Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro speak to Retrospect about their recent appointments to the Young Academy of Europe

By Alfie Garland and Daniel Sharp

Two members of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology have recently been given new appointments to the Young Academy of Europe. Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro are, respectively, Reader in Archaeology and Reader in Greek History at the School, and have been appointed to the Executive Board of the Academy and as a Fellow, respectively. Retrospect sat down with them in Dr Fernández-Götz’s office to talk about their impressive achievement.

We first asked them to explain what the Young Academy is for those who do not know. We were told, with a smile, that ‘young’ in this case meant under 50. Essentially, the Academy is a body which brings together experts to coordinate on policymaking throughout Europe. It is actually an umbrella organisation under which are many national Academies, such as the Scottish division which Dr Canevaro is already a member of. The Academy gives Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Canevaro access to politicians who researchers would not normally have contact with. Ultimately, the Academy offers them an opportunity to contribute to political debates and decision making indirectly by feeding politicians with different perspectives. Dr Canevaro mentioned, with pride, his discussions with the Scottish Parliament, where he, as part of the Young Academy of Scotland, helped dissuade them from a policy of giving postgraduate grants only to STEM students, arguing that this, far from widening student participation, undermines it by shutting out those who think the Humanities are the best way forward for them.

The Young Academy has its roots in the Academia Europaea. The new institution responded to a need for fresher perspectives on current pressing issues. Its constitution has proven to be incredibly beneficial to academic research, as both institutions produce different research.

Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Mirko Canevaro brought attention to the rankings to which all academics are subjected to. As positions are highly contested, the Academy provides academics with opportunities to bid for honours and awards that can serve academics to gain a higher reputation within their fields of study. The appointment of Dr Fernández-Götz and Dr Canevaro to the Young Academy is a fantastic recognition for the pair’s brilliant research. Furthermore, with such nomination comes benefits for the whole School of History, Classics and Archaeology. We learned through them that thanks to their nomination, academic staff in the HCA will be able to apply for grants accounting to two million euros.

Interestingly, the Young Academy is largely formed by academic scientists rather than specialists from the Humanities. Retrospect asked what Humanities brought to the table in a room filled with scientists. Dr Fernández-Götz argued that the skills inculcated by studies in this branch of academia were vital. Self-reflection on contexts and processes as well as a critical voice and critical thinking – tools that are absolutely essential in any discussion on public policy or academic research. Furthermore, he highlighted an important connotation in the word ‘humanities’. What does it mean to be human or to be humane? Is there a difference? If so, what is it? Can we collectivise humans? And humane characteristics? What are the implications of our interpretation of ‘humanity’ when considering an individual’s role within a community? Dr Fernández-Götz quoted Winston Churchill on how this relates specifically to history: ‘The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’

On this subject, both academics stated that many of the hard sciences and the humanities are not too different in terms of their perspective. They actually stated that there is a greater difference between humanities, social sciences, and economics than between humanities and hard sciences. Humanities and hard sciences have a penchant for blue-sky research, whereas social sciences and economics mostly address quantifiable research and knowledge. By way of illustration, they mentioned Peter Higgs, professor in Physics and one of Edinburgh University’s most recent Nobel prize winners, who said that if he had tried to conduct that style of research today, he would have been fired.

Finally, Dr Canevaro and Dr Fernández-Götz lamented the dependence of academic research on finances. Dr Canevaro said that academics are terrified by a mythically monstrous taxpayer who, according to those who worry more about funding than the benefits of research, is such a penny-pincher that he or she cannot be prodded at all into paying any money for anything. Thankfully, our chat did not finish on this sour note, but rather with inspirational words from Dr Fernández-Götz on the centrality of curiosity and passion over the mundane fixation on money that has so afflicted academia lately.

