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.

Online exhibition as part of Dr. Richard Marsden’s Blaenau Gwent heritage project

BG REACH (Blaenau Gwent Residents Engaging in Arts, Culture and Heritage) is a collection of art, music, creative writing and film that tells the history of the area. Since 2020, the project has been led by local people, supported by academics from The Open University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Linc Cymru Housing Association and Aberbeeg Community Centre.

In July 2021, an online exhibition was launched that includes video diaries, digital stories, creative writing, paintings, drawings, music and film produced by people living in Blaenau Gwent. It can be viewed for free at the OU’s free learning site OpenLearn.

Fred Pettican and another footballer 1960

Fred Pettican and team mate, 1960

Image: Fred Pettican

Digital stories: remembering the past

The digital stories feature residents of Llys Glyncoed extra care scheme, near Ebbw Vale, who were interviewed by year nine pupils from Ebbw Fawr Learning Community. One of the Llys Glyncoed residents, Fred Pettican tells of his memory of playing football for Newport side Victoria against Bridgend in 1960. His corner was headed in by a player who coincidentally came to live in Llys Glyncoed at the same time as Fred. He also still has the match ball from the game!

Poems and prose

Many of BG REACH’s participants have produced poems and prose to capture the history of the area and their feelings of growing up there. In Remembering Cwmtillery, 61 year-old Stephen Davies recalls visiting his grandmother as a child. He has also produced sketches of some of the landmarks mentioned in his work.

Fred Pettican and another footballer 1960

Sketch of Cwmtilley Pithead

Image: Stephen Davies

We would then return to my nan’s house in West Bank. And have tea. She made nice apple tart + custard. She also made her own bread pudding. And rice puddings. They were the days people made and cooked their own food. Very different from today.

After tea. I would meet up with a few friends I knew. We would have lots of fun. Sliding down the bank. From Top Rows to West Bank. On bits of cardboard. This banking is now covered in large trees. And my nans old house is gone. Sadly. Both mam and dad. Have now passed away.

Extract from Remembering Cwmtillery by Stephen Davies

In her poem Bathed in Birdsong, Susan Davies describes the peaceful surroundings of the valleys, made all the more quieter as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Bathed in Birdsong
Bathed in birdsong, I love this place of peace
Enjoyed the spring here
Which was almost stolen from me, but was in fact, enriched

A little further on the lambs are baaing
Another treasure uncovered
Unseen by me for years

Extract from Bathed in Birdsong by Susan Davies

Fred Pettican and another footballer 1960


Image: Barbara Candish

Paintings and photography

Visual artwork also forms part of the exhibition, including The Guardian by Mark Burns, based on the Six Bells Guardian; Modron by Barbara Candish, which is a painting and accompanying poem celebrating a mythic Welsh warrior Queen of the Silures tribe which once occupied the area; and photography by Linda Stemp which captures some of the area’s historic buildings.

Dr Richard Marsden, academic lead on the BG REACH project said:

“The key to unlocking the hidden history of Blaenau Gwent was to support participants to design the project themselves – to decide what they wanted to focus on and how best to achieve that. The artworks, poems, stories and songs in the online exhibition are a celebration of Blaenau Gwent’s heritage expressed through the talents of the people who live there. The Gwent valleys are part of Wales’ forgotten heritage. They’re often associated with industrial fervour followed by economic decline, but – as people will see from taking a look at the exhibition – there’s so much more to them than that.”

The impact of the pandemic

The coronavirus had an impact on much of the project. A musical piece, Cynefin, was written by some of the group members with a view to performing it live. The pandemic put a halt to their plans, but the group continued to meet online, and recorded Cynefin 2 over video. Cynefin is a Welsh work referring to a person’s connection to an area and its people. The tune draws on Welsh folk music, including lullaby Suo Gân and love song Ar Lan y Môr.

Member of the Senedd for Blaenau Gwent Alun Davies addressed attendees of the launch.

Blaenau Gwent MS Alun Davies said:

“The Blaenau Gwent REACH project, coordinated by The Open University in Wales in partnership with Linc Cymru Housing Association and Aberbeeg Community Centre, is a fantastic example of bringing people together and of the power of using creative arts to explore identity and heritage.”

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.

Dr Donna Loftus’s paper at The History and Future of the Moral Economy workshop

Senior Lecturer in History Dr Donna Loftus presented a paper on “The ‘paradox of thrift’: economic visions of nineteenth-century Britain” at The History and Future of the Moral Economy online workshop in June 2021.

Morality and its relationship to economic behaviour has long fascinated historians and social scientists. The history of capitalism, development, and environmental change possesses an ethical dimension that is evident from the medieval period through to the present. This is evidenced by phenomena such as the planned economy, the emergence of neoliberalism, and features in current debates about a Green New Deal. But how has morality been central to the way in which people have understood their relationship to wider social change in the past and does this still matter today? The workshop explored these ideas, as well as exploring both the (various) histories and the (possible) futures of the Moral Economy.