colonial opposition. Sometimes described as integral to colonial claims to modernization, development policies could be highly coercive. At one level, technical aid and financial support was expected to diminish the appeal of anti-colonial alternatives, thereby stabilizing imperial order. At another, more tangible level, the instruments of development were often directives requiring forced relocation, the abandonment of customary practices, or the fulfillment of obligations that rendered individuals legible to – and controllable by – colonial authority. Arguments over development thus encapsulated the tension intrinsic to colonial authority: limited interventionism and purported respect for local ‘tradition’ or the pursuit of heightened social control characteristic of development projects. Continue reading “Call for papers: Development and Securitisation, and (Counter)-Insurgency”→
Martin Thomas, Richard Toye.Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 320 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-874919-6.Reviewed by Warren Dockter (Aberystwyth University) Published on H-Diplo (November, 2017) Commissioned by Seth OffenbachPrintable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=49706“A Silent, Rankling Grudge”
In the autumn issue of Nineteenth Century Review in 1877, W. E. Gladstone wrote an article on legacy of the British Empire and the Eastern Question entitled, “Aggression on Egypt and Freedom in the East.” In addition to supporting notions of self-rule in Egypt, Gladstone warned of the perils of imperial interventions, arguing, “My belief is that the day which witnesses our occupation of Egypt will bid a long farewell to all cordiality of political relations between France and England. There might be no immediate quarrel, no exterior manifestation, but a silent, rankling grudge” (p. 19). These words proved so prophetic that political radical Wilfred Scawen Blunt employed Gladstone’s rhetoric against him in his work The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (1907), writing that “this article is so remarkable and so wonderfully prescient of evils he was himself destined to inflict upon Egypt that it deserves quoting” (p. 57). This exchange serves to illustrate the fluid nature of imperial rhetoric and the discursive relationship which formed between the British and French Empires.
Martin Thomas and Richard Toye have written a remarkably ambitious and excellent study which examines the intersections of imperial rhetoric between the French and British Empires during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book is based on seven case studies that focus on moments of imperial intervention in which both the French and Britain played an equal part, ranging from Tunisia and Egypt in the early 1880s through to Suez in 1956. This breadth allows the reader to see the evolution of imperial rhetoric in Britain and France while illustrating how policymakers in their respective metropoles became intrinsically linked, forcing them toward “co-imperialism.” This is particularly true regarding the Middle East and North Africa, where the British and French Empires remained in concert from nineteenth century until the realities of full-scale decolonization became apparent in latter half of the twentieth century. Continue reading “Dockter on Thomas and Toye, ‘Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France, 1882-1956’”→
We are delighted to announce a new online collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin. Not Even Pastand theImperial & Global Forum will be cross-posting articles, sharing podcasts, and sponsoring discussions of historical publications and events. We are launching our joint initiative this month with a blog, cross-posted from Not Even Past, based on a new book by Exeter’s own Martin Thomas and Richard Toye, Arguing About Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France.
“At the present moment it is impossible to open a newspaper without finding an account of war, disturbance, the fear of war, diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect, in every quarter of the world,” noted an advertisement in The Times on May 20, 1898. “Under these circumstances it is absolutely essential for anyone who desires to follow the course of events to possess a thoroughly good atlas.” One of the selling points of the atlas in question – that published by The Times itself – was that it would allow its owner to follow “most minute details of the campaign on the Atbara, Fashoda, Uganda, the Italian-Abyssinian conflict &c.” The name Atbara would already have been quite familiar to readers, as the British had recently had a battle triumph there as part of the ongoing reconquest of the Sudan. Continue reading “Arguing about Empire: The Dreyfus Affair and the Fashoda Crisis, 1898”→
GLOBAL COMPARISONS FROM THE COLONIAL CONTEXT, 1920-2000
Global History & Culture Centre, University of Warwick
14-15 June 2018
This workshop is part of a Leverhulme Trust Research Network on Understanding Insurgencies: Resonances from the Colonial Past. Led by the University of Exeter’s Centre for War, State and Society, other collaborators in this international network are the University of Warwick, University of Oxford, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) Paris, University of Glasgow, Universite de Québec à Montréal, and KITLV Institute Leiden.The network is funded by the Leverhulme Trust to stage a series of workshops and conferences over a three-year period, (commencing June 2016), and leading to publications.
