Author Archives

Bordering Empire, Crossing Frontiers: Exile, Extraction and Expediters

by Manjeet Baruah (Jawaharlal Nehru University) , Jasmin Daam (Universität Kassel) & James McDougall (Oxford) “Bordering Empire, Crossing Frontiers”, our panel, addressed the issue of empire’s spatialities. Empires have often been conceived of as primarily spatial configurations due to their obvious geographical extent. These three talks, however, questioned the assumption of imperial spaces’ unity. Their overall argument might be subsumed under James McDougall’s observation that “unity in diversity” is not necessarily the most defining feature of empire. His talk on deportation and migration in the French colonial empire demonstrated that in the French case, empire did not simply mean the unification of a huge landmass, although imperial propaganda routinely highlighted this image. To understand the French empire’s spatial structure, McDougall instead focused on citizens’ and subjects’ actual movements, concluding that such mobilities constituted an imperial space which differed significantly from geographical mappings of empire. The patterns of movement and circulation – both voluntary and coerced – of imperial subjects suggested a maritime rather than a land empire. Moreover, the space of empire itself was produced less by the extent of an idealised sovereignty, which was often more theoretical than effective, than by these patterns of movement and of embodied experience. […]

‘Not Soul but Stomach (and Stench)’

by Dr. Sarah Frank, University of the Free State Our panel on ‘Plumbing in the Metropole: Time, Memory and the Senses’ drew the Everyday Empires conference towards its close. The panel delved into the visceral, often unpleasant lived experiences of colonial subjects across two different time-periods and empires. The papers, “A Colony in the Metropole? Daily Experiences of French Colonial Soldiers Interned in Vichy France” by Dr. Sarah Frank (University of the Free State) and “The Filth of the Abode of Felicity: Sewers, Stinks, and the Late Ottoman Empire” by Dr. Michael Talbot (University of Greenwich) drew methodologically on labour history, among other approaches, to explore the textures and odours of imperial subjects’ varied quotidian experiences in locations close to the centre of imperial authority. Labour history in both cases proved generative of deep, strong and nuanced case studies, connecting the local scale to the national to the international. In the Ottoman case, local officials in Istanbul petitioned municipal and central government to build sewers to overcome the threat posed by sewage and stinks, while workers in the area around the naval arsenal went on strike against the risk of cholera. Michael Talbot showed how workers’ everyday experience of foul […]

Reflecting upon Everyday Empires

by Dr. Nathan Cardon and Simon Jackson, conference organisers (University of Birmingham) with Josh Allen (Past & Present)  Over the summer of 2017; Nathan Cardon and Simon Jackson, the co-organisers of the Everyday Empires conference, edited a series of blog posts that reflected upon, responded to and rifted off; the intellectual conversations sparked at the two day event. Highly ambitious in terms of its global sweep and desire to make legible the ways in which the process of imperialism in the modern era wove its way into the material fabric of everyday social existence. Past & Present was very pleased to support the conference, speaking as it does to exciting new ways of approaching questions that have exercised the journal ever since its foundation over sixty years ago. To this end we were delighted when the co-organisers approached us to jointly host-alongside hosting on their own platform-a series of rapid responses by panellists and other attendees to the themes under discussion at the conference. Generally taking the form of panel reports serving to make accessible in concise and engaging form the ongoing work being undertaken by those who spoke, whilst also forming a permanent record of the event, the blogs published as […]

Beyond the home: new histories of domestic servants

by Dr. Sacha Hepburn (IHR, London) and Olivia Robinson (University of Oxford), conference organisers Two weeks ago, the conference we had been planning for the last 10 months finally came into being. When we first drafted the Call for Papers, we wondered just how many people we could get around a table for a day of discussions about servants’ lives ‘beyond the home’. We were not prepared for how popular this call turned out to be: by the deadline in March, we’d received more than 40 abstracts from researchers on 6 continents. By 7th September, as conference delegates took their seats and we began our opening address, the event had grown to a two-day conference of papers and special sessions, including a keynote address from Carolyn Steedman. We now know that the subject is of interest to a wide audience, including those within and outside of the academy. We share here our thoughts on what we’ve learned, and what comes next. Aims & ethos of the conference The conference aims were twofold: to place servants’ lives centre-stage and push beyond the boundaries of existing research on domestic service, and to gauge the appetite for developing a network of researchers to continue working […]

