Networks in Imperial and Global History, Reed Hall, The University of Exeter, 19 and 20 June 2014

The Imperial and Global History Network will be holding its first conference on 19th and 20th June 2014 at the University of Exeter. The conference will bring together early career scholars from across the world, discussing a range of topics including America’s Drone Empire, the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, and Treaty Port China. Registration for the conference is now open and information about how to register can be found here

Thursday 19th June 2014

9.00-9.30         Registration

9.30-10.00       Welcome

10.00-11.00     Panel 1 

Ong Weichong, Nanyang Technological University: Post-Colonial COIN Learning: The Second Emergency in Malaysia (1968-89).

Chris Fuller, University of Southampton: Unmanned Frontiers: America’s Drone Empire and the Legislation which Underwrites It.

11.00-11.15     Break

11.15-12.45     Panel 2

Emily Bridger, University of Exeter: History from Below? Gendering Dominant Narratives of South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Struggle.

Emma Lundin, Birkbeck College: The Impact of International Exchanges on Women’s Quest for Equality within the ANC 1960-1976.

Felicity Berry, University of Sydney: ‘I cannot yet feel at home here’: How Two British Women Used Home Networks to Centre the Empire and Themselves.

12.45-13.45     Lunch

13.45-14.45     Panel 3

Kate Bruce-Lockhart, University of Cambridge: The Penal Palimpsest: Kamiti Prison and Tensions of Empire, 1954-60’

Kellie Moss, University of Leicester: Global Integrations of Convicts in Western Australia, 1850-1868.

14.45-15.00     Break

15.00-16.00     Panel 4

Charlotte Riley, University of York: Tropical Allsorts: The Transnational Flavour of British Development Policies in Africa.

Tim Livsey, Birkbeck College: Networks and the African Roots of Colonial Development.

16.00-16.15     Break

16.15-17.15     Panel 5

Jamie Martin, Harvard University: A Thinking Machine for India: The Exportation of European Economic Expertise and the Making of Modern Economic Governance in Asia, 1920-39.

Kate Boehme, University of Cambridge: Smuggling, Subversion and Salt: Baroda and the Fight for Economic Autonomy.

19.00 Conference Dinner

Friday 20th June 2014

9.00-9.30         Tea/Coffee

9.30-11.00       Panel 1

Vincent Kuitenbrouwer, University of Amsterdam: Wireless Ties: Radio Broadcasts from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies, 1927-40.

Hoi-To Wong, City University of Hong Kong: Agents and Networks: Reconsidering Transnational and Local Networks of Publishing and Bookselling between Britain and east Asia from the mid-19th century to 20th century.

Melissa Mouat, University of Cambridge: The Establishment of the Tongwen Guan and the Politics of Translation in Late Qing China?

11.00-11.15     Break

11.15-12.15     Panel 2

Kate Stevens, University of Cambridge: Connected Empires and Disconnected Rule: Law in the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides, 1906-22.

Emily Whewell, University of Leicester: The British Consular Court System in Treaty Port China: Legal connections and Disconnections with the Wider Formal and Informal British Empire.

12.15-13.15     Lunch

13.15-14.45     Panel 3

Amanda Behm, Yale University: Turn of the Century Historical Thought and the Fracturing of the British Empire.

Ivan Sablin, National Research University Higher School of Economics: Siberian and Mongolian Socialists, Buddhists and Nationalists in Post-Imperial Boundary Construction 1905-1937.

Hussein David Alkhazragi, Université de Genève: The Interplays, Interconnections and Networks between the League of Nations and the Middle East.

14.45-15.00     Break

15.00-16.00     Panel 4

Joanna Warson, University of Portsmouth: Francophone Networks in Anglophone Africa: France’s presence in Nigeria and Ghana During the Age of Decolonisation.

Poppy Cullen, University of Durham: British and Kenyan Policymakers: Connections, Consultations, and Conflicts.

16.00-16.15     Break

16.15-17.15     Roundtable Discussion

CFP: Transgressing Racial Boundaries, 1857 to the Present Day

Call for Papers: Transgressing Racial Boundaries, 1857 to the Present Day, Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town, 28-29 November 2014.

For a long time imperial historians writing on relationships that transgressed racial boundaries wrote almost exclusively of sex. More recently this work has started to open onto wider concerns, framed around the family, intimacy, emotions and affect. This symposium aims to think in new ways about relationships that cross racial bounds. These relationships were – variously – pragmatic and political, transactional, instrumental and, sometimes, deeply emotionally entwined. Most often, they combined elements of all of these. Almost always they contained conflict, not least because they were liable to stretch or subvert the same imperial or colonial ideologies from which they were produced.  Sometimes these relationships were long lived; at others they were so fleeting they can scarcely be described as relationships at all.

We welcome contributions that adopt counter-intuitive approaches to the relational history of race and empire – from any part of the imperial and post-imperial British world. Our starting point is 1857, the year of the Indian rebellion when, according to a well-worn historical narrative, a new and deepening racial consciousness began to take hold amongst Britons both at home and abroad. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, so this story goes, racial borders were embryonic and deeply porous. Europeans ‘went native’ with frequency and élan. But from the mid-nineteenth century, racial attitudes became more entrenched. Boundaries hardened. Distance and difference separated citizen from subject, white from black.  This symposium looks to complicate this linear narrative by considering the kinds of human contact that can exist within social landscapes forged from empire and its attendant racial codes. By working through the period of decolonisation, we hope to provide new opportunities for rethinking aspects of continuity and change across the colonial/postcolonial  divide.

