Centre Book launch

Staff and students from the University of Kent were joined by colleagues from as far afield as South Africa at the launch of Giacomo Macola’s new monograph The Gun in Central Africa.

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9780821422113Why did some central African peoples embrace gun technology in the nineteenth century, and others turn their backs on it? In answering this question, The Gun in Central Africa offers a thorough reassessment of the history of firearms in central Africa. Marrying the insights of Africanist historiography with those of consumption and science and technology studies, Giacomo Macola approaches the subject from a culturally sensitive perspective that encompasses both the practical and the symbolic attributes of firearms.

Informed by the view that the power of objects extends beyond their immediate service functions, The Gun in Central Africa presents Africans as agents of technological re-innovation who understood guns in terms of their changing social structures and political interests. By placing firearms at the heart of the analysis, this volume casts new light on processes of state formation and military revolution in the era of the long-distance trade, the workings of central African gender identities and honor cultures, and the politics of the colonial encounter.

Christine Whyte  and Andrew Cohen from the Centre for the History of Colonialisms provided commentary and fielded questions in the lively discussion following Dr Macola’s presentation of the book.

Measuring Children

As the refugees sheltering in the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais await its demolition, the British government finally announced its intention to permit migrant children with family in the UK to enter the country.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 segment about the announcements made in Calais, here.

The Sun newspaper echoes Conservative calls for ‘dental tests’ to prove the age of the migrants.

However, the move is being challenged by Conservative MPs and media. For example, David Davies MP tweeted;

“These don’t look like “children” to me. I hope British hospitality is not being abused.”

This challenge rests on the notion that only children (defined by being under 18 years of age) have the right to resettle in the UK. Biological age becomes the determining factor in assessing the right to humanitarian aid.And how is it possible to verify the status of being a ‘child’?

Opponents to the migrant resettlement have called for dental testing to ‘prove’ ages. However, these tests are often inaccurate (Listen here from 51:00 for an interview on the reliability of the practice) and the British Dental Association has firmly voiced their opposition.

Anthropologist Susan J Terrio investigated a similar policy approach in France, where officials use a controversial bone development assessment to determine the ages of undocumented minors. The consequences of ‘failing’ such biological tests are catastrophic, as she illustrates with the example of a homeless Gabonese minor, who was identified as a legal adult as a result of the skeletal development and served a year in an adult prison at the age of sixteen. (1)

This is not the first time the British government has resorted to inaccurate biological signifiers of ‘childhood’ in order to apply a humanitarian policy. The British slave trade abolitionist movement was animated by concerns over the impact of the slave trade on children. (2) One of the earliest pieces of legislation aimed at ameliorating the the conditions for enslaved people was Dolben’s Act (1788). This act limited the number of people that could be transported aboard British Slave Ships. It defined a ‘child’ slave as  those “who shall not exceed four Feet four Inches in Height”. Because the act was primarily concerned with the issue of space; it decreed that “If more than 2-5ths of the Slaves be Children, 5 of the Surplus to be deemed equal to 4 Slaves.” That meant that slave traders could take more enslaved people aboard, provided they were under 4’4″ and presumed to be children. Colleen Vasconcellos argues that this was responsible for an increased proportion of children being take up into the trade.

This marker of 4’4″ was taken up in subsequent legislation relating to enslaved children. It defined children on slave plantations in the Caribbean and missionary schools in early colonial Sierra Leone. Despite the obvious problems with it as a universal tool, because height varies greatly not only with age but also with health, particularly the effects of malnutrition, ethnicity and gender.

Other means were also used, in the Indian Ocean slave trade for example, an ‘estimate of maturity’ was used alongside the individual’s own perceived age. (3) This kind of reckoning left considerable scope on both sides for fudging the dividing line.

Being defined as a child didn’t always offer extra protection from exploitation or harm in the British Empire. Sometimes, children were targeted as a cheap and easily controlled labor source. For example, ‘destitute children’ were forced to serve as indentured servants by the government of the Cape Colony in the latter half of the 19th century. (4)

The question of defining childhood is a complicated one — and an extensive historical literature has emerged which tackles not only the question of the shifting and contingent meanings of childhood, but also attempts to address how notions of childhood, youth and adulthood are shaped by cultural and social contexts.

