Call For Papers: Embassies in Crisis

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.21.01BIHG logoEmbassies in Crisis

British Academy, 9 June 2016

Call for Papers

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”

Britain, France, and their Roads From Empire: A New Talking Empire Podcast

fight or flight thomasMartin 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.

Violence and Colonial Order: A New Talking Empire Podcast

thomas violence and colonial order

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

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.

Roundtable Review of Martin Thomas’s ‘Fight or Flight’

Thomas Fight or Flight

Roundtable Review, cross-posted from H-Diplo

Martin Thomas.  Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from EmpireOxford:  Oxford University Press, 2014.  ISBN:  978-0-19-969827-1 (hardback, £25.00).

URL:  http://www.tiny.cc/Roundtable-XVI-20

Contents

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.

-J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians[1]

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.”[2] 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.[3]

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’”

What’s So Shocking about the Wretched of the Earth?

fanon wretched of the earth

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

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?”

Colonial Counterinsurgency in Comparative Perspective, Sept. 18-19

Gareth Curless and Martin Thomas
Centre for War, State, and Society, University of Exeter

Palestine police poster (1)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”

Rhetoric of Massacre and Reprisal in Algeria’s War of Independence

Martin Thomas
Director, Centre for War, State, and Society
University of Exeter

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”