Tag Archives: decolonization

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.

Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization Participants Announced

Participants for the Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization have been chosen.  The seminar, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and hosted by the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, brings together fifteen scholars at the beginning of their careers to Washington, DC for the summer.  The four-week program consists of class meetings, public lectures, informal gatherings, and research in the Washington area on decolonization in the twentieth century.  It begins in mid-July and runs through the first week of August and has become an important stage is many young historians’ career.

This year, the seminar is directed by Wm. Roger Louis (University of Texas at Austin), with leadership help from  John Darwin (Nuffield College, University of Oxford), Philippa Levine (University of Texas at Austin), Jason Parker (Texas A & M University), and Pillarisetti Sudhir (American Historical Association).

The 2011 participants and topics are:

Amanda Behm, Ph.D. candidate, British and imperial history, Yale University (degree expected 2012).
“The Third British Empire: history, theory and reality”

Eveline Buchheim (Ph.D., Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam, 2009), Researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, The Netherlands.
“Passion and Purpose: Intimacies of Decolonization”

Paul Chamberlin (Ph.D., Diplomatic / International History, the Ohio State University, 2009), Assistant Professor of History, University of Kentucky.
“New Imperial Frontiers: The End of the Cold War and the Struggle for the Middle East, 1972-1982”

Jessica Chapman (Ph.D., History, University of California–Santa Barbara, 2006), Assistant Professor of History, Williams College, Massachusetts.
“From Disorder to Dictatorship: The Domestic and International History of Ngo Dinh Diem’s Construction of South Vietnam, 1953-1956”

Mads Clausen (Ph.D., English, U. of Copenhagen, 2010), Assistant Professor of British and American Politics and History, Aarhus University, Denmark.
“Out of the Ashcan of History: Decolonisation, Regional Engagement and Australian Post-Imperial Nationhood, 1956-1972”

Chris Dietrich, Ph.D. candidate, History, University of Texas–Austin (expected 2011).
“In the Wake of Withdrawal: British Decolonization and the International Energy Politics, 1967-1971”

Matthew Heaton (Ph.D., History, University of Texas–Austin, 2008), Assistant Professor of History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“The Decolonization of Psychiatry in the British Empire, 1945-1979”

Jon Howlett, Ph.D. candidate, History, Bristol University, UK (expected 2011).
“‘Decolonising Shanghai:’ the American experience of the takeover of Shanghai and the purge of foreign influence in the city”

Su Lin Lewis (Ph.D., History, University of Cambridge, 2010), Past and Present Post-doctoral Fellow, Institute of Historical Research, UK.
“Cultural International and Civil Society Networks in 1950s Southeast Asia”

Moritz Mihatsch, D.Phil. candidate, History, Nuffield College, University of Oxford (expected 2012).
“Colonialism, Neocolonialism and the United States: How the Sudanese Political Parties dealt with Aid and Technical Assistance”

Lata Parwani, Ph.D. candidate, Modern South Asia History, Tufts University (expected 2012).
“From Homeland to Motherland: Reflecting on the Sindhi Hindu Exodus, 1947-49”

Justin Pearce, D.Phil candidate, Politics, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (expected 2011),
“Decolonisation in Angola and the roots of civil war”

Muhammad Ali Raza, D.Phil candidate, Modern South Asian History, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford (expected 2011).
“Yearning for Freedom and Revolution: Indian Radicals in Moscow during the Interwar Period”

Anne-Isabelle Richard (Ph.D., History, Gonville and Caius College, Univeristy of Cambridge, 2010), Max Weber Fellow, European University Institute.
“How Europe needed Africa: The influence of decolonization in Asia on Eurafrican projects in France, 1945-1954”

Matthew Stanard (Ph.D., Modern European History, Indiana University, 2006), Assistant Professor of History, Berry College, Georgia.
“Belgium’s pro-empire propaganda and official U.S. views of decolonization in the Belgian Congo, 1955-1961”

Caroline Elkins Reflects on the Mau Mau and the British Empire

Historian Caroline Elkins gives the next Washington History Seminar at the Wilson Center on Monday, September 27, discussing “Reflections on the Mau Mau and the End of Empire.” Caroline Elkins is Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  Her first book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, won the Pulitzer Prize.  She is presently completing a manuscript on the British Empire and counterinsurgency after World War II.

In recent years, the topic of the Mau Mau Emergency in Kenya has engendered public and scholarly debate.  Professor Elkins’s Imperial Reckoning has been the center of much of this dialogue and controversy.  Intending to revise the history of Mau Mau’s civilian war, Imperial Reckoning used a range of sources to interrogate the nature of late colonial rule in Kenya.  Five years after the book’s publication, however, the fields of Kenyan and imperial histories have further evolved.  The significance of Imperial Reckoning has also changed, as have the author’s thoughts on its construction and style.

Click here to watch a video of the seminar.

The seminar is sponsored jointly by the National History Center and the Wilson Center. Wm. Roger Louis and Christian Ostermann are the co-directors. The seminar meets weekly during the academic year, January to May and September to December. Click here for the schedule, speakers, topics, and dates as well as videos and podcasts.  The support given to the seminar by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations is gratefully acknowledged.