The debate over ‘Who is a child?’ and how are childhood is defined  had and  continues to have lasting and significant consequences in the lives of vulnerable and exploited people, subject to the scrutiny or intervention of government agencies.

  1. Terrio, Susan J, ‘New Barbarians at the Gates of Paris?: Prosecuting Undocumented Minors in the Juvenile Court—the Problem of the “Petits Roumains”’, Anthropological Quarterly, 81 (2008), 873–901 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/anq.0.0032>
  2. Alpers, Edward A, ‘Representations of Children in the East African Slave Trade’, Slavery and Abolition, 30 (2009), 27–40 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01440390802673815>
  3. Campbell, Gwyn, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C Miller (eds.) ‘Editors’ Introduction’ pp. 1-18 in Children in Slavery Through the Ages (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009)
  4. van Sittert, Lance, ‘Children for Ewes: Child Indenture in the Post-Emancipation Great Karoo: C. 1856–1909’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 42 (2016), 743–62 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2016.1199394>

The Price of Peace, Modernising the Ancien Régime, Europe 1815-1848

It is a great pleasure to report that forty-two scholars from over a dozen European countries and one or two from further afield attended the Conference: The Price of Peace, Modernising ambrothe Ancien Régime, Europe 1815-1848, hosted at the University of Kent Paris between 22-25 August 2016. The Conference, organised by the Centre’s Ambrogio Caiani (pictured), proved a great success.

The post-Napoleonic age has always been regarded as a time of reaction and obscurantism. The very label Restoration implies a return to the past and reconstruction of traditional political structures. The conference very much sought to break with this sterile and unhelpful caricature. The world after 1815 simply could not wind the clocks back to 1789. Scholars from across Europe sought to show that the revolutionary and Napoleonic genie could not be put back in the bottle. This was a period of mass-experimentation in politics and society. After two decades of almost interrupted warfare European statesmen sought to demobilise their societies and economies. They created new constitutions, forms of representative government, invented academic history, new borders emerged, the public sphere expanded and village communities experienced a new lease of life. A delicate balancing act had to be established between the international settlement created at the Congress of Vienna and the demands of domestic politics and society. After the experience of the Napoleonic Empire the continent was more interconnected than ever before but the creation of new states meant that European peoples effectively rejected the systematic integration that the French Imperium had sought to impose. The problem of managing diversity in an increasingly international context, then like now, was the key issue that faced statesmen and diplomats. As the speakers showed, Spain, the Low Countries, France, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia all trialled different solutions to this problem. Moderation and compromise found their expression in the French concept of juste milieu (or middle ground). During the roundtable it was agreed that this period can draw much inspiration from post-colonial studies. It was felt that this was a supremely and uniquely post-Imperial moment in the story of Europe. The conference has been a great success and IB Tauris will publish its findings in a two volume collection entitled: ‘A History of the European Restorations.’ Available in all good book shops in late 2018.

 

Harry Nkumbula Documentary Out Now

A DOCUMENTARY on Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), which fought for the country’s independence from Britain has now been released in selected cinemas. See here for details 9780230622746
The documentary, titled ‘Nkumbula: Liberating a Nation’ by Chris Mukkuli, is a celebration of the life of Nkumbula and his contribution to the liberation struggle. Mukkuli has talked to a number of personalities who came across Nkumbula including the likes of Sikota Wina, Vernon Mwaanga, Andrew Sardanis, Simon Zukas, Daniel Munkombwe and our very own Giacomo Macola who has published a biography of Nkumbula.

We hope to arrange a showing of this fascinating documentary in the Centre for the HIstory of Colonialisms soon.

British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship Success

Congratulations to the Centre’s Dr Andy Cohen and Dr Rory Pilossof (University of the Free State) who have won a British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship Grant of £94,000 to study labour migration in Southern Africa. The project, titled: Labour Migration and Labour Relations in South and Southern Africa, c. 1900-2000 will run for three years. Its primary focus is to make Cna5pJ2WEAEVfErlabour data from South and southern Africa more accessible to researchers, academics and other interested parties. In doing so,  it will offer hitherto unprecedented opportunities for comparative and collaborative work. Labour migration has been of crucial importance in southern Africa for centuries, with large numbers of people having moved across the region to mines, farms and urban centres in South Africa. This continues to this day. We will, therefore, analyse the long-term impact of labour migration in southern Africa; the changes in occupational structures over the course of the twentieth century; and processes and rates of proletarianisation and the legacies of labour surpluses across the region. The resulting outputs will include an edited collection of labour data from southern Africa and a number of research articles in leading international peer-reviewed journals.

