John Darwin speaks on Decolonization as a History of Failure

On Wednesday, July 13 at 4:00 pm, distinguished British historian, John Darwin of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford, will lecture at the National History Center’s Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization. The lecture, entitled, “Decolonization– a History of Failure?”  is free and open to the public and is being held at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, in the Jefferson Room, LJ-119.  There will be a light reception following the lecture and Q&A session.

Decolonization is widely thought of as one of the foundational processes of the modern world. An old imperial order was swept away: a new ‘world of nations’ emerged to replace it. The inviolable nature of national sovereignty, the right to self-determination and a portfolio of human rights acquired normative status as the basis of international law and practice. With all the wisdom of hindsight, statesmen, politicians and policymakers assured us in their memoirs that such was the vision that guided their actions through the ‘end of empire’. But how much of all this should we really believe? Were the statesmen really so wise and far-seeing or merely dab hands in self-interest and expediency? Is the modern world really a world of nations or (largely) the detritus of broken-down empires? Can the imprint of empire be erased from our culture(s): is it wise to try? Is a world of nations an attainable or even a desirable object? What alternative is there? There’s some room for debate.


John Darwin teaches Imperial and Global history at Oxford where he is a Fellow of Nuffield College and is the Beit University Lecturer in the History of the British Commonwealth. His recent publications include After Tamerlane: the Global History of Empire (Penguin, 2007) which won the Wolfson Prize in History in 2008 (Chinese and German translations have been published, Russian and Japanese are scheduled); and The Empire Project: the Rise and Fall of the British World System 1830-1970 (Cambridge University Press, 2010) which won the triennial Trevor Reese prize for Commonwealth and Imperial history.

The lecture is sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center, in conjunction with the National History Center’s Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization, a four-week seminar, held at the Library of Congress.  It brings together international scholars to examine various dimensions of decolonization, primarily 20th-century transitions from colonies to nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The seminar is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is cosponsored also by the American Historical Association and the Kluge Center.

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