The theme of this sixth workshop in the Understanding Insurgencies series is ‘Amnesty to Counter Insurgency’. The intention is to examine the manner in which amnesties have been used to bring about temporary cease-fires during counter-insurgency campaigns, to induce surrenders or the ending of hostilities that will bring conflict to an end, or as a means of engaging political discourse in order to generate a negotiated peace. We invite presentations that give detailed consideration to individual case studies during the twentieth century, but would also welcome papers which take a comparative approach and those that look at the principles and pit-falls that lie behind amnesty settlements, including papers that consider the political consequences of amnesties – where these may be contested as well as where they are accepted. Continue reading “CFP: Understanding Insurgencies (1920-2000)”→
Martin Thomas and Richard Toye University of Exeter
‘The struggle of races and of peoples has from now on the whole globe as its theatre; each advances towards the conquest of unoccupied territories.’ Tempting as it might be to ascribe such inflated rhetoric to Friedrich Nietzsche or Adolf Hitler, its originator was Gabriel Charmes, a disciple of leading late nineteenth-century French republican, Léon Gambetta.
In September 1882, Charmes was trying to persuade his fellow parliamentarians that France’s recent seizure of Tunisia was ethically imperative. Similar rhetoric could be found across the political spectrum, in Britain as well as in France. In 1888, the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury described small imperial wars as ‘merely the surf that marks the edge of the advancing wave of civilisation’. But if Britain and France both claimed to be the spearhead of civilizing influences, what happened when their interests clashed, and what new arguments emerged to rationalize the struggle for power between rival ‘civilized’ nations?
That is one theme of our new book, Arguing About Empire, but in order to answer the question we need equally to ask what happened when Anglo-French interests appeared to coincide. How did the two countries’ respective elites justify their mutual collaboration in the face of challenges from other powers and, increasingly as time went on, from domestic anti-colonial critics and local nationalist opponents too? Continue reading “France and Britain – colonial rivals, or co-imperialists?”→
This one-day conference will combine academic papers with a seminar session at which serving and former Embassy staff will be invited to present their testimonies and perspectives. The intention is to present a summary of the conference findings to the FCO to help inform future thinking in this area. The event will be held at the British Academy, 9 June 2016.
Embassies have long been integral to international diplomacy, their staff instrumental to inter-governmental dialogue, strategic partnerships, trading relationships and cultural exchange. But Embassies are also discrete political spaces. Notionally sovereign territory ‘immune’ from local jurisdiction, in moments of crisis Embassies have often been targets of protest and sites of confrontation. Embassies in Crisis will revisit flashpoints in the lives of Embassies overseas. Approaching Embassies as distinct communities with their own micro-histories, this conference seeks to explore each of these aspects in the lives of Embassies and the people who run them. Papers are welcomed that discuss instances of international confrontation or mass demonstration, past and present, that placed particular Embassies in the global spotlight. Continue reading “Call For Papers: Embassies in Crisis”→
Martin Thomas’s path-breaking book Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire tells how the world’s two largest colonial empires disintegrated dramatically after the Second World War. Although shattered by war, in 1945 Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, with imperial territories stretched over four continents. And they appeared determined to keep them: the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers and writers who promised in word and print at this time to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. Yet, within twenty years both empires had almost completely disappeared.
The collapse was cataclysmic. Peaceable ‘transfers of power’ were eclipsed by episodes of territorial partition and mass violence whose bitter aftermath still lingers. Hundreds of millions across four continents were caught up in the biggest reconfiguration of the international system ever seen.
In this new Talking Empire podcast Professor Thomas talks about the book with Professor Richard Toye.
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.
Introduction by Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal
One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cites, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.
In his Nobel prize-winning novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee masterfully describes how the agents and members of empire struggle incessantly against the imperial state’s demise by creating a constant state of fear against barbarian attack. It is not enough to rule. The imperial state needs an enemy. It then marches the army into the borderlands to attack the nomads before they can descend upon the empire. The deployment of the army, the use of torture, and the suspension of rule of law are necessary evils. The preservation of civilization and of the white race depends on it. Empire simply cannot fathom its own end. And yet, throughout his novel, Coetzee has his borderland administrator remind us that all empires must one day perish. Imperial time, the Magistrate whispers ever so seditiously in our unsuspecting ears, is not universal: “We have been here more than a hundred years, we have reclaimed land from the desert and built irrigation works and planted fields and built solid homes and put a wall around our town, but they still think of us as visitors, transients.” Driven almost mad by the failed military campaign against the barbarians he has come to admire, the Magistrate finally admits that he “wanted to live outside the history that Empire imposes on its subjects, even its lost subjects. I never wished it for the barbarians that they should have the history of Empire laid upon them.” Our tortured colonial administrator had dared to imagine decolonization from the inside.
