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.



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.


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.

The Gun in Central Africa

Small man with a big gunGiacomo Macola’s monograph, The Gun in Central Africa is now available to pre-order with a 30% discount on regular prices.

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.

Centre PhD Student publication launch

University of Mauritius Invitation to the launch of ‘Evading Enslavement in the Seychelles’ by Peter Nicholls

Peter Nicholls, a PhD student associated with the centre, recently delivered a public address at the University of Mauritius as part of an event celebrating the publication of his Masters’ thesis. ‘Evading Enslavement in the Seychelles’ uncovers a vital piece of the history of resistance to slavery in the Indian Ocean. The booklet has been printed in both English and French and demand has already exceed supply!

The event was covered in detail by a local online magazine: HISTOIRE: À lire en marge du 1er février (article text in French).

Leverhume Early Career Fellowships

The University of Kent School of History is currently welcoming applications for the Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow scheme. The Centre for the History of Colonialisms has previously been very successful in this funding scheme — there are currently two Leverhulme ECRs associated with the centre. If you have a project related to colonialism and would like to apply, please check the advert or get in touch with any of the centre staff.

AHA Panel in Atlanta

Christine Whyte organised a panel on childhood in 19th century Sierra Leone at the 130th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association on the 8th of January, 2016.The panel focused on the experiences of children as pupils, apprentices and domestic servants in the Colony of Sierra Leone from 1806 until the 1860s.

Panel details

“An Upright and Faithful Boy”: Children of the Elite and Children Removed from Slavery within the CMS Mission Schools, 1806–16 Katrina Keefer, York University

Emancipation and Indenture in Colonial Sierra Leone  Richard Anderson, York University

Fostering Subjects: Lives and Labour of Fostered African Children in the Sierra Leone Crown Colony Christine Whyte, University of Kent

Comment: Colleen Vasconcellos, University of West Georgia

Book launch by Birmingham University Authors

Three members of the University of Birmingham’s Department of African Studies and Anthropology will be discussing their recently published monographs at the London Review of Books bookshop in Bloomsbury at 7pm on 15 January 2016.

  • Maxim Bolt’s Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms: The Roots of Impermanence
  • Benedetta Rossi’s From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Ecology in the Nigerien Sahel, 1800-2000
  • Kate Skinner’s The Fruits of Freedom in British Togoland: Literacy, Politics and Nationalism, 1914-2014

Free tickets for this event are available from Eventbrite.

Review: Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense directed by Göran Olsson (2014), Review by John Kegel

This documentary uses material from the Swedish Film Archives combined with the philosophy of Frantz Fanon to draw attention to some of the most important events unfolding today. It is directed by Directed by Göran Olsson, the same Swedish director who brought us the Black Power Mix Tapes. Even though Concerning Violence focusses on the 1960’s and 70’s and the struggles for independence in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe – which are skilfully combined with other topics like labour rights in Liberia and missionaries in Tanzania – the message is timeless.

One of the most interesting scenes is found in Chapter 1, ‘With the MPLA in Angola, 1974’, in which MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) fighters move through the bush to ambush a military camp at dawn. What is so fascinating about this scene, and indeed the entire film, is that we see events, including armed conflict, from the African point of view. Here the narration is provided by Gaetano Pagano, the Italian journalist who made the original film that Olsson borrows from. Pagano narrates the unfolding attack, step by step. What the documentary does not explain is the rather interesting background of Pagano himself, which led to his being able to accompany the MPLA. Pagano was born into the Neapolitan aristocracy and accompanied his father, who was a diplomat for fascist Italy at the time, to China in the 1930s. After the murder of his father by the Japanese, Pagano ended up fighting with the Chinese Communists; later, he became a member of the inner circle of Fidel Castro, who called him ‘Mr. Solve Everything’. Pagano was in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, and it is Cuban support for the MPLA that would have given him access to the organisation during its armed campaign.