The Role of Colonial Legacies in the 2017 Zimbabwe Crisis

zimbabweBy Carissa Chew

This article, which is informed by two public lectures about the Zimbabwean political crisis that were held at the University of Edinburgh in the week beginning 20 November, discusses the role of colonial legacies in recent Zimbabwean political affairs. Firstly, this article provides a summary of the Zimbabwean crisis for the reader who is not familiar with the timeline of events. Secondly, it offers a historical explanation for the political crisis’ unusual features, with particular reference to Dr George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane’s recent research on the historical continuities in Zimbabwean law and politics in the period 1950 to 2008. The peculiarities in these political developments upon which this article will focus include: the military ‘not coup’; the overall lack of violence; the continued reverence of Robert Mugabe despite his failings; and the air of legality given to the entire episode. This article intends to demonstrate that these recent events reflect broader trends in Zimbabwean history, and thus in order to comprehend the unusual way that the events of November 2017 have unfolded, it is essential to recognise that they have historical roots in the colonial era.

As the crisis was unfolding, two roundtable discussions regarding the developments in Zimbabwean politics took place at the University of Edinburgh. Prior to Mugabe’s resignation, the Edinburgh Political Union hosted ‘Zimbabwe: Explaining the Crisis’ on Monday 20 November; and following his resignation, the Centre of African Studies hosted ‘Law, Politics and Activism in Zimbabwe’ on Wednesday 22 November. Both events welcomed a panel of experts to shed light on the unfolding crisis. The first panel consisted of three members of the University of Edinburgh: Dr Sarah Dorman, who is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and author of Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism (2016); Bakani Dube who is Zimbabwean student at the University; and Dr Leila Sinclair-Bright who is a Career Development Fellow at the School of Social Anthropology. Sara Dorman also appeared on the second panel, alongside Dr George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane and Dr Alex Magaisa. Karekwaivanane is from the University of Edinburgh Centre of African Studies, and recently launched his book The Struggle over state power in Zimbabwe: law and politics since 1950 (2017). Magaisa is a Zimbabwean lawyer from Kent Law School who played a key role in the drafting of the Constitution of Zimbabwe from 2011 to 2012 and is the author of ‘Saturday Big Read’, a blog about Zimbabwean law and politics.

At these two events, the main topics of discussion were Grace Mugabe, the nature of the military ‘coup’, Robert Mugabe’s resignation, and the national and international responses to the crisis. The panellists dedicated a significant proportion of their discussion, particularly in response to questions from the audience, to speculating about the future of Zimbabwean politics. This article, however, will maintain a historical focus: building upon some of the key points that the panellists made concerning the historical roots of the events, it will explore the colonial legacies in Zimbabwe as an analytical framework through which the political developments witnessed in November 2017 can be understood. The panellists agreed that the crisis must be recognised as a continuation of previous historical developments in the country. As Karekwaivanane poignantly remarked, this is ‘not the dawn of a new era, but the dawn of a new error’ in Zimbabwean history.


During November 2017, the world witnessed Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule of Zimbabwe come to a sudden and chaotic end. Although the end of 93-year-old President Mugabe’s leadership of the ruling party ZANU-PF had become increasingly anticipated due to his old age, in his long career Mugabe had refused to ever name a successor and hence the question of who would succeed him as president has been the cause of great anxiety in twenty-first century Zimbabwean politics. The recent political crisis was triggered by Mugabe’s decision to dismiss Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 6 November. This was extremely controversial because it was interpreted as an attempt to aid the presidential ambitions of Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace Mugabe, a divisive political figure who has been accused of trying to borrow her husband’s powers. Mugabe attempted to justify his decision by condemning Mnangagwa as ‘deceitful’ and ‘disloyal’. However, in recent years, it had become increasingly apparent that Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s most likely successor, and thus his dismissal unsurprisingly fuelled speculation that the President was in fact attempting to facilitate his wife’s rise to power.

