The ‘Women’s War’, 1929

In the closing months of 1929 the women of Nigeria rose up against British colonialism in a coordinated effort that has subsequently become known as the ‘Women’s War’. Rioting against the power of British-imposed Warrant Chiefs, women from the Igbo ethnic community congregated in their thousands, re-mobilising the traditional practice of ‘sitting on a man’ as a form of anti-colonial and anti-corruption collective action. Ostensibly a revolt against the imposition of a tax specific to Nigerian women, whose marketplace activities allowed them a level of financial independence from their husbands at the same time as supporting their families, the causes of the revolt can be traced back to the imposition of Indirect Rule in Nigeria under Lord Lugard in 1914. The Women’s War was a co-ordinated strategic rejection of British colonialism, and led to reforms in the way the colony was ruled, as well as the abolition of the women’s tax itself.

Indirect Rule and British Colonialism

 Lord Frederick Lugard was famously the architect of indirect rule in Nigeria, a policy by which the British handpicked local African elites who were friendly to colonial rule as ‘Warrant Chiefs’, responsible for the day-to-day running of the colony, and in particular the administering of the law, the organisation of labour, and the levying of taxes. The appointment of the Warrant Chiefs was not only an attempt to have ‘colonialism on the cheap’ on the part of the British, but also to impose British notions of colonial hierarchy – including changes to the gender relations of the people. While in Igbo culture, women and men worked collectively, the British imposed systems of forced labour and taxation that pushed women into what they considered their rightful place: the domestic sphere. When they attempted to tax women’s economic activities (the selling of palm-oil) in 1929, rioting and protest ensued.

‘Sitting on a man’

The women of the ‘Aba Women’s Riots’ (as they were known by the British) cleverly fused traditional forms of protest with collective action against the colonial state. They embarrassed the local Warrant Chiefs by ‘sitting on’ them – a ritual action involving dance, lewd gestures, songs and noise. At the same time, though, they attacked Native Court buildings, cut down telegraph wires, and damaged banks, post offices and factories – all seen as manifestations of white colonial oppression. Thousands of women were involved, and many more suffered from the reaction of the British, who burnt down villages as collective punishment, and fired into crowds of protesting women. In one incident at Opobo on 16th December eighteen women died at the hands of colonial troops, leading to questions in Parliament back in Britain.

Collective Action

Female protesters involved in the Women’s War were savvy and determined. They wore palm leaves as a link to the economic roots of their discontent, they mobilised traditional practices of protest through marching, singing and dance, and they disrupted the administrative mechanisms of the colonial state. Despite attempts in the British press to put this down to female ‘hysteria’, the Women’s War is an example of collective and organised female political and economic action. The British introduced reforms to the Warrant Chief system in an attempt to curb corruption, and abolished the women’s tax itself. Women also became involved in administration, but continued their action when necessary in future disputes such as the Tax Protests of 1938 and the Oil Mill Protests of the 1940s.

Women and Political Activism

‘A feature of the disturbances was that women were the actual aggressors’, noted a shocked correspondent for The Times in January 1930. ‘The trouble was of a nature and extent unprecedented in Nigeria’, continued the correspondent for Nigeria in August of that year. ‘In a country were the women throughout the centuries have remained in subjection to the men, this was essentially a women’s movement, organised, developed, and carried out by the women of the country, without either the help or permission of their menfolk, though probably with their tacit sympathy.’ The Commission sent to investigate the revolt, and the reactions of British troops in particular, came to many conclusions. Perhaps the most interesting for us in the current context is this: ‘More attention… should be paid to the political influence of women.’

Dr. Emily Manktelow

International Women’s Day

In 2018 International Women’s Day (8th March) has arrived in the midst of the Universities and College Union’s industrial action in defence of your lecturers’ pensions. As such, we in the School of History felt it would be a good time to reflect on the role of women in industrial and political action through time. Women have often been active members of such actions, and in this the centenary year of female suffrage (for some) in the UK, it is a good moment to pause and think about the women of the past and their campaigning, suffering and triumphs in the face of oppressive power structures. Women of the past can inspire us all – men, women and trans-persons of the present – to campaign for what we believe in, speak truth to power, and win rights for ourselves and others. To quote from the Mary Poppins song ‘Sister Suffragette’:


Cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters’ daughters will adore us
And they’ll sign in grateful chorus
“Well done, Sister Suffragette!”