We are particularly interested in work that speaks to the following themes:

  • Emotional currencies: Besides fear and loathing, what was the emotional content of relations between European ‘colonisers’ and those they claimed to rule? What does it do to talk of love combined with hate or of kindness as an ancillary to colonial domination?  How did racial theory convert to racial practice? And what kinds of visceral energy did race possess?
  • Disaggregating race:  colonial encounters were configured differently according to historical context and social locale.  What kinds of contacts developed during war-time, for example, as opposed to during peace? How did economic depression or flux shape the nature of cross-racial intimacies? And how can we adequately capture the porosity of racial borders that were themselves in constant motion?
  • Shifting boundaries: How did changing racial ideologies alter the ways in which boundary-transgression was perceived and acted upon? To what extent did the very idea of transgression dissolve during decolonisation?  And how does a focus on race-as-practice advance existing understandings of imperial ideology during the long imperial decline?

To enter a proposal, please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a 1-page CV to Will Jackson: before 1 July 2014. Accepted papers will be notified by 15 July 2014.

The symposium forms part of a collaboration between the School of History at the University of Leeds, the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA). It is enabled by support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and HUMA.ahrc1


Second Annual Exeter-Bristol PGR Workshop in Imperial and Global History

In May 2013 PhD researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter participated in an Imperial and Global History workshop, where participants had an opportunity to talk about aspects of their research and receive feedback from faculty members and Professor John MacKenzie, who later that evening gave a public lecture at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Following the success of this event, a second workshop will take place at the University of Bristol on 15th May 2014. The workshop free to attend but is only open to postgraduate researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter. Anyone who is interested in attending should contact Dr Simon Potter.

The timetable for the day is as follows:

Lunch will be available 12 – 1 pm.

Panel One: 1 – 1.40 pm.

Claire Connor – University of Bristol – ‘Looking for 630 passengers: using life-histories in academic research’

Idir Ouahes – University of Exeter – ‘Education in the first five years of the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon: contestation and co-option’

Panel Two: 1.40 – 2.20 pm – Chair: Dr David Thackeray, University of Exeter

Rachel Chin – University of Exeter – ‘Intrigue, attitude, and bananas: between Anglo/French policy and the public sphere in the Second World War’

Peter Evans – University of Bristol – ‘Anglo-Saxon empires in nineteenth-century utopian literature’

Coffee Break: 2.20-2.50 pm – Humanities Common Room, 11 Woodland Road

Panel Three: 2.50-3.30 pm.

Khaleelah Jones – University of Bristol – ‘Panorama coverage of the Rhodesian Crisis and UDI, 1961-1965’

Stuart Mole – University of Exeter – ‘Apartheid, South Africa and the re-making of the Commonwealth of Nations’

Panel Four: 3.30-4.10 pm.

Ryan Patterson – University of Exeter – ‘“Astonishment and admiration in Paris”: Disraeli, exhibition culture, and British international prestige, 1867-74’

Andrés Baeza – University of Bristol – ‘Beyond diplomacy: a cultural history of British recognition of the independence of Chile, 1810-1831’

‘The fundamental interconnectedness of all things.’: The Benefits of Global History Courses

In addition to providing advice on research proposals, fieldwork, and pursuing a career in academia, one of the Network’s objectives is to offer guidance to early career researchers on teaching. As teaching fellows or new lecturers, early career researchers will often have heavy teaching loads and designing new modules or teaching unfamiliar topics for the first time can often be a daunting prospect. In this post Gemma Norman, a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, compares two global histories courses she’s been involved with and discusses what made them such a success.    

As a postgraduate student, with an interest in pushing and testing the often Eurocentric boundaries of traditional mainstream curricula I have taken the opportunity to study global history whenever possible. To date, these opportunities have included: auditing the core units for a new MA Global History course at the University of Birmingham convened by Dr Sadiah Qureshi and enrolling on the ‘A History of the World Since 1300’ course, which is an established Princeton University course made available via Coursera and led by Professor Jeremy Adelman.

Both of these courses are led by extremely competent and talented academics. What struck me in particular was the academics’ willingness to engage with a wider history that was not necessarily part of their niche specialisms in order to not only expand the intellectual horizons of their students but also their own. Additionally anyone who sets themselves the task of creating and delivering a global or world history course is worthy of admiration! It is this challenge of constructing and delivering a global history course that I wish to discuss, with a particular focus on content and timetabling, resources and facilitation.

The content and timetabling of a global history course are closely related issues. What should be included in a global history course to make it truly global? At what point in history should a global history course start and end? And how can a global history course be designed to fit within the time constraints of an academic year?

In order to address these questions, Dr Qureshi, when designing the MA Global History course at the University of Birmingham, produced content for two 11 week semesters with two core units:  ‘Global Histories: Comparisons and Connections’ and ‘The Making of the World: Themes in Global History’. The first semester was an introductory survey that followed a largely chronological pattern, beginning with a session on Ancient Empires and concluding with a session on Decolonization and Globalization in the Contemporary World. Semester two took a more thematic approach with sessions designed around particular methodologies and concepts such as Periodization, which students could then apply to the global context gained from semester one.

Dr Qureshi's MA in Global History course was divided into parts. During the first semester students were provided with a broad, chronological sweep of global history and the second semester focused on particular themes or concepts.

Dr Qureshi’s MA in Global History course was divided into parts. During the first semester students were provided with a broad, chronological sweep of global history and the second semester focused on particular themes or concepts.

For the ‘History of the World Since 1300’ course at Princeton University, Professor Adelman delivered the online course at the same time he was delivering it to students at Princeton in the Autumn term of 2013. The course was 12 weeks long with two lectures per week and was largely chronological in structure with an integration of themes and methodologies throughout. By choosing to commence his syllabus in 1300 Professor Adelman utilized the Afro-Eurasian sphere, which refers to the diverse cultural interactions of the globe’s largest landmass, and is a very good example of a pre-modern global moment and its use in the teaching of world history is supported by several scholars.[i] This is partly due to the hyphenated nature of the name which can be said to capture the intercontinental nature of trade and exchange at that moment in history. By using the Afro-Eurasian sphere as a framing device to begin teaching the history of globalisation it introduces the students to the idea of systems of connectedness, which is a key concept in global history.

