Three great talks on British and Global history, Feb. 8-10

From 2012 to 2014, IGS and the History Department will share a postodoctoral fellow, someone who will teach classes on “Britain and the World since 1750” for both programs. We’ve got three candidates.  All are fascinating — and all three are speaking at Brandeis this week (Feb. 8, 9 & 10).

Whom should we pick?  Come hear them and let us know what you think!

First up is a talk on the British Empire’s detention camps.  Did you know that, long before the Gulag, long before even the First World War, the British Empire was imprisoning and “re-educating” whole populations?  Come hear Aidan Forth, a Stanford historian, talk about:

“Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876-1907”
Wednesday, February 8th @ 2:00 p.m.

Next up: a reconsideration of Victorian England.  Was it really a militaristic place shot through with racism?  Or were there plenty of pacificists about, especially in religious circles?  Come hear Ian Hopper, a Brandeis PhD, talk about:

“Absent Minded Conquerors: the paradoxes of English militarism and imperialism before the Great War”
Thursday, February 9th @ 3:00 p.m.

Finally, what did the colonies think of the First World War?  We’re used to the idea that Australia and Canada hated fighting for Britain and thus headed for independence.  But what if they loved contributing to the cause as England’s equals? What do museum exhibitions of the time tell us?  Come here Yale historian Jennifer Wellington talk about:

“Exhibiting the First World War in Britain and its Empire”
Friday, February 10th @ 4:00 p.m.

All talks will be held in Olin-Sang 207.  See you there!


9 Replies to “Three great talks on British and Global history, Feb. 8-10”

  1. I really enjoyed Aidan Forth’s presentation on “Britain’s Empire of Camps” because it is something I’ve never learned about and I was interested in seeing how the British acted in the same way as did there enemies in World War Two. Two summers ago, I spent a month in South Africa working with a local village and thoroughly immersing into their culture; learning about apartheid while over there gave me a new look into the history of the country and Forth’s presentation has added to my fascination. As well, England now seems very different to me and I’m interested in learning more about their darker aspects history we don’t typically hear about. The containment camps seem like another detrimental aspect of imperialism and its affects on society, something I have found interesting reading for my IGS class. My favorite aspect of his presentation was Emily Hobhouse and the role she played in telling the British people about the horrendous treatment of the people in the containment camps. The photo of Lizzie van Zyl was also particularly moving, reminiscent of Holocaust victims. I also thought it was interesting how reform led to more restrictions in the camps and how different this is compared to the containment camps of the Holocaust. At the end of the presentation, the questions posed by the graduate students were very thought provoking.

  2. Aidan Forth’s presentation on “Britain’s Empire of Camps” was very intriguing. Forth’s presentation was the first time I learned about concentration camps in such great depth. It was interesting to see that camps in South Africa were “better” before the British intervened to reform them. Before the intervention, the camps were not even fenced- camp life significantly became stricter as an effect of British reform. It was also fascinating that the mortality rate went back up after the war. Forth commented that this was due to the more freedom given to people and the less capacity for strict discipline. It was also caused by the significant number of people who visited South Africa, which accounted for the spread of diseases. What engaged me even more was the idea that the establishment of these concentration camps correlates with imperialism. It seems as if establishing concentration camps was almost like a trend and a prime indication of power. The Spanish first started the concentration policy in several villages in Cuba; the British soon followed as well as the Americans in the Philippines. Clearly, the British established these camps with a “half- hazard nature.” In spite of all these harsh treatments in these camps, there were a few like Samuel Thompson who argued for more sanitary conditions in the camps in South Africa. Forth’s presentation was an eye-opener to the hidden realities of concentration camps. This was definitely an area of study I would love to learn more about.

  3. The most telling theme that came out of Ian Hopper’s “Absent Minded Conquerors: the paradoxes of English militarism and imperialism before the Great War,” was that England in the late 19th century was not black and white. He acknowledges the racism, the militarism, and the imperialism that existed during those days. However, he explains that there were in fact a large population in England that opposed this imperialist policy. The Liberal party in England decried the imperialism practiced in different areas in Africa, and their opinions were not merely marginal voices in society. The Liberal’s consistently won more votes than the opposing party, the Conservative Torries, in a majority of elections in the late 19th century. He cites an example of a British politician who writes a letter to a fellow colleague strongly cautioning him against having the British pubic learn about the true actions of England’s imperialist actions abroad. This letter was perhaps one of the strongest examples because it showed that the Conservative politicians understood that if the public were to hear of what was going on abroad they would become enraged and vote out the imperialist Conservatives. It is this irony that represents English imperialism in the late 19th century according to Hopper. The façade of militarism masked the true sentiments held in England’s public sphere regarding imperialism. Throughout his talk, Hopper, explains that the opinions during this period were truly complex, and that the public was in fact not as militarist as was once thought.