The removal of Mnangagwa aggravated the military elite in particular, who were already disgruntled by Mugabe’s purging of former allies in the party. The Zimbabwean military have had a long-standing belief that Zimbabwe’s ‘revolution’ will be undermined if the country is not headed by somebody who was involved in the liberation struggle. Moreover, anxieties over Grace’s influence were heightened in October when it was announced that the ZANU-PF constitution would be changed to ensure that one of the country’s two vice presidents would be female. On 13 November, at a press conference in Harare, army chief Constantino Chiwenga stated that ‘the current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with liberation backgrounds must stop forthwith’ and warned that ‘when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in’. The following day, on 14 November, military tanks were seen on the outskirts of the capital and gunshots were heard outside Mugabe’s residence that night. In a televised statement, Major General Sibusiso Moyo announced that the military were ‘only targeting criminals around [Mugabe]’, and stated: ‘We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover’. However, by the early hours of 15 November military vehicles had taken control of the streets of Harare, and were controlling access to the Supreme Court, parliament and the ruling party headquarters. In a phone call to the South African president Jacob Zuma, Mugabe revealed that he was under house arrest but was safe and unharmed.

Army generals urged Mugabe to resign, but on 16 November it was reported that he had refused. On 17 November he made a public appearance at a university graduation ceremony as if everything was normal, and negotiations continued. Veterans of the Zimbabwean liberation war called for anti-Mugabe street protests to occur the following day, and eight out of ten of the regional branches of ZANU-PF called for his resignation. 18 November witnessed thousands of peaceful protesters taking to the streets to demand Mugabe’s resignation. On 19 November, Mugabe was issued an ultimatum: he must resign as president by noon on Monday 20 November or face impeachment. Later that day, Zimbabweans expectantly watched a live televised address by the President in which they assumed he was to announce his resignation, but the public were surprised and disappointed to hear Mugabe state that he would preside over the ZANU-PF December congress.

The deadline for Mugabe’s resignation passed, and ZANU-PF began to prepare for the impeachment process. On 21 November, however, the impeachment preparations came to a sudden halt after a speaker of parliament read out Mugabe’s letter of resignation. The letter emphasised that the decision to stand down was voluntary and that the handover of power was smooth and peaceful. ZANU-PF were quick to appoint Mnangagwa as the next president, and his inauguration ceremony was held at the National Sport Stadium in Harare on 24 November.


Many leading academics have deemed that the Zimbabwean military takeover was an ‘unconstitutional coup’ by definition. One of the main questions that arises concerning the political crisis, therefore, is why a concerted effort was made to give the event an air of legality. Why did the military make the effort to announce their intervention and deny that it was a ‘coup’? As Dr George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane explained on 22 November, this peculiarity can be better understood by looking at the continued importance of legality and constitutionalism in Zimbabwean history. The painstaking effort taken to ‘dress the whole saga in legality’ belongs to a broader trend. In his book, The Struggle over state power in Zimbabwe, Karekwaivanane recognises that ‘the law has been a central means by which power has been instrumentalised in Zimbabwean history’.

In the 1890s, Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company first demarcated the territory of South Zambezi, which became known as Rhodesia in 1895. The territory was administered as a protectorate until it was annexed by the British in 1923, becoming Southern Rhodesia. This self-governing British colony lasted for 42 years, and as was the case in other African colonies, the colonial regime was in many ways discriminatory and oppressive toward the indigenous population. One key example, as an article by R. Hill and Y. Katarere explains, is the colonial land policies which alienated native people from much of the land, effectively beginning a cycle of ‘resettlement, resource exploitation and degradation, ultimately leading to livelihood insecurity and resource-based conflict’ in Rhodesia. Karekwaivanane explains that law was one of the key instruments by which the colonial state effected land dispossession, undercut agrarian livelihoods, and compelled Africans into wage labour – thus creating a cheap source of African labour for the plantations, mines and industries. Legislation, such as pass laws, vagrancy laws, and the Masters and Servants Act ‘enabled employees to establish stringent disciplinary regimes in the workplace and compel Africans to work despite the sub-economic wages and the poor living and working conditions’.