Additionally the spread of the Black Death in the early 1300s shows these connected systems in action while at the same time providing a real world example of diffusion, another key pattern of globalisation. It is also worth noting at this point that both courses began with an opening session concerning the definition and explanation of global history, thus making both courses accessible to students from all historical fields. Each of these approaches had their own strengths. For example, Professor Adelman’s use of the Afro-Eurasian sphere really got students to hit the ground running with an example of globalisation. The MA Global history at the University of Birmingham also opened with an example of globalisation with the session on Ancient Empires that facilitated a comparative study of Ancient Rome and Ancient China encouraging students to investigate the parallels between the two civilisations. Both of these approaches were effective in placing theories of globalisation into a real historical context, while also showing that globalisation as a process has been a constant throughout human history and is not simply a modern phenomenon. In terms of timetabling, the courses differ greatly as Professor Adelman had only one semester of teaching in which to fit his content but the MA in Global History course at the University of Birmingham had more time to cover the subject. This did not compromise the value of the courses as I did not feel that the Princeton University course was too dense but rather kept moving at a good pace to keep students engaged. In the same way Dr Qureshi’s timetable kept the subject fresh and interesting while at the same time allowing students to come to terms with the ideas and theories behind the history of globalisation.

'Ch'onha Chungguk, Map of the Thirty Provinces of China and the World, front (c. 1800)'

‘Ch’onha Chungguk, Map of the Thirty Provinces of China and the World, front (c. 1800)’

In terms of resources I wish to draw attention not only to the recommended readings for both courses but also the staffing of the sessions. The University of Birmingham has recently renewed its commitment to ‘going global’ and as a result the history department now contains a wide range of regional and temporal specialists many of whom have a broader interest in global history. Drawing upon this pool of expertise each session of the MA was led by a subject specialist with readings divided into the essential and extended optional texts. The range of these readings also contributed to the overall philosophy of thinking outside the traditional boundaries. For example, one reading assigned for a session on Connecting Seas was the exhibition catalogue for a shipwreck carrying trade goods and this helped to integrate material culture into the study of globalisation. The extended reading for this session included Janet Abu-Lughod’s work Before European Hegemony which presented the idea of ‘pockets’ of globalisation that gradually became more integrated and connected as globalisation progressed.[ii] There was also the integration of online lectures from university channels on Youtube and contemporary news stories which helped to give the history of globalisation contemporary resonance.

The digital resources for Professor Adelman’s online course were vast. From the two weekly video lectures to the discussion forums, blogs written by Princeton students, videos of global dialogues with visiting scholars to Princeton and, finally, the textbook written especially for the course, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition) (Vol. 2). Lectures were designed to tie-in to certain chapters of the textbook but also came with downloadable PDFs covering key events and figures mentioned in each lecture. It is my opinion that in order to be effective, readings for a global history course are a question of quality over quantity. This is because global or world history is less about learning a new subject area of history and more about learning a new way of viewing history as a whole, whatever the temporal or regional specialisation of the individual. Once these new methodologies have been learnt they can be applied to any area of historical study.

As a student I found the delivery of both courses engaging, effective and suitable to their respective media. The MA Global History at the University of Birmingham was delivered via a two hour weekly seminar for both semesters. Each session being led by a subject specialist did result in student exposure to a variety of teaching styles which was an advantage with each session leader knowing best how to deliver their content. Dr Qureshi attended all seminar sessions, including those she was not leading herself, complimenting and contributing to the other teaching styles on the course. Her interactions with other session leaders also served to show that teaching global history is always a collaborative effort, whether that is between staff and students or teaching colleagues.

The role of subject or area specialists in the delivery of a global history course cannot be underestimated. The first requirement to deliver any such course is a thorough grounding in the particular geographic areas or case studies that will help to explain or test the theories and methodologies relating to global history. Additionally, courses that decide to take a chronological approach require at the very least the input of subject specialists in the selecting and crafting of the readings for each area. Many of the subject specialists involved in the MA Global History were involved in areas of research that leant themselves to globalisation, such as historians of empires, as well as historians who worked on the cultural and intellectual histories teaching the movement of ideas and practices and how such ideas and practices influenced and were influenced by each other.

Professor Alderman used 'global moments', specific  episodes or case studies in history to help illustrate broader global processes.

Professor Alderman used ‘global moments’, specific episodes or case studies in history to help illustrate broader global processes.

Professor Adelman made a great use of what I would call ‘global moments’, citing an example of globalisation from a particular period in history and de-constructing it to show the components of globalisation. An example of this would be his analysis of the mining activities in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan with the raw materials being extracted to be moved and traded elsewhere. As a teaching tool this was effective because by picking up an idea, person or movement at either the historical root or destination the student observed globalisation as a process. Moreover, while Professor Adelman delivered two weekly lectures himself he was supported by colleagues behind the cameras who were often drawn into discussions by his seemingly infectious and uncontrollable need to teach and communicate with people!

In conclusion I found both of these courses enjoying, rewarding and above all educational despite the differences between them they both achieve their objectives in delivering thought provoking content. Neither of course is a complete ‘all you need to know about world history’, such a thing is not possible, but both programmes serve to inspire students to study history as part of larger global processes.

[i] Antoinette Burton, A Primer for Teaching World History: Ten Design Principles,(London, 2012) p. 15.

[ii] J. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony; the World System AD 1250-1350, (New York, 1991).