Dr. Emily Manktelow
(Acting EDI Officer, School of History)

South East Hub Conference 2018: Call for Papers

Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Collaborators as historical concepts: Redundant labels, useful categorisations or somewhere in between?

19th June 2018, Grimond Building, University of Kent, Canterbury

There’s a big fashion for categorising bystanders, perpetrators and so on, why? Everyone collaborated!

– Interview with a Holocaust survivor, January 2018

The twentieth century saw the concepts ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘bystanders’ and ‘collaborators’ entering not only historical study but public discourse surrounding instances of war, atrocity and genocide. However, these terms also have a broader application outside of the twentieth century, in contexts of earlier imperialism, religious iconography and revolution. Despite this near universal application, there has been surprisingly little critical evaluation of the conceptual utility of the aforementioned terms amongst scholars. Problems associated with the dearth of engagement in our understanding and usage of these words include reductionist tendencies that can obscure nuance and disregard the experiences of individuals whose stories are not so easily classified. This conference aims to provide a forum for postgraduate students and early career researchers to begin to facilitate vital discussion as to the future of these often problematic concepts.

Applications are sought from postgraduates and early career scholars, focusing on the following themes relating to the application of these terms within different historical contexts, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Gendered connotations
  • Public memory, commemoration and the mass media
  • Imagery and visual culture
  • Occupations during wartime
  • Everyday violence
  • Law, courts and society
  • Revolutionary mentalities and culture

Submissions with an interdisciplinary approach are particularly encouraged.

Please send a 250 word abstract for a 20-30 minute paper and a brief biographical statement to Kate Docking and Ellis Spicer via by 16th March 2018.

Keynote Speaker: Professor Tim Cole, University of Bristol

Sponsored by CHASE DTP and the School of History, University of Kent



History Research Festival

Wednesday 17th January 2018, 1-6pm

Darwin Conference Centre Suite

The Festival aims bring together colleagues and students from the School of History to have informal conversations about the collective experiences of ‘doing history’ through a variety of panel debates.

1 – 2pm Challenging source materials and methods (chair: Dr Claire Jones)

Dr Emily Mantelow; Dr Jasmine Kilburn-Toppin; Dr Juliette Pattinson; Professor Ulf Schmidt

2 – 3pm Collaborative Working (chair: Dr Emma Purce)

Dr Rebekah Higgitt; Dr Jan Loop; Professor Kenneth Fincham

3pm – Tea and coffee

3 – 4pm Interdisciplinary Perspectives (chair: Dr Aske Brock)

Dr Ben Marsh; Dr Karen Jones; Dr Emma Hanna; Dr Phil Slavin

4 – 5pm Writing and Publishing (chair: Professor Gaynor Johnson)

Dr Barbara Bombi; Professor Charlotte Sleigh; Professor Grayson Ditchfield

5 – 6pm Wine reception

Click here to return to the School of History website.

Canterbury in Domesday Book: A lecture in memory of Professor Alf Smyth

On Friday 27 October 2017 friends and colleagues from the School of History, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and Canterbury Christ Church University gathered together in Grimond Lecture Theatre 1 on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus to celebrate the life of Professor Alf Smyth.

Professor Smyth, who passed away in October 2016, was an Emeritus Professor of Medieval History, specialising in the British Isles. His publications included Scandinavian Kings in the British IslesWarlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80-1000. and a highly influential study of King Alfred the Great.

His distinguished career also saw him take on the roles of Warden of St. George’s House, Windsor Castle; Director of Research; and Dean of Arts & Humanities (both Canterbury Christ Church University). He was also an early supporter of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Tim Tatton-Brown, former Director of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, treated the packed theatre to a lively lecture on the features and landmarks of Canterbury and the surrounding area as mentioned in the Domesday Book.

