Prof Karl Hack’s book on The Malayan Emergency and TV appearance

In December 2021, our own Professor Karl Hack published a major monograph, The Malayan Emergency: Revolution and Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire with Cambridge University Press.

The Malayan Emergency of 1948–1960 has been scrutinised for ‘lessons’ about how to win counterinsurgencies from the Vietnam War to twenty-first century Afghanistan. This book brings our understanding of the conflict up to date by interweaving government and insurgent accounts and looking at how they played out at local level. Drawing on oral history, recent memoirs and declassified archival material from the UK and Asia, Karl Hack offers a comprehensive, multi-perspective account of the Malayan Emergency and its impact on Malaysia. He sheds new light on questions about terror and violence against civilians, how insurgency and decolonisation interacted and how revolution was defeated. He considers how government policies such as pressurising villagers, resettlement and winning ‘hearts and minds’ can be judged from the perspective of insurgents and civilians. This timely book is the first truly multi-perspective and in-depth study of anti-colonial resistance and counterinsurgency in the Malayan Emergency.

‘Karl Hack has provided a timely, nuanced and balanced re-assessment of the evolving British counterinsurgency campaign in Malaya and its ‘lessons’ for current counter-insurgency practitioners and academic historians alike. Highly recommended.’

Kumar Ramakrishna – Nanyang Technological University

‘This is a book we have long needed. The half of the Malayan population of the 1940s that was more-or-less anti-imperialist, anti-sultan, and sympathetic to communism and its Chinese variant was not only defeated militarily in the 1950s, but demonised and exoticised by the governments that followed. By suppressing its voices and developing alternative anti-imperial stories with little historical basis, Malaysian history has been seriously distorted. Karl Hack has seized this moment to tell for the first time a balanced history of the struggle of the 1950s. It deserves a wide readership, particularly among young Malaysians eager to reclaim a multi-vocal and inclusive past.’

Anthony Reid – Australian National University

‘The Malayan Emergency remains central to the study of counterinsurgency. Karl Hack has produced an authoritative and thoroughly researched account of the conflict, introducing fresh perspectives on the basis of new primary evidence. As such, this book is both a uniquely valuable historical examination and a necessary resource in our efforts to learn from the past.’

David Ucko – National Defense University

‘Karl Hack has written the definitive history of the Malayan Emergency. He examines the event from the multiple perspectives of the government, the insurgents and the local people. This is outstanding scholarship dealing with one of the defining moments in Malaysian history and the Cold War in Southeast Asia.’

Danny Wong – University of Malaya

Professor Hack was also an interviewee on Tony Robinson’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle: The Malayan Emergency’ on Channel 4, first shown 16 October 2021.

Dr Louise Ryland-Epton’s book on Bremhill parish and her many other achievements

Dr Louise Ryland-Epton, former OU PhD student and currently Visiting Fellow in the Department, published in December 2021 Bremhill Parish Through the Ages.  As a result of this publication and many other activities through a Victoria County History Trust supported community history project that involved workshops, talks, two festivals, an app, website, heritage trail, children’s event, Dr Ryland-Epton was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Centre for the History of People, Place and Community at the Institute of Historical Research

In February 2021, Dr Ryland-Epton was awarded an Early Career Fellowship by The Royal Historical Society. The fellowship enabled Dr Ryland-Epton to complete an article (provisionally) titled ‘Parliament and the Georgian Magistrate: Sir George Onesiphorus Paul 1780-1820’. Her current research is focused on the operation of the English state in the late Georgian period, as expressed through the work of county magistrates, who she argue formed a crucial nexus that linked central and local government. In this article, she aims to properly examine the relationship between parliament and the English magistracy 1780-1820 using the career of the Gloucestershire magistrate Sir George Paul’s as a case study.

Thomas Probert’s article on Psychiatric casualties and the British counter-insurgency in Malaya

Recently graduated PhD student and now Visiting Fellow in the Department Dr. Thomas Probert published an article on Psychiatric casualties and the British counter-insurgency in Malaya in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History in June 2021. 

The psychiatric cost of Britain’s post-war counter-insurgency campaigns have gone largely un-investigated. Focusing on the Malayan Emergency, this article will show that counter-insurgency operations were sufficiently intense to produce what were conceptualised as cases of mild psychoneurosis. These conditions were managed using convalescence and simple psychotherapy. Managing these conditions in this way risked leaving more serious conditions untreated and meant recorded cases of psychoneurosis were kept artificially low. That the stresses of the counter-insurgency in Malaya were reproduced elsewhere suggests there was a wider psychiatric cost of Britain’s post-war period of decolonisation.

Richard Marsden’s article on Antiquarianism, Archaeology and History in Late Nineteenth-Century Scotland

Senior Lecturer in History and Staff Tutor Dr. Richard Marsden has published “In Defiance of Discipline: Antiquarianism, Archaeology and History in Late Nineteenth-Century Scotland” in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. The nineteenth century is often seen as the period in which old-fashioned antiquarianism gave way to modern archaeological science. Whilst that is certainly the case, this article argues that in Scotland that new emphasis on material evidence and prehistory remained part of a broad antiquarian sphere until the early twentieth century. Even towards the end of the 1800s, antiquarianism continued to encompass the study of both material culture and documentary sources. It was also, for a time at least, a major influence on narrative history-writing. Throughout this period, it was primarily in Scotland’s antiquarian community, rather than its academic or professional institutions, that collective understandings of the nation’s history were advanced. The article thus uses the Scottish case study to question common assumptions about the decline of polymathic antiquarianism and the rise of specialist disciplinarity in the later part of the nineteenth century.

Sandip Hazareesingh’s article on Oral histories, millet food culture, and farming rituals among women smallholders

Research Fellow Dr. Sandip Hazareesingh has published the Open Access article ‘Our Grandmother Used to Sing Whilst Weeding: Oral histories, millet food culture, and farming rituals among women smallholders in Ramanagara district, Karnataka‘ in Modern Asian Studies.

The cultural and historical dimensions of rural lives matter. However, development practitioners and writings tend to play down these aspects. This article demonstrates the significance of oral history in revealing the meanings of women smallholders’ millet-based foodways in southern India. It argues that women farmers’ cultural practices around food constitute fundamental ‘capabilities’ nurtured over a long historical duration, and are essential to any meaningful articulation of ‘development’. Drawing on age-old spiritual beliefs and practices involving non-human entities, the women demonstrate fine-tuned skills in nurturing seeds and growing crops, in preparing and cooking food, and in discerning food tastes, particularly in relation to the local staple ragi, or finger millet. They also express their creativity in the joys of performing songs and farming rituals linked to the agricultural cycle. In this way, cultural capabilities express significant dimensions of women’s agency exercised in the intimately related spheres of food and farming. Oral history thus emerges as a research method capable of generating insights into concrete manifestations of culture over a significant historical duration, one that is particularly conducive to reclaiming the voices and life experiences of subaltern groups such as women smallholders who are either not heard or are marginalized in written contemporary and historical documentary records.

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