Decolonization Resource Collection: Culture

East Timor’s first independence day celebration (2002). Sergey Bermeniev, United Nations. Image from the United Nations.

Primary sources

Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (1946)
This book was written by Nehru during his imprisonment in 1942–46 in Maharashtra, India. In it, Nehru pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of India, its history and its philosophy from the perspective of the indigenous patriot.

Ch’ae Man-shik, “Mister Pang” (c. 1950s)
This short story by a Korean satirical novelist traces the ever-fluctuating identity of one Mister Pang and his experiences under Japanese imperial rule.  This satire confronts notions of identity, class, culture, and liberty in colonial Korea.

Ousame Sembene, God’s Bit of Wood (1960)
Originally written in French, this novel by Senegalese author Ousame Sembene focuses on a 1940s railroad strike in colonial Senegal. Unlike more radical anti-colonial contemporaries, Semebene subtly emphasizes more accommodative and collaborative decolonization efforts between the Senegalese, Malains, and the French.

Lush, David, Last Steps to Uhuru: An Eyewitness Account of Namibia’s Transition to Independence, Windhoek, Namibia: New Namibia Books (1993)
This book is an eyewitness account of the crucial years of transition in Namibia, from 1988-1992. It covers the last political protests and campaigns, the return of exiles, the UN monitored elections, the adoption of a constitution, and the first years of independence.

Rabbani, Mian Ata, I Was the Quaid’s Aide-de-Camp, Karachi: Oxford University Press (1996)
This candid memoir of the author’s months as ADC to the Quaid-i-Azam (Mohammed Ali Jinnah) provides a unique insider’s view into this crucial period in Pakistan’s early history.

Patel, Kamal, Torn From the Roots: A Partition Memoir, New Delhi, India: Women Unlimited (2006)
This book is a first-hand account of Operation Recovery, an operation carried out by the newly constituted governments of India and Pakistan in 1947 to recover abducted women and children and restore them to their families. Kamlaben Patel, right-hand woman of Mridula Sarabhai who oversaw Operation Recovery, conveys the pathos and urgency of those turbulent times in her candid, no-holds-barred memoir of the more than five years that she spent in Pakistan and on the recovery mission; of how women were exchanged like oranges and apples; of the heartbreaking stories she heard and the lives she saved.

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Clements, Christopher, “Between Affect and History: Sovereignty and Ordinary Life at Akwesasne, 1929-1942,” History and Theory 54, 1 (2015).
This essay seeks to recover the ordinary and its analytical and decolonial potential within the extraordinary conditions created by settler colonialism. To do so, it investigates moments when Mohawks at Akwesasne, a community that straddles the US–Canada border, refused to acknowledge settler authority, paying particular attention to the relationship between their refusals and the condition of ordinary life.


al-Zayyat, Latifa, The Open Door, Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.
Latifa al-Zayyat’s acclaimed modern classic novel follows the protagonist Layla through her sexual and political coming of age during Cairo’s anti-British demonstrations in 1946. Her rebellious spirit seeks to free itself from the stifling social codes that dictate a young woman’s life, just as Egypt struggles to shake off the yoke of imperialist rule.

Coetzee, J.M., Dusklands, Johannesburg, South Africa: Raven Press, 1974.
Dusklands consists of two short stories. One follows the gradual descent into insanity of an American working in the US government agency responsible for psychological warfare during the Vietnam War. The other story is about a nineteenth-century South African hunter and slave raider who, upon falling ill in the “unexplored” interior of South Africa, is cared for by an indigenous tribe.

Geeraerts, Jef, Black Ulysses, New York, NY: Viking Press, 1978.
Although this stands on its own, it is the second book in his Gangrene Cycle, a controversial series of four novels which grew out of the author’s experiences in the Belgian army in the Congo. Set in the Belgian Congo in the early 1960s during and just after liberation.

Gordimer, Nadine, A Guest of Honour, New York, NY: Viking Press, 1970.
James Bray, an English colonial administrator who was expelled from a central African nation for siding with its black nationalist leaders, is invited back ten years later to join in the country’s independence celebrations. As he witnesses the factionalism and violence that erupt as revolutionary ideals are subverted by ambition and greed, Bray is once again forced to choose sides, a choice that becomes both his triumph and his undoing.

