Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Savage Warfare (Savage Warfare: A Cultural History of British and American Colonial Campaigns 1885-1914)
Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2018-09-30
This project provides a comprehensive study of what was known as ‘savage warfare’ in Africa, South Asia and South-east Asia, during the high-point of Western imperialism between 1857 and 1919. The project goes beyond the state of the art and conventional military histories by examining the cultural assumptions and colonial knowledge that underwrote military practice, as well as the circulation of expertise and technologies within the respective imperial formations. The project offers a significant corrective to conventional assumptions concerning the cultural expertise that underpinned the British Empire, as well the notion of American ‘exceptionalism’ in a global context. The project is aimed at making a substantial contribution beyond academia, and the historical exploration of colonial violence and military practice cuts to the very heart of contemporary debates on the ‘war on terror’ and the continuing legacies of imperialism.
The main scientific objectives of the project are:
• A Cultural History of Colonial Warfare
• Understanding the Production of Colonial Knowledge
• Understanding Representations of Colonial Warfare
• Towards a Comparative and Global History of ‘Savage Warfare’
The training objectives of the project include acquiring expertise in the comparative history of British and American imperialism and colonial warfare, and enhanced competence in the cultural study of colonial warfare by developing an interdisciplinary approach to the topic.
• UK: British Library (London).
• Australia: National Library of Australia (Sydney).
During the final 12 months, training, teaching and knowledge transfer has taken place at the following institutions:
• UK: Queen Mary, University of London, University of Cambridge, University of Exeter, SOAS (London), The British Museum (London).
• France: Paris Nanterre University.
The project results have been disseminated through presentations at 14 academic seminars, workshops and international conferences. The deliverables of the project consist of 10 seminar papers, 4 articles to be published in peer-reviewed journals (Including Past & Present), 2 chapters in edited books, and 2 monographs (published by Hurst/OUP/Penguin India and Yale University Press/Penguin India respectively). So far all but one article has been accepted for publication/published.
The research findings of the project directly challenge the notion of distinct national cultures or doctrines of military practice in the context of colonial or ‘savage’ warfare. British and American colonial and military personnel modelled governance and military practice on the experience of other Western colonial structures throughout the period 1857-1919. In terms of weaponizing colonial knowledge, the Americans in the Philippines very deliberately and clearly drew inspiration from British experience of fighting Muslim ‘fanatics’ in what may be described as a form of spiritual warfare. The use of pig’s blood by American troops in the Philippines, for instance, was directly inspired by rumours of British practice in Singapore, which itself was sustained by previous experiences on the North-West Frontier. Uncovering the genealogies of such myths of the efficacy of culturally specific violence allows for a more critical reassessment of the supposed ‘exceptionalism’ of both British and American military practice. As such, the project results make significant contributions to the state of the art.
One of the characteristics of ‘savage warfare’ is the deliberate mutilation of the bodies of those resisting Western imperialism, whether in colonial India or the American occupation of the Philippines. Apart from the collecting of body-parts, especially skulls, for putatively scientific purposes, the bodies of dead enemies were also routinely desecrated or displayed in order to terrorise the local population and discourage further unrest. This aspect of the research touches upon one of the key issues in contemporary debates concerning legacies of empire and repatriation, which are currently taking place within Europe – most recently in Germany in connection with the collections of skulls taken from the indigenous population of Namibia during the military campaigns of the early twentieth century. By addressing this topic within a global comparative framework, important links and continuities within and between diverse imperial formations are revealed.
On the eve of the centenaries in 2019 of the Amritsar Massacre, the Egyptian revolution, unrest in Mesopotamia, and the beginning of the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland, collectively known as the 1919 ‘crisis of empire’, the research of the project feeds directly into current debates concerning the way the British Empire, and Western imperialism more generally, is commemorated in the 21st century. A comprehensive and nuanced re-assessment of the nature of colonial violence paves the ground for political and public debates that move beyond the simplistic binaries reflected in the concept of the ‘balance-sheet of Empire’.
The Experienced Researcher has expanded his area of expertise in British imperial history to include American imperial and military history, as well as undertaken extensive archival research in Britain, the United States, India, Pakistan and Australia. The ER has completed the final 12 months during the return phase in the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London and transferred back the acquired knowledge and further consolidated his knowledge in the field. The undertaking of this multidisciplinary project, that ties together European and American imperial history in a highly original manner, has significantly enhanced the career opportunities of the ER and allowed him to establish an academic profile as a world-leading historian of imperialism and colonial violence.