South Sudan National Archives: New country, New Paperwork

In this post Nicki Kindersley discusses the creation of the South Sudan National Archives, highlighting how the collections will not only help to inform academic research but could also serve as an important ‘nation-building’ project. Nicki worked as a coordinator for the South Sudan National Archives project from mid-2012 until mid-2013. You can find out more about her work for the archives and her PhD research on her blog

South Sudan is not an obvious country to have a national archive. The country became independent in July 2011, after decades of civil wars and maladministration. Most administrative towns were violent garrison bases, and the capital city, Juba, has seen its paper history stuffed into sacks and stored in basements and sheds for thirty years.

The continuing semi-existence of these regional government papers, the oldest of which date back to 1901, is due to Douglas Johnson’s efforts in the 1970s and early 1980s, when he spent his post-doctoral fieldwork (and some of his Fulbright cash) on collecting the papers that survived the first civil wars across South Sudan, under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture in Juba. By 2006, after the second civil wars ended in 2005, the papers were collected into a tent in the centre of the city, where they continued to rot in sacks and piles. Termites have enjoyed a good portion of South Sudan’s historical record.

Members of the South Sudan National Archives project begin the process of sifting and organising the country’s historical record © Nicki Kindersley

The salvaged documents are unfortunately fragmented, but they still make up 100 years of the history of attempting to govern southern Sudan. The strength of the collection is from the 1930s to the end of the 1970s, spanning the first civil war, with just under half the documents in Arabic. Some of the most valuable material is on law, traditional justice and local courts; internal and international borders and raiding; ‘tribal’ files on local issues at district level; and hundreds of government files on security and intelligence, documenting local resistance and collaboration in the first civil war and the lead up to the second civil war, when the documents end. These files are immensely valuable – particularly the District government files, which provide detail unavailable in any other collection, and which was previously thought to be lost. They are counterpoints to correspondence, personal records and more generalised, province-level administrative records in the Sudan Archive Durham and Khartoum.


 The history of South Sudan on the move © Nicki Kindersley

The papers – which now constitute the South Sudan National Archives – are probably the least-loved, and most bizarre, “development project” in South Sudan today. But South Sudan needs these papers. As well as providing a surprisingly still-full and detailed history of southern Sudan’s local politics and conflicts since the beginning of British “pacification” and administration in the 1900s and 1910s, they form the basis of a national institution that could provide educative support for the country’s universities, an evidential basis for on-going border disputes and inter-ethnic conflicts, the foundation for the proposed national museum, and most importantly, a communal and inclusive foundation for national solidarity and shared experience. It is rare to find a “nation-building” project that has such substance.

In 2012, after two trial projects excavating the papers and training local Ministry staff, the Rift Valley Institute (RVI), in collaboration with the South Sudanese Ministry, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and US Ambassador funds, the Norwegian government provided funding for a six-month project. With the Director and staff of the then-National Archives, I worked as the coordinator on a massive rescue project, sorting and handlisting the papers, and (with the RVI) digitizing the most valuable documents, to thwart the march of the termites.


The USAID tent, which from 2006 provided the first post-war home for the archival collection © Nicki Kindersley

The archives, which were fully handlisted and roughly searchable by the end of March 2013, are now in semi-permanent storage in Juba, with an interim building nearing completion, and a design for a final National Archive building completed. The archives consist of some 10,000 files, of which around 60,000 pages have been digitized. The greatest success of recent work has been the training and organisation of a core National Archives staff, led by director Youssef Onyalla. The dedication of the inspectors Thomas Becu, James Lujang, and Nyarek Yohannes has meant that, despite extreme violence in South Sudan since the end of 2013, the work of digitization and preservation has continued – in contrast to the abandonment of the archives in the previous civil wars.

Further Advice on Writing a Post-Doc Proposal

Following on from our successful post on how to write a post-doc proposal, we’ve some further helpful advice from Paul Woolnough, who is the Research Development Manager and Stakeholder Lead for the ESRC at the University of Exeter. Paul has considerable experience of managing institutional funding applications, as well as helping academics to develop successful research proposals. Paul also works closely with early career researchers at the University of Exeter to develop applications for the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders scheme, so his advice is based on his extensive knowledge of how to plan and write a successful proposal:

Are you eligible? For competitions targeted at early career researchers, it’s important to check your eligibility, which is measured in various ways for different schemes. For example, ESRC’s Future Research Leaders can support applicants up to four years from the point of their PhD submission. For AHRC, a minimum of two years postdoctoral experience is expected with a maximum of eight years or six years from your first academic appointment. Usually, eligibility is measured from the date of your submission to the scheme submission date but if in doubt, check with your research office and/or sponsor contact points. Career breaks for child care and periods of illness are normally taken into account in relation to eligibility and adjustments can be made. Also, there can be differences on employment rules at the point of applying – these differ between ESRC and AHRC for example.


Different schemes have different eligibility criteria, it’s important that you apply to the scheme that best suits your research profile.

Outputs: This varies according to the expectations of different disciplines but generally the stronger candidates have published, and sole-publications are particularly valuable. A candidate’s outputs are a crucial measurement of their progress towards future 4* attainment in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This is an issue to consider when assessing whether the timing is right for you and your current portfolio. It is best to consult with your academic mentor or Director of Research about what would be expected for your stage of career. Resubmissions are rarely requested now by sponsors given demand management imperatives and the high demand for early career schemes, so applying at the right time, with the right profile is crucial.

Balance between academic ideas and intellectual leadership: Although your research portfolio is an important factor, the keys to a successful proposal are the research ideas and the the research design. As David Thackeray suggests in his post, the balance between academic ideas, innovative methods and evidence of intellectual leadership has narrowed considerably. There also needs to be clear evidence of career progression and intellectual progression milestones – such as awards, presentations, activities within your research area, quality publications, impact activity and external responsibilities with stakeholders – all of which will make you stand out as a leader of your field in the future.


Research Councils, such as the AHRC, are increasingly looking for proposals that combine innovative research design with impact activities. Seek advice from colleagues and non-academic partners about the type of activities that will make your project stand out.