Karekwaivanane argues that in the period 1950 to 1980, law was used in the response to the rise of African nationalism, of which there are numerous examples: the Subversive Activities Act (1950); the Public Order Act (1955); the Unlawful Organisations Act (1959), the Preventative Detention Act (1959); the Law and Order Maintenance Act (1960), which was amended 12 times by 1979; and the Emergency Powers Act (1960), which was amended 32 times by 1979. These laws and their amendments criminalised all forms of political dissent in the colonial era, and the increasingly repressive legislation was justified by colonial tropes about Africans. Karekwaivanane argues that an intimate relationship has existed between law and violence in Zimbabwe: studies of corporal punishment reveal that ideas about racial difference were embedded in colonial legal systems. Law underwrote some of the most extreme cases of violence toward the end of colonial rule, often through states of emergency that sanctioned the use of brutal methods of quelling African political opposition. The colonial authorities also employed the law in subtler ways – and this has been a topic of discussion within the historiography since the 1990s. For example, the courts can be understood as sites of performances, and the law has been employed discursively. Karekwaivanane concludes that ‘the operation of law in colonial Africa was often simultaneously repressive and productive, coercive and constitutive’.

The British maintained a policy of ‘no independence before majority rule’, but by the 1960s they were struggling to suppress the independence movement from within the white-dominated Cabinet of Rhodesia known as the Rhodesian Front. In 1965, the Rhodesian Front issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), which declared that the territory was an independent sovereign state named Rhodesia. The UDI marked the beginning of the period of white minority rule in Zimbabwe, which lasted for 14 years. However, the United Kingdom deemed the UDI illegal and introduced mandatory trade embargos in 1966. The United Nations likewise condemned the independence declaration, stating that it had been ‘made by a racist minority’, and so also imposed economic sanctions upon the country in 1968.

White minority rule was not only a point of contention on the international stage, however. Zimbabweans were frustrated by their continued subjugation, and so in July 1964, a civil war broke out between Ian Smith’s white minority government, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). This is known as the Rhodesian Bush War or Zimbabwean War of Liberation, and was not settled until 1979. Karekwaivanane identifies that the assumption of power by the Rhodesian Front led to a decisive shift in the government’s use of law away from legitimation toward coercion: ‘The period witnessed the build up of a substantial legal armoury which was used to ruthlessly suppress African political dissent’.

Although a military victory was never achieved, the prolonged civil war was finally settled when the Lancaster House Agreement was signed in December 1979. New elections were held under the British Commonwealth, and Robert Mugabe, as head of ZANU, became the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe.

Contrary to the expectations of newly independent Zimbabweans, however, rule under Mugabe was not so different to rule under the British colonial government or the white minority Cabinet. Ugandan author Mahmood Mamdani also highlights that ‘the social realities of the newly independent state remained embedded in an earlier historical period’. Approximately six thousand white farmers owned 15.5 million hectares of prime land, while 4.5 million African farmers owned only 16.4 million hectares of land. Moreover, the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 had reserved 20% of the seats in the House of Assembly for the whites, who made up only 3% of the country’s population. Furthermore, the brutal repression of political opposition continued. In the early years of independence, ZAPU had retained its popularity in the south west of the country. In 1985 Mugabe attempted to strengthen ZANU rule by sending the Fifth Brigade to purge the dissidents in Matabeleland, where ZAPU retained much support. Between 20,000 and 50,000 people were slaughtered, many tortured. This mass slaughter was followed by the signing of the Unity Accord, which saw the joining of ZANU and ZAPU to form the Zimbabwean African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in 1987. Blanket amnesty was granted to the perpetrators of the violence, and Mugabe was elevated as the leader of ZANU-PF. Mugabe even tried to block the lawsuit for the victims of 1985.

At the conference on Monday 20 November, an audience member asked the question: ‘What has been the biggest hindrance for growth in Zimbabwe?’ Zimbabwean student Bakani Dube replied, stating that although the government would blame economic sanctions and Western imperialism, these issues have been used as scapegoats to mask the real problem: political corruption. For example, in 1999 Mugabe revised the Lancaster House agreement, which enabled him to stay in power for two more terms and ensured immunity from prosecution for political and military leaders accused of committing crimes in office. Furthermore, the 2000 elections were fixed by the government, and laws were passed that granted local agencies powers to defeat opponents of land reform. Mamdani explains: ‘Denouncing his adversaries in the trade unions and NGOs as servants of the old white ruling class, Mugabe authorised the militias and state security agencies to hand down opposition, as repression and reform went hand in hand’.