  4. Ian Hopper talked about various aspects of militarism and imperialism in his presentation “Absent Minded Conquerors: the paradoxes of English militarism and imperialism before the Great War.” Foremost, Hopper emphasized that there was a militarist indoctrination spreading- an epidemic of martial feeling. Parents influenced their children to join the war and “conqueror the world.” Especially because British had obtained an empire, they made their people drunk with the glory of pride. Furthermore, Hopper stressed interaction and ideals of the two parties: imperial conservative party (party of the empire) and the liberal party (anti-party of the empire). Although the conservatives did win, the liberals received more votes by the people. This political avenue is exceptionally similar to the Obama and McCain campaign as referenced to by Hopper. One of the most interesting subjects Hopper mentioned was ‘The Hidden Sword.’ He reflected on British’s hypocrisy: they were willing to be violent but they wanted to look peaceful. They wanted to hide this fact from the people. One of the most memorable quotes Hopper cited was Hamberlin justifying British imperialism- there will be inequality and brutality, but in the long run, there will be peace.
    Furthermore, Hopper stressed that British’s reasons for colonialism was that if they did not intervene, their rival would have, so they were the best option. I believe that the rapid spread of colonialism in the world and fight for power during the time did have a significant impact. Another interesting point Hopper made was on imperialist frustrations with the empire- that it wasn’t imperial enough and not killing the native population fast enough. However, the irony is that they did not have self-control to act because liberalist strongly argued that the English should be allowed to wander the globe as they wish but without the government taking action. Nonetheless, had the government promoted active imperialism, they would not have been able to get the popular vote.
    Several other aspects Hopper touched upon were quite intriguing as well. With regards to the army and navy, the navy was significantly more popular to the British because once they stopped forcing service upon the people, there wasn’t much personal threat from the navy but the memory of oppression from the army still remained. The navy was clearly considered the true security and defender of Britain. Also, there were different views of militarism and imperialism amongst the people as songs like the jingo song and pantomime were created.

  5. Jennifer Wellington gave us new insight into museum exhibitions in her “Exhibiting the First World War in Britain and its Empire.” Wellington concentrated on war exhibitions in Australia, Canada, and Britain. Because so many people wanted to connect with the war in some way, imitations of the war at the front line were displayed for visitors. It did not matter if they were forged however because people were more anxious to get a grime impression of the war. However, this portrayal and display of the war was completely different from reality. Foremost, it was interesting to learn that in Canada, artifacts were limited to only images and these popular exhibitions did not present what it was really like in war. Canada hosted daily exhibitions and military drill demonstrations, but this really was another form of assimilation and national propaganda. Interestingly, Canada strived primarily to depict Canada as a significant contributor to war and to establish Canadian identity from photographs. As Wellington mentioned, exhibitions in Australia were very similar to those in Canada. Australia’s official displays were very limited and did not present large artillery pieces. In Britain, on the other hand, ordinary troops and civilians had easy access to coveted artifacts in the front line.
    One of the most compelling facts I learned from Wellington’s presentation was that officers carried Kodak cameras around taking pictures throughout the war. Surprisingly, even without an order of censorship of mutilated corpses, photographs were automatically censored. They were explicit and implicit rules in revealing photographs to the public. The implicit rule was well understood throughout the empire- photographers have to cover up the Canadians before taking pictures. It is so interesting how there was so much tension and security in revealing photographs. Through Wellington’s presentation, I realized how much a picture can be worth. Pictures can create national pride, tension, relations, and meaning. For example, in some pictures displayed to the public, the injured British soldiers were presented as heroic and brave while injured German soldiers were simply seen as victims of war. Wellington’s unique emphasis that many photographs were directed not for civilians but for the soldiers to see a reflection of themselves was also especially engaging.

    Wellington’s analysis of Britain, Canada, and Australia’s different methods of collectivity was particularly thought-provoking. In Britain, numerous community groups displayed artifacts and trophies for patriotic purposes. In comparison, Australia held strict rules of choosing certain pictures.