Planning: Planning is essential in order to be competitive for Fellowship schemes. Utilise university research offices, find an appropriate academic mentor with the right mix of intellectual profile and interpersonal skills and time. Some schemes, such as the ESRC Future Research Leaders competition, stipulate that your PhD supervisor cannot supervise you post-doc. project. You should also find out who has been successful in the last 3 years at your HEI for the scheme you are considering and ask them how they found the process. Think about your research questions well ahead of time and how they address gaps in the field and how your design will best enable you to realise your objective. Have a clear vision on who the project would benefit – academics and particularly non-academics. All projects DO have impact, however theoretically-led they might be! Again, most HEIs employ impact specialists, so seek out their advice. Above all, your mentor and research office can help you find an internal peer review network to test your research ideas and design, as well as offering helpful suggestions on how to improve your research profile

Imperial and Global History and the French National Archives

In the next installment in our series on archival research, Joanna Warson guides us through the complexities of the French National Archives, highlighting collections that are of particular relevance to Imperial and Global History:

Archival research is, in the words of Richard Evans, ‘rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces are scattered all over the house in several boxes, some of which have been destroyed, and where once it is put together, a significant number of the pieces are still missing’.[1] The difficult task of uncovering, accessing and piecing together the fragments of the past has only increased with the rise of Imperial and Global history, with scholars seeking documents from multiple archives in numerous countries. Nowhere, I would argue, is this challenge more acute than in the study of French foreign and imperial policy, something I have experienced first hand over the past five years while conducting research into French involvement in Anglophone Africa during the age of decolonisation.

french archives

Archives Nationales, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine © Joanna Warson, 2014

Whilst it is common practice for historians of Imperial and Global history to make use of a variety of archives, both nationally and internationally, the highly decentralised nature of the French archival system further increases the number of archives available to historians of France overseas. This is apparent, most notably, in the case of the French National Archives. Although called the Archives Nationales, this archive is not, as is the case with the UK National Archives at Kew, located all in one place. Instead, there are three Archives Nationales sites located across the French capital – one in the heart of Marais district of central Paris, which houses all material from the Middle Ages and the Ancien Régime; a second site at Fontainebleau, housing a wide variety private archives; and finally, the most recent addition, a site at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, housing all material relating to the period after the French Revolution in 1789. Of particular note at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine is the Presidential Archive, which provides insight into the workings of the Elysée Palace, an institution central to French foreign policy, especially after the advent of the Fifth Republic in 1958. The Presidential Archives had a reputation for being notoriously difficult to access but there are now published catalogues available for many of the Presidential Archives, including Charles De Gaulle,[2] and, although a dérogation (a special permission granted by the Elysée, which can sometimes take months to come through) is required to view any document, these papers are gradually becoming more readily available to researchers.

However, this is far from the whole picture, since these so-called National Archives do not house all official French papers. Instead, there are separate archives for the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Colonies, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, to name but a few, which are located not only around Paris but across France. And the plethora of archives does not stop there. There are, for example, two different archives housing material emanating from the French Foreign Ministry. Firstly, there is the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, recently relocated from the Quai d’Orsay in central Paris, to a vast, modern building in La Courneuve, five miles from the centre of the capital. Here you can find the papers of the Central Administration of the French Foreign Ministry relating to bilateral and multilateral engagement overseas. There are some limitations to this archive. Whilst an electronic document request system is now in place, catalogues are currently only available in paper form at the Archives itself. In addition, although the majority of documents housed here are fully de-classified, some of the material listed in the inventories is only available by a personal request to the archivist responsible for that particular collection. And, although it is easy enough to make such a request via email, the likelihood of actually gain access to all the material you desire is slim (I speak from experience!)

The second archive of the French Foreign Ministry, the Archives Diplomatiques, is located in the city of Nantes, two and a half hours by train from Paris, and houses papers repatriated from France’s diplomatic representations overseas. Although there is some overlap with the material kept at La Courneuve, this small and friendly archive is a personal favourite of mine. The atmosphere is relaxed, evidenced by the looser security arrangements and the more flexible approach to document requests, and archivists may seek out documents on your behalf if you let them know what you are working on. It is possible to download a basic version of the catalogue in PDF form in advance of your visit and the archive houses material from as recent as the year 2000. In my experience, these collections are a real gold mine, and I would highly recommend a visit if you are working on any aspect of French Imperial and Global history.

The final French archive that I used during the course of my doctoral research is the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer, located – rather fortuitously one might say – in Aix-en-Provence. This is a rich archive housing material produced by the various ministries charged with the French Colonial Empire from the 17th to the 20th century. It also includes papers from the local administrations of France’s former colonies, various private archives and an impressive collection of photographs maps and books. There is an excellent digital catalogue for the majority of the archive’s collections, and the staff are knowledgeable and keen to help. Combined with the obvious pleasures of working in the south of France, this archive is a delight and should not be missed by Imperial and Global historians of France.

For further practical advice regarding the archives discussed in this blog, please visit the Society for the Study of French History’s website.

[1] Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (London, 1997), p.89

[2] Nicole Evans, Archives de la Présidence de la République. Général de Gaulle (1949-1969) (Paris, 2012).

Accessing Archives in Myanmar (Burma)

In the next installment in our series on archival research, Jonathan Saha reflects on his experience of working in Myanmar and raises some important questions about the ‘politics of knowledge production’ and the inequity of access to archival resources in the Global South:

Many academic disciplines have their own particular site for ‘rites of passage’ ceremonies. Anthropologists have the ‘field’. Scientists have the ‘laboratory’. Archaeologists have the ‘dig’. Medics have the ‘dissection room’. For historians, this special place is the archive. Amongst those historians studying the formerly colonised world, the ceremony is supposed to be a particularly gruelling one – and it often is. From my peers I’ve heard tell of intransigent, indifferent and unscrupulous archivists, and of animal-infested, dilapidated buildings filled with disintegrating records. In the anecdotes and stories shared between us, there is a certain pride at having come out of these places alive and having glimpsed the precious materials hidden within them. The experience validates both our research and our expertise. It is, therefore, with a small amount of embarrassment that I inform you that my own experiences of conducting archival research in the National Archives of Myanmar (formerly, and still to many, Burma) have been nothing but pleasant and productive.