Karekweivane argues that Mugabe’s government embraced many of the legal practices of the settler state, and justifies this statement by identifying a range of examples: Broadcasting Services Act (2001); The Political Parties (Financing) Act 2001; The Public Order and Security Act (2002); Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002); Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (2004); Constitutional Amendment No.17 (2005); Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act Amendment (2006); and Interception of Communication Act (2007). These laws parallel the aforementioned repressive laws introduced by the colonial regime. In fact, the Public Order Act (2002) was worse than the corresponding colonial law. Under Mugabe, therefore, governmental powers became increasingly repressive, and the law continued to be used to legitimise government actions and eliminate political dissent.

Nevertheless, Mugabe has remained highly respected and popular among Zimbabweans because of his major role in the independence movement. In a BBC article about growing up in Zimbabwe, Petina Gappah explains that the Independence War was recast as a heroic, historically inevitable struggle between the black socialist majority and the white minority capitalism. And thus even though she once saw Mugabe allow his bodyguards to rough up one of her friends, she continued to feel ‘deep and conflicted respect’ for the President. Due to the cultural importance of Mugabe’s role in the independence struggle, Sarah Dorman explained on 20 November, it was strategically necessary that Mugabe was removed from office by ‘legal’ means. To be seen disrespecting Mugabe would have been highly controversial and unpopular among the electorate, particularly the older generations. Hence the non-violent nature of the military ‘not-coup’, and the importance of dressing up the transfer of power as a smooth and peaceful one.

On 22 November, therefore, Alex Magaisa reinstated the importance of ‘following the veneer of law’ in Zimbabwean politics. The ‘coup’ was a performance of reality, and this is seen in particular in the fact that Mugabe, as chancellor of all state universities, was allowed to officiate a graduation ceremony despite being under house arrest – this was a performance of peace and normality. Throughout Mugabe’s presidency, and during the November crisis also, we see a continued use of the colonial regime’s rule by law: these successive governments have all attempted to mask corruption and repression with an air of legality. Karakweivanane even noted the irony in the fact that Mugabe, who had frequently used the law in this way for his own ends, had become the victim to ZANU-PF’s own attempt to legitimise the unlawful removal of their leader. The façade of legality seen in the events of November 2017 therefore reflects, as Karekwaivanane concluded, a ‘historical set of practices’. Furthermore, Bakani Dube and Leila Sinclair-Bright stressed that an obsession with constitutionalism and legality was part of Zimbabwean culture, and also pointed out that the peaceful nature of the protests can be explained by the fact that Zimbabweans did not want a repeat of the violence witnessed in 2008. Finally, the November crisis epitomises the tension between colonial legacies and anti-colonial feeling in Zimbabwe: despite the similarities between Mugabe’s government and colonial rule, Mugabe continues to be revered in Zimbabwean society for his role in the independence movement, and was thus dismissed ‘legally’ and respectfully.


BBC News, ‘Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe resigns, ending 37-year rule’, 21 November 2017, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-42071488; accessed 05 December 2017.

Dzirute, Macdonald, ‘Mugabe set to appoint woman deputy, all eyes on wife’, 04 November 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-zimbabwe-mugabe/mugabe-set-to-appoint-woman-deputy-all-eyes-on-wife-idUSKBN1D40M3; accessed 05 December 2017.

Gappah, Petina, ‘Mugabe and Me: A personal history of growing up in Zimbabwe’, BBC 25 November 2017; accessed 26 November 2017.

Hill, R. and Katarere, Y., ‘Colonialism and Inequity in Zimbabwe’ in Matthew, R., Halle, M. and Switzer, J. (eds.) Conserving the Peace: Livelihoods and Security (2002), pp.247-272.

