History in the Making: An @ICRC Interview with Andrew Thompson

ICRC Headquarters, Geneva.
ICRC Headquarters, Geneva.

Malcolm Lucard
Cross-posted from Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine

Internal records from the ICRC’s archives concerning the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s shed light on a decisive era for humanitarian action.

In a small room in the basement of ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, historian Andrew Thompson methodically pours through folders full of documents — typewritten mission reports, confidential telegrams and hand-written letters — never before seen by people outside the ICRC.

“It is a process of discovery,” says Thompson, a professor of history at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. “There is a sense of expectation and anticipation not knowing what is going to be there. For a historian, it’s a bit like opening a birthday present, or like going into a candy shop.”

The ‘candy shop’ in this case is the ICRC archives, where Thompson is exploring 40- to 50-year-old records to be released to the public in January 2015 under the ICRC’s policy of making internal documents public in blocks of ten years once 40 years have passed since the events they describe.

Aside from exciting Thompson’s intellectual curiosity, these records offer a deeper understanding of conflicts going on between 1965 and 1975. In particular, they give insight into an area of great interest to Thompson, who took an early look at the records in order to pursue research on the evolution of international humanitarian law and human rights law as they pertain to the treatment of political detainees in non-international conflicts.

“I see the ICRC archive as hugely important for people thinking and writing about the past and present of humanitarian aid and human rights,” he says. “But it’s also much more than that. It’s an archive that allows for studying conflict in all its different dimensions.”

The archives are a treasure trove for historians as they contain first-hand accounts from delegates on the ground, as well as internal and external correspondence, for every major conflict during the period in question. According to Thompson, they offer a perspective not always found in diplomatic or military archives because in addition to political analysis, they show how conflict affects the lives of ordinary people on the ground. Continue reading “History in the Making: An @ICRC Interview with Andrew Thompson”

ANC Uses History to Sweep South Africa’s 2014 Elections

Emily Bridger
Johannesburg, South Africa
6 May 2014

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa, on election day 2014, Exeter’s Emily Bridger argues that the African National Congress’s continued political success owes much to its use of the past and the memory of Nelson Mandela.

Delwyn Verasamy (M&G)

Today, South Africans will go to the polls to vote in their country’s fifth democratic general election. South Africa’s political atmosphere has, since 1994, been characterized by the stubborn persistence of political allegiances, and a deep feeling of loyalty and indebtedness towards the African National Congress, the party that liberated its people from the oppressive conditions of apartheid. This year’s election carries particular historical significance, as it not only marks the twentieth anniversary since the end of apartheid but also the recent passing of the country’s political father figure, Nelson Mandela. While previous ANC election campaigns have focused on the hope for a better future, this year’s campaign has made a decisive rhetorical turn to the past. Likewise, to understand the ANC’s continued success, we must look to the party’s past progress rather than its present scandals. Continue reading “ANC Uses History to Sweep South Africa’s 2014 Elections”

The British Anti-Apartheid Movement: A Brief History

Fieldhouse Anti-ApartheidRoger Fieldhouse
Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter, former member of the Anti-Apartheid movement, and founder of the Northalterton Anti-Apartheid Group in 1965

In recent weeks, the Imperial & Global Forum has explored the Anti-Apartheid boycott’s relationship to the modern ‘fair trade’ movement and the historiographical black hole of the apartheid regime itself. But who supported the British Anti-Apartheid movement, and what was its local, national, and global strategy? Continue reading “The British Anti-Apartheid Movement: A Brief History”

South Africa’s Long Walk: Political Dissent and the Spirit of Resistance at the Mandela Memorial

A section of the crowd boos President Jacob Zuma during the memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela. Picture: Nelius Rademan/Foto24
President Jacob Zuma received boos from some of the crowd attending the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Picture: Nelius Rademan/Foto24

Emily Bridger

The crowd’s booing of Zuma at the memorial service embodied Mandela’s oppositional legacy.

Following Nelson Mandela’s passing early this month, international media and public interest in South Africa has abounded. From the fake sign language interpreter at the memorial to President Obama’s embarrassing ‘selfie’ taken during the service, journalists have had plenty of scandals to sink their teeth into. In particular, the crowd’s booing of current South African president Jacob Zuma during last Tuesday’s memorial has struck a particular chord with journalists, twitter users, and politicians alike. Continue reading “South Africa’s Long Walk: Political Dissent and the Spirit of Resistance at the Mandela Memorial”

Boycotting Apartheid: the Global Politics of ‘Fair Trade’

Free Nelson MandelaDavid Thackeray

As  a  child  there  were  few  experiences  I  looked  forward  to  more  than  a  trip  up  to  London  with  my  father  to  visit  Hamleys  toy  store  in  the  run-up  to  Christmas.  Rather  unusually  perhaps,  these  visits  to  the  capital  were  also  occasionally  marked  by  a  stop  at  South  Africa  House  to  see  the  Anti-Apartheid  picket  of  the  embassy,  organised  to  call  for  the  release  of  ANC  leader  Nelson  Mandela.  We  had  moved  to  the  UK  from  New  Zealand  a  few  years  beforehand,  and  Dad  would  always  use  such  occasions  to  regale  me  with  proud  memories  of  the  protests  which  greeted  South  Africa’s  notorious  rugby  tour  in  1981.  When  the  Springboks  came  to  our  home  city  of  Hamilton,  a  key  centre  of  Maori  culture,  crowd  protests  led  to  the  abandonment  of  a  test  against  the  All  Blacks.  Another  game  became  a  farce  when  flour  bombs  and  leaflets  were  scattered  over  the  pitch  from  a  light  aeroplane. Continue reading “Boycotting Apartheid: the Global Politics of ‘Fair Trade’”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

LawBooksLooking for some weekend reading recommendations? Here are some of our top picks from the web this week: Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

The Black Hole of Apartheid History

Anti-Apartheid posterJamie Miller
Visiting Assistant Professor, Quinnipiac University

Why historians should study the regime, not just its opponents

Last week’s death of Nelson Mandela prompted outpourings of both admiration and introspection across the globe. Public figures scrambled to portray themselves as long-time supporters of the anti-apartheid cause — even where the historical record of their organisation’s relationship with Mandela undercut the credibility of such posturing (the British Tories readily come to mind). Yet amid the panegyrics, there was plenty of consideration of Mandela’s complex legacy. When Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz declared common cause with Mandela, a supporter wrote on his Facebook page: “Tell the truth Ted!!! Who are you??!! Obama?? Don’t rewrite history to try to get people to like you!!! Educate them!! Mandela was a murderer, terrorist, and a Communist!!!! Can we even trust you to be honest now??!!” A more nuanced analysis appeared in an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs. Historian Ryan Irwin traced Mandela’s elusive legacy to his willingness to embody a pluralist and inclusive vision of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than imposing his own ideological litmus test for would-be allies—be they liberals, pan-Africans, union leaders, or communists.

And yet one thing was conspicuous for its absence over the last week. There has been no effort to describe with any similar specificity what Mandela had defined his life against: the apartheid regime itself. [1] Continue reading “The Black Hole of Apartheid History”