In spite of its African perspective, the documentary, like The Battle of Algiers, does not strip the colonisers of their humanity. On the one hand, we are shown the fanaticism and open racism of colonists who wish to remain in Rhodesia, as well as the collaboration by the Liberian government in the suppression of strikes at a Swedish-owned mine. On the other, our attention is drawn to the fact that in several cases people across the divide between coloniser and colonised have much in common. One of these, clearly spelled out, is the fight for women’s rights. Within the FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) liberation movement we see how women have attained equal status with men, but we are also told that the status quo of gender relations was re-imposed after the end of the conflict. While that is not the entire story – 40% of Mozambican MPs are female – women in Mozambique do indeed face severe problems today. They are underrepresented in education and the use of contraception remains very low.

Another comparison across the coloniser-colonised divide – only hinted at this time – is that it is not always the people who profit from colonialism, or indeed independence, who do the dying for their respective causes. In Chapter 8, ‘Defeat’, we witness a terrible scene, as a clearly mortally wounded Portuguese soldier is attended to by his comrades as they await medical evacuation. One cannot help but wonder: was he a conscript? A victim of colonisation just like the colonised? Whereas the freedom fighters we see throughout the documentary are fighting for something they believe in, the soldiers fighting for colonial regimes often were not.

The philosophy of Frantz Fanon, one of the great anti-colonial thinkers, is superimposed on these vivid scenes and images. It seeks to explain violence in all its forms, especially non-physical violence perpetuated by rules, regulations, economics and racism. Towards the end, the viewer is met by Fanon’s challenge, “Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.” However, fifty years on, it seems that Africa has not met this challenge either. Borrowing from the words of Fanon, the film insists that “The Third World does not mean to organise a great crusade of hunger against the whole of Europe. What it expects from those who for centuries have kept it in slavery is that they will help to rehabilitate mankind, and make man victorious everywhere, once and for all. … To achieve this, the European peoples must first decide to wake up and shake themselves, use their brains, and stop playing the game of Sleeping Beauty.” Here we find the main explanation given in Concerning Violence for the failure of Fanon’s dream. Europe never woke up and has continued to play the game of Sleeping Beauty by means of neo-colonialism.

Several criticisms can be levelled at the documentary. First, while (neo-)colonialism undoubtedly remains one of Africa’s major problems, was this really the main obstacle to Fanon’s dream (can mankind, anywhere, truly create the “whole man”)? Second, viewers are thrown in at the deep end, receiving little in terms of context for the series of liberation movements and countries that are addressed. Finally, modern ears may also be struck by the highly gendered nature of Fanon’s language, for instance “the colonised man” where one would more likely use “colonised people” nowadays, especially in a film that repeatedly shows women as active participants, including in combat. None of this fundamentally detracts from the power of the images or of Fanon’s visionary philosophy. The film is a must watch for anyone interested in colonialism or Africa, or indeed in any of today’s major challenges.



NEW MA in Imperial History

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We are delighted to announce the launch of a new Master’s programme in Imperial History here at the University of Kent.

This brand new programme examines key themes and regions in the making of world history from the 18th century to the present day.

Imperial history is a rapidly growing and innovative field of historical research, which offers you the opportunity to explore the origins, workings and legacies of empires. By critically engaging with a range of theoretical and empirical literatures, as well as conducting original research, you use historical data to tackle momentous questions relating to violence, development and global inequality.

Led by five specialists in the School of History, the programme takes a broad interdisciplinary approach which also encompasses renowned academics from other departments. The team offers particular expertise in African political history, the history of military technology and conflict, global histories of religion and the newly-emerging field of children and childhoods. You also have the opportunity to participate in the activities of the Centre for the History of Colonialisms.

This programme offers an ideal launching pad for students who envisage careers with an international dimension or plan to embark on doctoral work.

Two bursaries to cover full-time tuition fees at the home/EU rate will be made available on a competitive basis. Details about funding opportunities will be posted on the School of History website here in due course. For further information and informal enquiries, prospective applicants should contact either the MA convenor, Dr. Giacomo Macola ( or Faye Beesley, the School of History’s Postgraduate Co-ordinator (