Figure 1: Some old colonial-era houses in Yangon © Jonathan Saha, 2008

I first visited the National Archives of Myanmar in 2008 whilst I was researching for my PhD. It is located in Yangon and I arrived during the rainy season. Besides my research, it offered a welcome retreat from the elements. The building itself was an old merchant’s house constructed in the nineteenth century. It is a great example of the imperial architecture for which Yangon is receiving justified attention. The reading room has lovely wooden floors and was kitted out with a much appreciated air-conditioner. At any given point during my research there were never more than a handful of fellow researchers working in the archive. This meant that there was often an archivist per researcher, and usually several. The material from the colonial period has been catalogued and most has been copied onto microfilm and microfiche. Whilst reading the scrawl of British officials on a microfiche reader is not the easiest activity on the human eyeball, I had no trouble accessing the material I requested. I spent every possible moment in the archive reading through document after document, noting down those I wanted putting onto a CD to take home with me. The whole process was, future impairments to my vision aside, painless.

My most recent visit was in 2012. Whilst the impact of the liberalisation of the economy and the reform of political structures was marked in the city, my experience of the archive was the same: helpful staff and easily accessible records. The only noticeable difference was that the building appeared to be full of kittens. Loads of them. This was undeniably distracting, but other than finding I was spending ten minutes at a time watching them fight and play in the corridors, they didn’t really effect my research. Access on both occasions was easy to arrange. There is a fee of $30 for foreigners using the archives, and much smaller fees for local researchers (roughly the equivalent of 50 pence). I provided a brief outline of my intended research, supplied a letter from my home institution, and obtained a letter of support from a member of the Myanmar Historical Commission, a group of, mostly elderly, established and respected academic historians based in the country. Whether I received access so easily because my research was deemed so banal as not to warrant concern, I can’t say, but once I was working in the archive I had no problems consulting material tangentially and remotely connected to by initial research interests. In short, getting permission to research on the colonial period was a straightforward procedure.

The ease with which I was able to consult the material in the National Archives of Myanmar masks the structural privilege of being able to research in the Global South. The struggles of my peers to get access to archives brought home to them the politics of knowledge production. Instances of bribery revealed the difficult conditions for poorly paid archival staff. The broken buildings and rotten documents showed the material challenges of maintaining archives with limited economic resources. That I didn’t encounter these problems also got me to reflect on who could and couldn’t access these records. In 2008, following the devastation of cyclone Nargis and the earlier monk-led protests, the population of Yangon were under considerable political surveillance. During my time in the city, a bomb exploded in the park next to my hotel. The military were a visible presence and the streets in the centre were almost deserted after 10pm. Despite recent reforms, and particularly outside Yangon, repressive state practices continue and likely inform who has access to the archives. In addition, the deterioration of Myanmar’s education system during military rule (although literacy rates remain high) has led to a shrinking of the academic community. By virtue of my institutional backing, my nationality and relative wealth, I had access to resources that majority of the Burmese population did not.

Privileged access is not a problem limited to Myanmar. Comparatively (if my colleagues’ tales are true) the archive in Yangon is in many respects a well-functioning and open institution. However, that those from the former colonising nation can access the documentation of the colonial regime more easily than the majority of the formerly colonised, should give us cause to think about our responsibilities as researchers.

The Cayman Islands National Archive: A haven for historians, as well as taxes…

One of the Network’s objectives is to connect historians working on similar topics or geographic areas. Our Researcher Map documents where our members have carried out archival research and here on the blog members write about their archival work, drawing attention to important archival resources, providing helpful advice, or discussing how the preservation of and access to archival material is often linked to broader social, political, and economic issues. So if you’ve been somewhere interesting for archival work, whether in the U.K., Europe, the U.S. or further afield, then we want to hear about it.

In the first of our blogs on this topic Dr Daniel Spence discusses how social and economic changes in Cayman Islands have contributed to a drive to preserve the islands’ heritage through the creation of an impressive oral history collection.


It’s fair to say that most people’s view of the Cayman Islands probably resembles something from a Duran Duran video; a Caribbean playground for sun-kissed nouveau-riche playboys on private yachts, smoking Cuban cigars and quaffing champagne bought from hedge funds, tax evasion, and shady financial dealing, while the rest of us (impoverished historians), a layer of dust coating our archival pallor, are shamelessly left to self-promotional blogging in the forlorn hope that someone with real power and money might actually notice and give us a job! Yet, these two worlds are not quite as disconnected as they may seem. Historians actually have a lot of reason to thank the bankers (begrudgingly) because it was the seismic social and economic changes they helped usher in that indirectly stimulated efforts to preserve Cayman’s cultural heritage.