Karekwaivanane, George Hamandishe, The Struggle over state power in Zimbabwe: law and politics since 1950 (Cambridge, 2017).

Mail & Guardian, ‘Timeline: How Zimbabwe’s ‘coup’ unfolded’, 21 November 2017, mg.co.za/article/2017-11-21-timeline-how-zimbabwes-coup-unfolded; accessed 05 December 2017.

Magaisa, Alex, ‘Saturday Big Read: The Downfall of Robert Mugabe’, 30 December 2017, https://www.bigsr.co.uk/single-post/2017/12/30/Big-Saturday-Read-The-downfall-of-Robert-Mugabe; accessed 11 January 2018.

Mamdani, Mahmood, ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’, 4 December 2017, https://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/mahmood-mamdani/lessons-of-zimbabwe; accessed 5 December 2017.


Virinder Kalra’s ‘Pondering on the Revolutionary Subject: From Ghadar to Kirti’

ghadarBy Carissa Chew

Professor Virinder S. Kalra’s latest research paper, entitled ‘Poetic Politics from Ghadar to the Indian Workers Association’, discusses the enduring legacies of the Ghadar Party, a short-lived Indian nationalist movement which was centred in California during the First World War. Following economic hardship, which was heightened in 1906 by the Land Alienation Act, many Sikh farmers from East Punjab migrated to California. There, many of these Punjabi-Sikhs, as well as some men from other regions and religions, united in their revolutionary ambitions to overthrow the British Raj, forming the Ghadar Party c.1914. The party produced a weekly newspaper called The Ghadar, which included a range of prose as well as poetry that was intended to incite rebellion in India. The Ghadar produced several thousand copies each week, and these were circulated around India, as well as among the expatriate communities living in San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. In 1917, more than 60 members of the Ghadar movement attempted to return to India with smuggled weapons, where they intended to begin an uprising.

    Their movements aroused suspicion, however, and the majority of the Ghadarites were arrested upon their arrival. Only a few members of the Ghadar rebellion reached the Punjab, where their impact was limited. The British authorities effectively eradicated the Ghadar and other members of Indian nationalist opposition during the First World War, using the Defence of India Act of 1915 to issue 64 life sentences and 46 executions in Bengal and Punjab alone. The Ghadar Party was banned, and even the use of the word ‘Ghadar’ was prohibited under the British Raj thereafter. Thus the Ghadar revolution reached its end before 1918. Although short-lived, its influence has permeated the twentieth century and continued into the twenty first, with numerous left-wing (and some right-wing) organisations having openly identified with, or been notably influenced by, the Ghadar Party. Examples include the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association of India, the Kirti Kisan Party, and the Communist Party of India.

    On Monday 29 January 2018, the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History welcomed Virinder S. Kalra from the University of Warwick’s Department of Sociology to discuss his latest research in a seminar titled ‘Pondering on the Revolutionary Subject: From Ghadar to Kirti’. This title was dropped, however, as Kalra chose to concentrate on the Ghadar Party with some reference to the Indian Workers Association (IWA) in Britain, but with little mention of the Kirti Kisan. Although the Ghadar Party has already received significant attention from scholars, predominantly in regard to the Party’s organisation and global connections, as well as its role as an inspiration for subsequent nationalist rebellions and its post-independence legacy, Kalra offers a new angle through which to view the Ghadar Party and its enduring influence. Kalra began the seminar by asserting his intention to illuminate the connection between the Ghadar Party and the IWA by looking at the Ghadar as ‘the archetype for a certain type of consciousness and subject that emerges out of a migratory experience’. It is with particular attention to the Ghadar and IWA use of poetry as a mode of articulation and expression that Kalra aims to explore, more broadly, the relationship between the diasporic consciousness and the reason why subjects become political.