Everyday Empire’s Tools

by Dr. Ruth Morgan (LMU Munich) The combined forces of engineering and imperialism still often conjure images of heroic enterprise on a vast scale and across long time periods, resulting in the enormous transformation of places and peoples for empire’s ends. Collectively, the papers of “Engineering Imperialism, Building Empire”, sought to redress this grand narrative through the exploration of engineering and engineering works as sites for everyday encounter.1 Drawing on David Edgerton’s case for “technology-in-use” and David Arnold’s concept of “everyday technology”, we each focused on a tool or infrastructure that advanced and sustained colonial mobilities within and across European and North American empires in Africa, Asia, and Australia.2 Typically understood as machines of modernity that revolutionised time and space, in our panel, ships, rickshaws, canals, and railroads became spaces for excavating colonial power relations of labour, race and gender. Late nineteenth century Australian settlers’ admiration for the feats of British engineers in “irrigated India” was the focus of my paper. Seeking measures to overcome the agrarian limits of aridity, pastoralists and politicians from the colonies of South Australia and Victoria undertook their own “observatory tours” of British India.3 Although they marvelled at the scale of the waterworks they encountered, […]

Accelerated Mobility: Travel and the Culture of Everyday Empire

by Dr. Stephen Tufnell, University of Oxford The increased mobility of goods, capital, and people was an epochal marker of the nineteenth century. Technological infrastructure sped up all forms of circulation and collapsed time and space dramatically. Accelerated mobility disrupted economic patterns around the globe, brought violent conquest and dispossession to new continents, and environmental cataclysm to those places where the raw materials (coal, copper, gold) that powered it could be found. This dramatic spatial, temporal and imperial transformation of the world — and of social existence for its inhabitants — is perhaps the most expansive version of the analytical category “everyday empire” that emerged in Birmingham this May. These observations, part of the debate at the conference, have continued to resonate for me since I picked up my research tools again this summer. But so has one nagging doubt: does such an expansive version of “everyday empire” risk attenuating, as Nathan Cardon and Simon Jackson wondered in a previous post, our analyses of specific local, regional, transnational, and global processes? In fact, this doubt has been especially productive as I have begun to grapple with the history of the World’s Transportation Commission (WTC), organised in the United States in […]

Everyday Performance/Performing the Everyday: Exhibitions, Leisure and Hospitality

by Shahmima Akhtar (Birmingham), Carmen Gitre (Virginia Tech), Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (Hawai’i, Mānoa)   The panel “Everyday Performance/Performing the Everyday: Exhibitions, Leisure, and Hospitality” assembled three papers that spoke to different types of performances and meaning-making, primarily from below, that operate within, against and alongside empire.  All three papers addressed “spaces of encounter.” These spaces ranged from the public (coffee houses, street theatres, world’s fair exhibits, vaudeville stages) to the intimate (the home), but they engendered ephemeral, affective moments that constituted the everyday transactions and interactions of empire. Performances, repertoires, and rituals within such spaces both shored up and undermined imperial power. They hosted moments of consent, survival, resistance, and nostalgia. They were highly gendered and classed spaces, crucial sites for identity-formation for self, class, and nation.  They were also fragile, fragmented, and contested. Within those spaces of encounter, people of all stripes forged new grammars and symbolic systems—oblique, humorous, deeply personal, or outright unsettling—that point to the creativity of resistance in particular. The focus on the everydayness of these spaces and the way that they shaped the wider everydayness of empire allowed us to identify and explore encounters that could consolidate and/or unsettle empire, but which are frequently overlooked or treated as transparent in the existing historiography of empire. Subjects of empire engaged in exchanges, negotiations, and other kinds of transactions in these everyday spaces of encounter. These spaces were not necessarily sites of anti-imperial contestation. […]

The Afghan queen, the Sheffield steelworker’s daughter, and a more ‘sanguine’ approach to migration history

by David Holland, University of Sheffield I recently presented the research associated with my Past & Present article at my History department’s weekly seminar. Like the article, the paper outlined my investigation of South Asian immigration and settlement in the Sheffield area between the First World War and 1948. During questions, one of the academic staff asked me that, considering the race riots which struck a number of major British ports in 1919-1920, might I be a little too sanguine in my assessment of race relations during the period? My immediate response was that although those destructive events rightly inform my research and analysis, without a ‘sanguine’ approach which focused on marriage and belonging, a previously un-researched settlement would have been much less likely to have come to light. The violent events referred to – so vividly described by Peter Fryer and given substance by Jacqueline Jenkinson’s research and analysis – are indeed, as my questioner suggested, regarded as key indicators of the working-class population’s outlook toward perceived racial difference. Before undertaking my research I also subscribed somewhat to this generally pessimistic view of early encounters between white working-class natives and non-white newcomers. However, my investigation of smaller-scale, but far more frequent, […]