Our PhD student Jack Taylor has just completed an AHRC-funded placement at the British Library. There he was working on finding and publicising elements of their collection which relate to the Second World War and, particularly, the Home Front. As part of this placement, he has written a series of blog posts on the British Library website. The first is here: https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2020/01/internment-during-the-second-world-war-part-one-the-diary-of-a-jewish-refugee-confined-by-britain.html
Karl Hack published a book chapter and gave two papers in Singapore in 2019 as part of its bicentennial celebrations: 200 years form Sir Stamford Raffles landing on Singapore and founding it in its modern guise.
The papers were on ‘Special Branch and identifying communists’ at the National Museum of Singapore in November, and on ‘British Grand Strategies and Southeast Asia’ at the National University of Singapore-Rise of Asia Museum workshop at Haw Par Villa Singapore in December. The chapter on ‘We Shall Meet again: Britain’s return to Singapore 1945-46’ is in 200 Years of Singapore and the United Kingdom edited by Tommy Kohn and British High Commissioner for Singapore Scott Wightman. Karl was born at Changi, Singapore and worked in the city for more than a decade, so this forms part of his ongoing relationship with Singapore as his second home, and Southeast Asia as a region.
Karl Hack, Professor of Asian and Imperial History, has published this article that includes a sweeping view of British imperial history as seen through the eyes of John Darwin’s works, and a survey of the state of the ‘decolonisation’ field. The article locates John Darwin’s work on decolonisation within an Oxbridge tradition which portrays a British world system, of which formal empire was but one part, emerging to increasing global dominance from the early nineteenth century. In this mental universe, decolonisation was the mirror image of that expanding global power. According to this point of view, it was not the sloughing oﬀ of individual territories, but rather the shrinking away of the system and of the international norms that supported it, until only its ghost remained by the end of the 1960s. The article then asks, echoing the title of Darwin’s Unﬁnished Empire, whether the decolonisation project is all but complete, or still ongoing. In addition, what is the responsibility of the imperial historian to engage with, inform, or indeed refrain from, contemporary debates that relate to some of these issues? The answer is twofold. On the one hand, the toolkit that the Oxbridge tradition and Darwin provide remains relevant, and also useful in thinking about contemporary issues such as China’s move towards being a global power, the United States’ declining hegemony, and some states and groups desires to rearticulate their relationship with the global. On the other hand, the decline of world systems of power needs to be recognised as just one of several types of, and approaches to, analysing ‘decolonisation’. One which cannot be allowed to ignore or marginalise the study of others, such as experience, ﬁrst nations issues, the shaping of the postcolonial state, and empire legacies. The article concludes by placing the Oxbridge tradition into a broader typology of types and methodologies of decolonisation, and by asking what a new historiography of decolonisation might look like. It suggests that it would address the Oxbridge concern with the lifecycles of systems of power and their relationship to global changes, but also place them alongside, and in dialogue with, a much broader set of perspectives and analytical approaches.
How historical research can contribute to international development challenges
Dr Sandip Hazareesingh delivered a keynote address titled ‘Food Memories and Stories from Karnataka women farmers’ at a GCRF event on ‘Food and Heritage’ at the University of Leeds on 10 January. The event was organised by Praxis, a recently set up project funded by AHRC-GCRF with the aim of championing the distinctive contribution that Arts and Humanities research can make to tackling urgent development issues. https://changingthestory.leeds.ac.uk/praxis/
Paul Lawrence, Asa Briggs Professor of History at the OU, has published “Policing, ‘science’, and the curious case of foto-fit” in The Historical Journal. The article analyses the curious development and subsequent refinement of the Photo-FIT system for the identification of criminal suspects, used by police forces around the world from the 1970s. Situating Photo-FIT in a succession of other technologies of identification, it demonstrates that, far from representing the onward march of science and technology (and the way in which both were harnessed to the power of the state in the twentieth century), Photo-FIT was the brainchild of an idiosyncratic entrepreneur wedded to increasingly outmoded notions of physiognomy. Its adoption by the Home Office was primarily determined by the particular context of the later 1960s, and its continued use owed more to vested interest and energetic promotion than to scientific underpinnings or proven efficacy. It did, however, in the longer term, provide the impetus for the development of a new sub-field of psychology and pave the way for the development of increasingly sophisticated facial identification technologies still used today. Overall, the article demonstrates the long persistence of physiognomic thinking in twentieth-century Britain, the way in which new technology is socially constructed, and the persuasive power of ‘pseudo-science’.
On 21 November a new online resource for exploring the British peace movement during the height of the Cold War was launched, developed by our own Dr Luc-André Brunet. This resource, entitled ‘Peace Activism in the UK during the Cold War’, is a collaboration between The Open University and the Peace and Security project at LSE IDEAS, of which Dr Brunet is Co-Director. You can explore it here.