    As already mentioned, the Ghadar movement has had a profound influence on twenty- and twenty-first century politics in South Asia. Kalra looks beyond the subcontinent, however, to the diaspora in Great Britain. Kalra introduced the Indian Workers Association to his seminar audience by reading the opening excerpt to ‘Poetic Politics’, in which he describes the February 2016 protests in Birmingham and London. Sparked by the suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, Indians gathered to protest the actions of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India. At these protests – and also at the Dalit-group protests that took place in London on Saturday 20 January 2018 in response to the recent tension in Maharashtra, Kalra noted – protesters were seen holding banners that emphasised the IWA’s establishment in 1938. Founded in Coventry as an anti-colonial organisation, the IWA had directly identified its origins with the Ghadar. In fact, they had wanted to call themselves the ‘Ghadar Party of Britain’. Kalra argues, therefore, that recent IWA activity and the sustained link to their historical roots reveals ‘the continuing transnational connections that the Indian diaspora maintains and sustains’. It is this parallel between the Ghadar and IWA that Kalra sets out to explore in ‘Poetic Politics’, through the frameworks of diasporic consciousness, poetic articulation, and biography.

    The anonymous poems that were published in The Ghadar have attracted significant attention from scholars. Ghadar poetry is important because it was the primary means through which the majority of illiterate, migrant workers were mobilised. Poetry is the form that resistive or expressive literature had taken in the region for thousands of years. According to Kalra, Ghadar poetry also reveals much about the status of migrants, making it apparent that the Ghadar struggle was distinctly diasporic. The poetry does not explore settled notions of revolution, region or religion, but reveals Ghadar identity as a transformational process from slavery to freedom, not dissimilar to the ideas articulated in Franz Fanon’s The Wretched Earth. The experience of racism in California plays into the Ghadar’s sense of being colonised in India, and this, Kalra proposes, is reflected in Ghadarite poetry. In ‘Poetic Politics’, Kalra explores the legacy of this poetry more fully through a discussion of its similarities with the poetry of the IWA.

    Another reason why Ghadar poetry has received significant commentary, Kalra elucidated, is because it provides interesting primary evidence in regard to the debate surrounding the secular nature of the Ghadar movement. What type of revolutionary consciousness were the Ghadar articulating: secular or Sikh? Drawing upon numerous examples, Kalra insisted in line with the academic consensus, that this poetry reveals the secular nature of this anti-colonial movement. Although the majority of members of the Ghadar Party were Sikh men, their poetry referenced both Hinduism and Islam, for example one poem reads: ‘Our profession is to launch revolution/ That is our namaz, this is our sandhya’. Namaz is Muslim prayer, whilst sandhyavandanam is a religious ritual performed by Hindus. In another example, from September 1914, the Ghadar criticise the religious elite for collaborating with the British: ‘They [collaborators] have all the good people from temples and mosques,/ these black hearts have even sold Gurdwaras/ . . . Save yourself from these sinners somehow, O’lions, take this opportunity to rebel together’. Moreover, another poem from January 1914 quite clearly states there is no need for religious figures: ‘We do not need Pandits or Kazis, we do not want our ship to sink’. Kalra ultimately challenges Parmbir Gill’s suggestion that this poetry fails to reveal any anti-religious sentiment. In fact, Kalra acknowledges that religious symbols are prevalent but argues that they are converted into symbols directed toward the end of colonial tyranny. Thus, although religious symbols are evoked in an attempt to mobilise the masses, these symbols are attached to no particular group – and when they are, it is in a negative way such as criticising the religious elite. The Ghadar message is that Indians must overcome their religious divisions in order to defeat the British.