In the comparative study under review here, Fight or Flight, the talented and prolific British historian Martin Thomas provides an in-depth account of how and why the French and the British tried to hold on to their empires against all odds but in the end had to let go. Sometimes, Thomas tells us, the colonizers chose to cut their losses and get out in order to focus on other parts of the empire. It was a question of preservation. On other occasions, Thomas counters, they went to war to hold on to their prize possessions. In both cases, it –what we now call decolonization – was a messy, complicated, unpredictable, and terribly bloody business. There was no roadmap for ending empires because, at least in the immediate wake of World War II, neither the French nor the British decision-makers could fathom that imperial time was perhaps not universal.
Nor could they imagine that the ‘barbarians’ were thinking of historical time in different terms and were willing to fight to force that change upon their colonizers. While Thomas’s comparison turns on the French and British imperial endgames, he successfully weaves in the stories of the Africans and Asians. For many colonial nationalists, Thomas reminds us, decolonization did not magically begin in the wake of World War II; but emerged in many colonial minds as the only response to failed reformist promises. Nicholas White is right to suggest that Thomas is on to something big by suggesting that the colonial crisis that coalesced in the 1930s was as important as anything that came after ‘1945.’ Some chose communism, like Ho Chi Minh, the future father of Vietnam, and Thomas shows how that pre-WWII communist connection would differentiate the French war of decolonization in Indochina from other ‘fight experiences’ in French Algeria and British Malaya. Continue reading “Roundtable Review of Martin Thomas’s ‘Fight or Flight’”→
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a psychiatrist, intellectual and revolutionary. Born in the French Caribbean colony of Martinique, Fanon spent significant periods of his life in France and, crucially, Algeria. There he became an active member of the Front de Libération Nationale that fought, with ultimate success, against French rule. His most famous work The Wretched of the Earth, published shortly before his death from leukaemia, is a classic of decolonization literature. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it in his preface: Continue reading “What’s So Shocking about the Wretched of the Earth?”→
Online registration is now open for a two-day conference, ‘Colonial Counterinsurgency in Comparative Perspective’, to be held on 18 and 19 September 2014, the University of Exeter.
The recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have prompted renewed interest in Britain’s colonial experience of rebellion and state breakdown, while current French interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic have stirred controversy over French military actions in former colonial dependencies, promoting accusations of ‘imperialist humanitarianism’. Yet, in spite of increasing interest in the history of counterinsurgency and empire, we lack comparative studies of colonial responses to armed insurrection, civil disorder, anti-colonial paramilitaries and other irregular forces. The aim of the conference is to address this imbalance by drawing on examples from the British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese empires, as well as case studies from China and Southern Africa. Continue reading “Colonial Counterinsurgency in Comparative Perspective, Sept. 18-19”→
There has long been agreement among historians of Algeria’s violent decolonization that particular massacres and, more particularly, the retributions they provoked, decisively altered the nature of the conflict. Massacre, it is averred, changed the cultural codes, the military rules, and the permissible limits to mass violence within Algeria’s population and between French security forces and local insurgents.
Why this should be the case remains harder to explain. The demonstrative horror of mass killing intentionally shrinks the middle ground. It destroys the prospects for compromise, denying political and personal space to the otherwise non-committal. Meant to polarize, its violence signifies the ultimate rhetoric of shock. Little wonder that historians of Algeria’s war concur that massacres served as decisive conflict escalators, whether strategically, symbolically, or both. Continue reading “Rhetoric of Massacre and Reprisal in Algeria’s War of Independence”→
A new book by the Centre’s Professor Martin Thomas shows how Britain’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan and France’s recent dispatch of troops to the troubled Central African Republic are but the latest indicators of a long-standing pattern of decolonisation.
As the UN warns of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic (CAR), what should we make of France’s recent back-to-back interventions in sub-Saharan Africa? Is there an echo in this of the clientalist politics pursued by France in Africa in the years after formal decolonization? Continue reading “France in Africa – Imperialist Humanitarian?”→