This online resource features newly digitised documents from the collection of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), housed at LSE Library, providing new insights into different aspects of the British peace movement in the 1980s. These are complemented with video commentary by activists, policymakers, and academics. Organised around six themes, the resource enables students, researchers, current activists, and members of the public to reassess peace activism in the Cold War and to draw lessons that can be applied to the international situation today.
The resource was launched with a public event at LSE on 22 November, featuring Dr Brunet, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson, and Sam Dudin from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Event details can be found here.
Dr. John Slight, Lecturer in Imperial and Global History, has been interviewed by Agence France Presse, Al-Hakam Weekly newspaper, BBC Radio Nottingham, Northampton, West Midlands, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Three Counties, about the history of Thomas Cook, especially its involvement with the Hajj pilgrimage from colonial India to Mecca in the nineteenth century. Slight’s research has also been featured in an article by Carolein Roelants, one of the most influential commentators on the Middle East in the Netherlands.
Dr. Amanda Goodrich and Dr. Luc-Andre Brunet will be the primary supervisors for two new OU PhD studentships, through the AHRC Open-Oxford-Cambridge doctoral training partnership. The studentships will be held in collaboration with two institutions, the History of Parliament Trust and Cambridge University Library.
The recent 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings underscored the importance of the Liberation of France in the history of the twentieth century. This PhD project aims to make use of the Cambridge University Library Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection to explore particular aspects of France during the Second World War, the Liberation, and/or in the immediate post-war period (1939-1946). The Collection consists of about 3000 books and pamphlets in French on these subjects, published from the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 to the end of 1946, encompassing a wide range of material, including novels, poetry, illustrated books, photographic albums, literature for children, testimonies from the camps, military works and political publications.
This Symposium sponsored by the Royal Historical Society reflected on how the war was commemorated in a range of different countries between 2013 and 2019. The centenary of the signing of most of the peace treaties related to the conflict in 2019 is an excellent vantage point to reflect on six years of commemoration and ask a number of important questions. How did different countries seek to commemorate the war? How did such commemoration differ, and why? Why did the origins of the war become a controversial topic once more? How did the centenary play out in countries that entered the war much later than others, and countries that were colonies during the wartime period? How did the war’s different end-points play out for national commemorations? How were the different national memories of the experience of the war reflected in planned and actual commemorative events? And, most importantly, what do we know now that we did not know before the centenary, and how might this affect the future trajectory of First World War studies? The Symposium addressed these questions, in particular examining what is different after six years of commemoration, debate, and publishing on the First World War on the occasion of the centenary. The symposium highlighted that the war was experienced differently, and is therefore remembered differently, by the various combatant nations and empires. Was commemoration perhaps less contentious in nations which had been on the winning side than among the losers of the war? We were treated to an excellent and thought-provoking keynote lecture from Professor Jay Winter, seven excellent papers and a roundtable discussion, as well as great contributions from our audience both in Milton Keynes and online.
10.00 – 10.15 Tea and Coffee
10.15 – 10.30 Welcome from Professor Annika Mombauer and Professor John Wolffe (The Open University)
10.30 – 11.30 Keynote Lecture
Professor Jay Winter (Yale University): ‘The Centenary of the Great War: Unfinished Business’
11.30 – 13.00 Panel 1: Europe
Dr Helen McCartney (King’s College London): ‘Commemoration of the First World War in Britain 2014-2018’
Dr Alison Carrol (Brunel University): ‘Local and National Commemorations of the First World War in France’
Professor Annika Mombauer (Open University): ‘2014: Germany remembers the First World War’
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch
14.00 – 15.30 Panel 2: Africa and Asia
Dr John Slight (The Open University): ‘Commemorating the war in the Middle East during a time of turbulence’
Professor Santanu Das (Oxford University): ‘Centennial Commemoration in an age of Multiculturalism: The Case of South Asia’
Dr Anne Samson (Independent Scholar): ‘Who in Africa remembered? Who remembered Africa?’
15.30 –16.00 Tea and coffee break
16.00 – 16.30 ‘Commemoration in the Museum Sector’, Laura Clouting (Imperial War Museum)
16.30 – 17.30 Roundtable discussion
PhD student Louise Ryland-Epton has won the Bryan Jerrard award for 2018 and was commended for the Parliamentary History Essay Prize. The Jerrard award is something given by the Gloucestershire Local History Association (and sponsored by the History Press) for the best published article on an aspect of Gloucestershire’s local history. Louise’s article was titled ‘Cirencester Workhouse under the Old Poor Law’ and it was published by the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society in 2018. The essay commended for the Parliamentary History Essay prize is entitled ‘The Impact of Backbenchers in the Creation of Social Reform: “The Indefatigable and Honourable Exertions of Mr Gilbert.”’ and will be published in Parliamentary History in 2019.