Rory will join the Centre for the History of Colonialisms as a research associate and we look forward to welcoming him to Kent for his first visit in September.

Childhood in Africa Stream, African Studies Association of the United Kingdom Conference, University of Cambridge, 7-9 September 2016

 

burundi-734899_1920Temilola Alanamu, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the School of History, University of Kent and Prof Benjamin Lawrance, Hon. Barber B. Conable, Jr. Endowed Chair of International and Global Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology will co-chair the Childhood in Africa Stream at the ASAUK conference in September 2016.

The stream is partly funded by the Department of History’s Internationalisation Award and will include sixteen participants from six countries across four panels.

The panels titled: The economy of childhood in African history, Representing the African Child in Postcolonial Africa, Evaluating Childhood, Youth and politics in colonial Africa, Child Rights and Reform in Africa will consider the histories of childhood in pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial Africa. Contributors will examine the multiplicity of expectations, limits and experiences of childhood from the perspective of children, from the view of those with whom they came into contact, and those who contemplated their welfare on the local, national and international platform. Panels within this stream interrogate how concepts of childhoods have been defined, redefined, debated and negotiated across time, cultural and geo-political boundaries reflecting the concerns of those at the centre and margins of society. They also consider the effects of these definitions on children’s lives and their strategies for negotiating fluid boundaries in various historical contexts. Papers explore the gendered, racial and age limitations of childhood and both the changes in and resilience of childhood experiences during moments of stability, struggle, conquest and independence.

Freedom Without Equality: Liberated Africans in the Indian Ocean World

On Thursday 10th March 2016 the Centre will welcome Dr Matthew S. Hopper (Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge) to present an occasional seminar on ‘Freedom Without Equality: Liberated Africans in the Indian Ocean World‘.

The seminar will take place at 4.30pm in Rutherford Seminar Room 15 on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus. Attendance is free and open to all.

Biography:

HopperPic

Matthew S. Hopper

Matthew S. Hopper is the Smuts Visiting Research Fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the University of Cambridge and is an Associate Professor in the History Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His book, Slaves of One Master: Globalization and Slavery in Arabia in the Age of Empire, was published by Yale University Press in 2015. He received his Ph.D. in History from UCLA (2006) and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University (2009) and a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ (2015). He has held fellowships from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and Fulbright-Hays, and his writing has recently been published in Annales, Itinerario, and the Journal of African Development. His new book project is tentatively titled, Free But Not Equal: Liberated Africans in the Indian Ocean World.

Abstract:

Between 1858 and 1896 more than 11,000 Africans were apprehended aboard suspected slave vessels in the Western Indian Ocean and relocated to seven port cities between Bombay and Cape Town. Although ending the East African slave trade became Europe’s cause célèbre in the second half of the nineteenth century and freed slaves provided symbolic justification for imperialism, the question of “disposing” (the unfortunate term used by colonial administrators) of freed slaves presented a persistent problem for officials who were equally wary of releasing survivors where they might be re-enslaved as they were of paying for their upkeep. Liberated Africans were therefore assigned to labor aboard ships, in harbors, or on mission plantations, where they were expected to learn the value of their freedom and the ethic of hard work through contractual labor.HopperSeminar

Freed slaves, like their enslaved counterparts, were renamed, re-clothed, converted to foreign religions, taught new languages and placed into arranged marriages. Many also labored to produce cash crops for export to global markets. Drawing on missionary, naval, and colonial records, this paper demonstrates how the perceived failure of Caribbean emancipation, the emergence of scientific racism, and a growing sentiment that certain groups were not suited for freedom guided official treatment of liberated Africans by at midcentury. Thrust from slavery into colonial coercion and contract, liberated Africans in the Indian Ocean world exposed a central tension of mid-Victorian liberalism: the growing divergence between ideals of freedom and equality.