Local legend has it that the Islands’ tax free status originates in 1794, when on the 8 February 10 British ships led by HMS Convert were wrecked off the East End of Grand Cayman. The local residents were able to rescue all but eight of the passengers and crew, leading King George III to express his gratitude by declaring that the Islanders would thenceforth be free from conscription and taxes, or so the story goes…


No documentation, however, exists in support of this and it was not until after the introduction of the Companies and Trust Laws of the 1960s that the Cayman Islands became one of the world’s leading offshore financial centres. A population of just 10,000 in 1970 has grown to almost six times that number today, with only 50% of these residents Caymanian, and supplemented by an additional 1.5 million tourists arriving annually, often aboard cruise ships. In the wake of this social and economic transformation ‘the old ways began to be forgotten and, indeed, in the minds of some, grew the idea that Cayman did not have a culture of its own, which in turn led to a sort of cultural inferiority complex’.[i] Concerns about losing the Islands’ heritage meant a law was passed in 1979 to establish a Cayman Islands National Museum on Grand Cayman (housed in Georgetown’s Old Courthouse since 1991). Yet, many efforts were led by volunteers on the ground; inhabitants of Cayman Brac, known as ‘Brackers’, established their own small museum at Stake Bay,[ii] while other Caymanians began recording interviews with older residents on audio tape. Their efforts evolved into the ‘Memory Bank’, recognized by Government and incorporated into the Cayman Islands National Archive (CINA) in 1991,[iii] which moved to its current location a year later.


Though the CINA holds Government and legal records, locally-published newspapers, magazines and rare books, personal diaries, letters, photographs, film, and maps, arguably its richest and most unique resource is its oral history collection. 67 tapes in 1990 grew into 988 by 1998, including 874 transcriptions.[iv] This featured interviews dating back to 1978, while new ones continue to be regularly added, including those I recorded in July 2010 with three of the Islands’ last surviving veterans from the Second World War: William Harvey Ebanks, Carley Ebanks, and Thomas Ewart Ebanks (sadly only Ewart remains with us, seen below fifth from left). These meetings were arranged with the kind and passionate support of the Cayman Islands Veterans Association.

I spent three weeks on research in Grand Cayman during July 2010, though I began my preparations in January. Thankfully, the CINA’s web presence is much better than many other archives I’ve worked in (even appearing on youtube now), while an email address is listed in the Imperial War Museum’s guide for tracing West Indian servicemen – though this otherwise useful document fails to mention its oral history recordings. Impressively, I received a reply from one of the archivists within a week. Her assistance was invaluable as it became clear just how large their oral history collection was, and over several emails and weeks she produced a bespoke document of interview summaries and references directly relevant to my research. This allowed me to hit the ground running once I entered the building.


Unfortunately this was where I encountered my only real problem of the trip. If anything, it was actually disadvantageous getting everything organised so far ahead. When I did arrive four months later, I encountered what was essentially a construction site with no public access to the main entrance, no indication as to whether anyone was actually in the building, and had no phone to call them. After prowling the perimeter in the hot Caribbean sun, I finally managed to find one of the construction workers and convince him to try and contact someone inside the building for me. Eventually one of the archivists popped her head out from the top floor, somewhat surprised, and told me the colleague I’d been corresponding with was on maternity leave, there was no record of my appointment, and they were closed to general visits during the renovation work. As appealing as the prospect of having nothing to do but lie on a beach for 3 weeks was, I implored that I had spent a fortune travelling all the way from the UK to research my PhD there, and she eventually told me to return after the weekend.

Thankfully when I did, everything proceeded smoothly and productively. You need to present your passport or driver’s licence to receive a free Reader’s ticket. Usually no more than a couple of people are using the archives at the same time and often for shorter periods, not the whole day (though they have occasional school visits), so an archivist is almost always close at hand to assist and documents are retrieved quickly. You’re allowed to use laptops and can access a plug, though you can’t use a camera freely; anything you want to photograph will be charged and needs archival approval, or you can pay for a photocopy. Very conveniently, the oral history transcriptions are shelved in the main reading room, allowing you to consult them at your leisure. As the aim of the Memory Bank was to preserve the traditional ways of life for the Islanders, the majority of interviews are recorded in the form of autobiographical narratives, but specific subjects can be identified through the physical catalogue which contains summaries and keywords.


Very little academic historical study has been conducted on the Cayman Islands, despite the rich possibilities these sources offer. Geographic isolation, lack of terrestrial resources, and no significant plantation economy meant that for centuries the Caymans remained ‘the islands that time forgot’.[v] Yet, these very limitations drove Caymanians to make use of the only resource available to them – the sea. Maritime traditions evolved around boatbuilding, rope-making, turtling and sharking, with Caymanian fishermen forging transnational connections along the Mosquito Coast of modern-day Honduras and Nicaragua. These nautical skills meant Caymanians were sought-after as seamen for the Royal and Merchant Navies during the Second World War, providing the largest contribution per capita of any country in that global conflict.[vi] The professional experience and reputation gained by these men, and the wider networks it exposed them to, provided post-war employment aboard bulk carriers and tankers all over the world.

The changing political status of the Cayman Islands also offers some interesting research possibilities. The Cayman Islands were governed as a dependency of Jamaica, posing a potential study of sub-imperialism; until the dissolution of the Federation of the West Indies in 1962 saw the Islanders elect to become a dependency of the United Kingdom, which they remain today, presenting a paradoxical case of ‘re-colonisation’ at time of sweeping global decolonisation. Whilst opening the Caymans up to international finance has increased their economic status, generating the highest standard of living in the Caribbean and attracting younger immigrants, it also created a disparity in wealth for older Caymanians rooted to the Islands.


These social, economic and political transformations raise some important questions for historians of British imperialism. What has been the impact of this immigration, primarily from the US, on Caymanian identity, particularly with regard to the UK, Queen, and notions of ‘Britishness’? And how do the National Archives and other ‘local’ cultural institutions contribute to the continuation of this imperial connection?

These are important questions and could easily complement wider projects on decolonisation and post-imperial identity and connections. The Cayman Islands National Archive is therefore an enticing resource for imperial and global historians: with its largely untapped, rare and well-organised collection of primary sources, helpful archival staff (in undeniably pleasant surroundings), it’s the perfect destination for ‘academic tourists’!