  6. I attended Jennifer Wellington’s lecture “Exhibiting the First World War in Britain and its Empire”. I really enjoyed this talk, and i learned a lot. I have always known that there are war museums today, that display relics and help to bring alive wars that have happend many years ago. However, I had no idea that there were war museums that displayed wars while they were actually going on.

    I was also surprised to know that WW1 was an “underground” war. I was surprised by how little the soldiers knew about the war they were fighting, and only knew of what was going on directly around them. It was sad that they had to go visit museums just to understand the war that they themselves had fought in.

    The thing that shocked me most was how contrived and manipulative some of these museums and displays were. Many of them were planned out specifically to manipulate the public and create a nationalist sentiment. The displays were often very one-sided, showing, for example, dead german soldiers but no dead British solders. Also the fact that photos were displayed to portray brave solders in battle, but turned out to be completely staged was ridiculous and somewhat amusing.

    Equally as contrived was the use of “official war photographers” and the banning of the personal cameras the soldiers had. This allowed the government to have an immense amount of control over what the public saw, essentially manipulating them into believing the war was something it wasn’t. Ultimately, this lecture was extremely enlightening, and left me shocked at how many of these war museums were all a farce.

  7. When listening to Yale historian, Jennifer Wellington, present “Exhibiting the First World War in Britain and its Empire”, explaining the formation of museums during World War One and Canadian and Australian sentiments on the war, my mind was opened to a new interpretation of the Great War. Last semester, while in London, I took a class on British history since 1850, and I really enjoyed studying World War One and visiting the Imperial War museum because I was given the British perspective on the war. After this presentation, my perspective on the war memorabilia at this museum was changed. I never knew that most of the photos were staged and that many soldiers never even saw the war. I really enjoyed this presentation because it gave a different perspective. I am usually taught the social, economic, and political effects the war had on specific countries, but I never knew about the involvement of Canada or Australia and how the fighters of this war kept “trophies” and staged photos just to gain nationalistic appeal. It always seemed as though Canada and Australia wanted to back away from the empire, but Wellington explains that they merely wanted to be viewed as a high-power offspring of the empire—they felt the need to prove themselves and World War One gave them this opportunity. Through manipulated photos and demonstrations, the people of Canada and Australian were able to gain a sense of nationalistic pride. Wellington gave examples of photographers, namely Ivor Castle, and how they manipulated pictures, adding collage effects to make the audience react in a formulated way and taking pictures of soldiers training and presenting them as if they were in battle. Also, the museums in Australia that are dedicated towards World War One come from a very biased view, sharing the opinion of just the one man who created the museum because he chose the pictures and “trophies” to show and he wrote the captions. This form of propaganda shocked me. The examples that Wellington gave were easy to follow and her explanations were presented in a smooth style.

  8. Jennifer Wellington’s whole speech, Exhibiting the First World War in Britain and its Empire was extremely insightful, but one particular part stood out for me. The photograph taken by Canadian, Ivor Castle, titled “Over the Top” is meant to illustrate soldiers moving towards the British in 1916 and then unfortunately, but heroically, falling to their deaths. This powerful photograph seems like a complete reality until one finds out the context. Troops were actually going “over the top” of this fort, but during a training exercise and not during actual battle. In other words, this is a staged photograph. This type of staged photograph was actually quite popular during World War I, and interestingly, many photographs in museums all over the world are, in fact, staged. However, many people did not care that these photographs were staged because they wanted to have some idea of how the war played out. There are actual photographs of soldiers tragically dying, but during World War I the British government did not want to display these photos for obvious reasons.

  9. I chose to attend Aidan Forth’s lecture on “Britain’s Empire of Camps” because it is a topic I have never explored before. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear “concentration camps” is World War II; it was very interesting to hear about concentration camps from a different perspective. I enjoyed how Forth discussed the ways in which concentration camps became normalized, or at least more acceptable. The picture of Lizzie Van Zyl was especially potent, as the emaciated nine year old stood as an example of the poor conditions within the camps. This picture was reminiscent of pictures I have seen of Holocaust, and it made me think of the similarities and differences between the camps. It was interesting how Forth explained British concentration camps as a symbol of the dark side of modernity. I was moved by the quote that Forth referenced, about the detainee who said he felt like a prisoner as the camps became more restrictive due to British reforms. It is ironic, thinking about this quote and looking back on what concentration camps have come to symbolize. This is definitely a topic I am interested in, and one that I would love to explore in more depth.

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