Tim, along with Richard Eales and Professor Paul Bennett, also shared anecdotes about Professor Smyth in what was a fitting tribute to a much respected and missed figure.

Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality

On Tuesday 6 June, both the School of History and Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) of the University of Kent are delighted to welcome Professor Paul Binski (Cambridge) for a free public lecture in the Clagett Auditorium of the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge from 6.30–7.30PM.

The title of his paper is Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality

This lecture will examine the art provoked by the drama of Thomas Becket’s Life, Death and Sanctity. It will look at Becket’s place amongst the other saints of England and Europe, and particularly at the idea of personality cult and charisma. How did such things impact on the way saints were represented in the Gothic age and what difference did Becket make?

Please visit the lecture event page for more details.

The ‘British’ churches 1603-1707: from dynastic union to Anglo-Scottish union

On 22 June 2017 the University of Kent’s School of History and Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies will be hosting an international conference ‘The ‘British’ churches 1603-1707: from dynastic union to Anglo-Scottish union‘.

The two-day conference, timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the launching of the Five Articles of Perth by James VI & I in Scotland in 1617, is held in collaboration with Canterbury Christ Church University and its Centre for Kent History and Heritage.

All conference sessions will take place in Keynes College on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus and aim to bring together scholars with an interest in religion across the British Isles during the 17th century.

The Conference will also include the official launch party for Dr Leonie James’s new book – ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland 1617-45 (Boydell Press, 2017).

Further information about the Conference including a programme and registration details can be found on its dedicated webpage.

The Dutch in the Medway, 1667 – Anglo-Dutch rivalry in its global context

An International Conference in the Royal Dockyard Church, Historic Dockyard Chatham

Friday 30 June & Saturday 1 July 2017

The 350th anniversary of the Dutch attack on the Chatham and The English Fleet lying in the Medway, which saw Dutch raiders capture the Royal Charles, flagship of King Charles II’s Navy, will be commemorated at an international conference in the Historic Dockyard’s Royal Dockyard Church on Saturday 1 July.  The programme will include talks by naval historians from the UK and The Netherlands and a private viewing of ‘Breaking the Chain’, the Historic Dockyard’s summer exhibition which explores the events of 1667 with material from a wide range of British & Dutch organisations.

Battle of Chatham - van der Stoop

Battle of Chatham – van der Stoop

The conference will explore the rethinking of foreign policy and national naval strategy and the importance of the Medway, reflecting the shift of maritime supremacy from the Dutch to the British during the eighteenth century.  Colonial trading rivalries throughout the world were the outer ripples of this dynamic and an integral part of the whole story, with the international repercussions of the Dutch wars in the seventeenth century leading to the beginnings of an identifiably modern European structure which has many resonances today.

The conference will begin at 6pm on Friday 30 June with an open lecture in the Royal Dockyard Church by Jeroen van der Vliet of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, followed by a reception.

Bookings can be made for the entire event (lecture and reception on Friday evening and conference on Saturday), just the conference on Saturday or just the Friday evening lecture and reception. For further details and to register, please visit

The Historic Dockyard Chatham is the world’s most complete dockyard of the age of sail and is easily accessible by road and rail – including High Speed services from London.

History Repeated: 2016 in Historical Context – A Roundtable Discussion

The events of 2016 will no doubt go down in history.

On Wednesday 16 November the School of History will be hosting a roundtable discussion putting the events of 2016 into a broader historical context. Academics from the School will discuss the legacies of European revolutions, the impact of the Great Depression, and the rise of Nazism and Stalinism,  through to the constitutional crises of the twenty-first century. What do these events tell us about the strength and weaknesses of democratic politics and moral values? Why do ideologies of hate and division seem to thrive in times of economic crises? Can a historical approach help us to develop a response to contemporary events?

All are welcome to explore these ideas in this discussion, and to join academics in the School to consider these issues over a glass of wine and snacks.

For more information, please contact either Dr Mark Hurst ( or Professor Ulf Schmidt (

A truck loaded with a 'Vote for Trump' sign.