Opening times and contact details:

9am – 4.30pm, Monday to Friday (last appointment at 3.30pm)

Tel: +1 345 949 9809

Fax: +1 345 949 9727



[i] Heather R. McLaughlin, ‘The Cayman Islands Memory Bank: Collecting and Preserving Oral History in Small Island Societies’, in John McIllwaine and Jean I. Whiffin (eds.), Collecting and Safeguarding the Oral Traditions: An International Conference (Munich, 2001), p.113.

[ii] Roger C. Smith, The Maritime Heritage of the Cayman Islands (Florida, 2000), pp.179-80.

[iii] McLaughlin, p.113.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Michael Craton, Founded Upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and Their People (Kingston, 2003), p.253.

[vi] For more see Daniel Owen Spence, ‘“They had the sea in their blood”: Caymanian naval volunteers in the Second World War’, in Nir Arielli and Bruce Collins (eds.), Transnational Soldiers: Foreign Military Enlistment in the Modern Era (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

A Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Post-Doc. Research Proposal

It might not feel like it at times but every PhD student knows that the thesis will one day be finished and that means planning for post-PhD life. Although universities are increasingly providing PhD students with training in order to better prepare them for a career in academia, many early career researchers remain unsure of what opportunities are out there, how to navigate the academic job market, or how to put together a successful research application.

With in this mind, we asked the University of Exeter’s Dr David Thackeray, an AHRC Fellow, Professor Richard Toye, the Department of History’s Director of Research, and Dr Gareth Curless, an ESRC Future Research Leader, for their advice on how to write a successful post-doctoral research proposal.

Richard, drawing on a similar post from his blog, provides an overview of how to write a research proposal, while David and Gareth offer some advice on how to tackle the challenges presented by a Research Council application. If you have any suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments below!

Richard Toye:

1. A statement of the topic and why it is important and interesting.

2. A summary of the existing historiography.

3. Some reflection on the deficiencies/limitations of the historiography.

4. A description of the sources that you intend to use, and how they will enable you to overcome those limitations.

5. Detail is good: not just which archives/sources but how they will help your project.

6. Needs to show development from PhD work – be distinct from it without moving away from it so far that it becomes implausible.

7. Specify (within reason) which journals/publishers you are aiming at. But don’t make your list of proposed outputs unrealistically long.

David Thackeray:

1. Get to know the Research Support team at your university. Often they will be able to provide you with previous successful applications from your institution for the funding scheme you’re applying for. Looking at past applications is great for getting a feel for how to structure your application (I learnt a lot from an application on medieval liturgy).

2. Think about potential project partners. Research councils are placing an increasing emphasis on encouraging academics to organise public ‘impact’ activities with organisations outside the academic sector. It’s worth giving thought early to who you might like to work with and then making contact with them. This doesn’t have to be a major national or international institution, think about what local museums, heritage organisations, or creative institutions you might already have links with. The list of regional partner organisations for the AHRC Doctoral Programme gives a sense of some of the opportunities available:

3. Be creative. A few months ago I attended the first conference for successful applicants under the new AHRC fellowship scheme. Having thought that aspects of my application were quite left-field before then, I was quite surprised by how many humanities and social sciences academics were engaged in activities such as documentary making and creative theatre. The core message of the day was to focus on creative, inter-disciplinary and experimental forms of research and public engagement, rather than worrying too much about the REF.

4. Plan early- ideally for about 12 months before you put your application in. Many schemes have long and unwieldy applications and the last thing you want to be doing while in the middle of teaching or finishing your thesis is rushing to make a research council deadline. It’s worth signing up for J-es as soon as you start to plan to apply for a RCUK grant as this provides you easy access with all the notes for applicants and you can also easily share applications on the system, including with colleagues at other institutions.

5. Don’t panic. Even if you aren’t successful with your initial application you can often get useful feedback which is valuable for subsequent applications. My current AHRC fellowship is loosely based on a post-doctoral application I submitted to the British Academy in 2009 and is all the better for the long period I had revise my initial plans. It’s worth thinking about opportunities that you have to develop your project if you aren’t initially successful, such as small grants or internal funding for workshops.

Gareth Curless:

1. Get feedback from colleagues before submitting. Your proposal should be reviewed by colleagues within your department or university before it’s submitted. It’s important that you make the most of this opportunity. Colleagues will often have experience of acting as peer reviewers and will therefore have a sense of what reviewers are looking for. Internal reviewers can also help you to refine your research questions and methodology, as well as offering helpful suggestions with regard to outputs, project partners and impact activities.

2. Be realistic. Research Councils are looking for research projects with potential ‘impact’ beyond the academic sector but in the rush to demonstrate the value of your research don’t promise more than you can deliver. Start by thinking about potential project partners or intermediaries, such as History & Policy, who can connect you to the relevant non-academic organisations. Involve these project partners in the application process. Find out if and how they could use your research and what type of activities would be most appropriate for disseminating your research. Once you’ve identified your project partners and how you can help them, you can then, as David advises, start to think creatively about potential impact activities. The ESRC has some useful advice on impact.

3. Persevere. Research applications – particularly those completed through J-es – are often long, confusing, and seemingly without logic. When you’re trying to juggle writing for publication, teaching, administration, and writing a proposal, it can often be the proposal that gets sacrificed. I almost gave up half-way through my ESRC application. It was only after my supervisor encouraged me to continue that I decided to finish. Even if I hadn’t been successful it would have worth the effort because not only would I have a proposal that I could use again but the peer review feedback would have helped me to improve the application.

4. Keep it simple. As Richard says, it’s important that you provide an overview of the existing historiography, commenting on its limitations and how your project will extend scholars’ understanding of a particular topic. However, avoid using too much technical jargon, keep your points simple and concise. Reviewers are busy and won’t want to spend too long deciphering what your project is about. The same principle applies to impact activities. Simply state what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, why it’s important or beneficial to your project partners or the wider public.