Kuramoto, Kazuko, Manchurian Legacy: Memoirs of a Japanese Colonist, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1999.
Kazuko Kuramoto was born and raised in Dairen, Manchuria, in 1927, at the peak of Japanese expansionism in Asia. This autobiography is the story of her family’s life in Darien, their survival as a forgotten people during the battle to reclaim Manchuria waged by Russia, China, and Korea, and their subsequent repatriation to a devastated Japan.

Books and readers

Appiah, Kwame Anthony, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Kwame Anthony Appiah explores, in his words, “the possibilities and pitfalls of an African identity in the late twentieth century.” In the process he sheds new light on what it means to be an African-American, on the many preconceptions that have muddled discussions of race, Africa, and Afrocentrism since the end of the nineteenth century, and, in the end, to move beyond the idea of race.

Buckner, Philip and Douglas Francis (eds.), Canada and the British World: Culture, Migration, and Identity, Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.
In a series of essays focusing on the social, cultural, and intellectual aspects of Canadians identity over more than a century, the complex and evolving relationship between Canada and the larger British World is revealed. Examining the transition from the strong belief of nineteenth-century Canadians in the British character of their country to the realities of modern multicultural Canada, this book eschews nostalgia in its endeavor to understand the dynamic and complicated society in which Canadians did and do live.

Dirks, Nicholas B. (ed.), Colonialism and Culture, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
In this book, Dirks studies the ways in which culture and colonialism affect one another, as well as the unique cultures and cultural aspects produced by European colonialism across the world.

Jeppie, Shamil, Language, Identity, Modernity: The Arabic Study Circle of Durham, Human Sciences Research Council, 2007.
A fusion of linguistic, religious and ethnic groups with rich, diverse roots and intersecting histories make up South Africa. However, the literature on most of the smaller groups tends to be thin and uneven and often tends to relegate them to the margins of the country’s major narratives. This innovative study introduces readers to a fascinating world of linguistic, religious and cultural politics in the South African port city of Durban from around 1950, the world of the Arabic Study Circle.

Martinez, Oscar J., Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1994.
Based on firsthand interviews with individuals from all walks of life, this book presents case histories of transnational interaction and transculturation, and addresses the themes of cross-border migration, interdependence, labor, border management, ethnic confrontation, cultural fusion, and social activism. Here migrants and workers, functionaries and activists, and “mixers” who have crossed cultural boundaries recall events in their lives related to life on the border. Their stories show how their lives have been shaped by the borderlands milieu and how they have responded to the situations they have faced.

Sharkey, Heather J., Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and the Culture in the Anglo- Egyptian Sudan, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.
This book examines the history of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1898-1956) and the Republic of Sudan that followed in order to understand how colonialism worked on the ground, affected local cultures, influenced the rise of nationalism, and shaped the postcolonial nation-state. Relying on a rich cache of Sudanese Arabic literary sources, including poetry, essays, and memoirs, as well as on colonial documents and photographs, this perceptive study examines colonialism from the viewpoint of those who lived and worked in its midst.

Ward, Stuart, British Culture and the End of Empire, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2001.
This book is the first major attempt to examine the cultural manifestations of the demise of imperialism as a social and political ideology in post-war Britain. Far from being a matter of indifference or resigned acceptance as is often suggested, the fall of the British Empire came as a profound shock to the British national imagination, and resonated widely in British popular culture.

Ward, Thomas, Decolonizing Indigeneity: New Approaches to Latin American Literature, Lexington Books (Rowman and Littlefield), 2016.
Colonial representations of indigenous people continue on into the independence era and can still be detected in our time. The thesis of this book is that there are various ways to decolonize the representation of Amerindian peoples.

Wintle, Claire and Ruth Craggs (eds.), Cultures of Decolonisation: Transnational Productions and Practices, 1945-1970, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2016.
This book combines studies of visual, literary and material cultures in order to explore the complexities of the ‘end of empire’ as a process. Where other accounts focus on high politics and constitutional reform, this volume reveals the diverse ways in which cultures contributed to wider political, economic and social change. This book demonstrates the transnational character of decolonization, thereby illustrating the value of comparison – between different cultural forms and diverse places – in understanding the nature of this wide-reaching geopolitical change.