    The importance of Ghadar poetry, Kalra argues, is further apparent through a consideration of the biography of Udham Singh, a figure who connects California, India and Britain. Singh was born in British colonial Punjab, served in the British Army in Mesopotamia and East Africa and travelled to the United States. Whilst working in California, he was exposed to the Ghadar influence. After seven years in the United States, he travelled to Europe and the Mediterranean. In 1927 he returned to India, where he was arrested and fined for being in possession of the prohibited paper, Ghadr-di-Gunj (albeit in addition to unlicensed weapons and obscene postcards). In 1940 he travelled to Britain, where he was arrested and executed for shooting Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who had been the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab at the time of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1913. Using the example of Singh’s story, Kalra explained that poetry, as a form of expression, was confusing to the colonial authorities. In 1940, a British official remarked concerning Singh that Ghadar revolutionaries were ‘half-educated’, and that they aspired to ‘poetical compositions in which truth is subordinate to the flow of language’. However, although the British derided the poetic form and mocked the intelligence of the Ghadarites, it is also clear that the British authorities felt deeply threatened by the circulation of this Ghadar poetry. This paranoia is evident in the fact that Singh was arrested for being in possession of Ghadarite literature. The British in fact dedicated an immense amount of time, energy and resources to eradicating the Ghadar, which was in perspective, a relatively minor organisation that posed little real threat to the British Raj. This is perhaps testament to the revolutionary potential of the poetic form in South Asian history.

    At the end of this seminar, Kalra concluded that the revolutionary political consciousness articulated in Ghadar poetry was masculinist, martial and secular. Kalra stressed the enduring legacy of the Ghadar, but also noted that given its exclusionary nature on the basis of gender and caste, it is perhaps questionable that Dalit organisations continue to take inspiration from it. The discussion that followed, led by Dr. Talat Ahmed, raised wider questions concerning Kalra’s research. How do we define ‘revolutionary consciousness’? What was the Ghadar relationship with Communism? Why were the poems anonymous? What was the role of youthfulness in Ghadar revolutionary ideology? How does the wider international context play into the Ghadar movement? Were the Ghadar anti-religious or non-religious?

    In summary, Kalra’s recent research into the Ghadar movement and its impact on the IWA offers an innovative, interdisciplinary contribution to the field of diaspora studies. By bringing together sociological concepts, historical analysis, and literary sources in his exploration of the interconnections between the diasporic consciousness of the Ghadar and IWA, Kalra broadens the scope for future comparative and interdisciplinary scholarship.



Bates, Crispin, Subalterns and Raj: South Asia since 1600 (London, 2007)

Kalra, Virinder, ‘Poetic Politics From Ghadar to the Indian Workers Association’, in Hegder, R.S. and Sahoo, A.K, (eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora, (Oxford, 2017)

Shah, Murtaza Ali, ‘Dalits march in London protesting atrocities in India’, Geo News, https://www.geo.tv/latest/177975-dalits-march-in-london-against-atrocities-in-india ; accessed 30 January 2018.


Gombrich’s A Little History of the World

By Daniel Sharp

Ernst Gombrich (1909-2001) was best known as an influential art historian, but in 1936 his first book published was an overview of world history for children and adolescents from prehistoric times to the First World War. Gombrich was Viennese by origin but lived in Britain for most of his life having fled the Nazis, and his book was first published in German (though it was banned by the Nazis for being ‘too pacifist’). Throughout his life, it was translated into many different languages and he updated it many times; finally, in the 1990s, he decided to translate the book into English himself, and revised and updated it. Unfortunately, Gombrich died before completing this task, but the translation was finished by his assistant, Caroline Mustill, and the book was finally published for the first time in English in 2005.

So much for the book’s complex publishing history- what of the work itself? As I read it over the Christmas holiday period I was taken with the sheer audacity of the book. Explaining thousands of years of world history and dealing with complex subjects such as the birth of Islam and the writing techniques of ancient Sumerians to adults- never mind children- is a difficult undertaking. Astonishingly, Gombrich pulled it off with aplomb, and the book can be read by people of all ages who will undoubtedly find it entertaining and instructive.

Gombrich writes in a casual, conversational style, effortlessly educating the reader, whether young or old, on a diversity of topics and issues. The geographical and temporal range of the book is astounding – ancient China and India are covered as is the reign of Charlemagne and the conquests of Napoleon! The book is suffused with the spirit of European liberal humanism, and it is a work which laments the horrors inflicted upon people by each other down the ages, whilst also celebrating the achievements and wisdom of historical figures.

A Little History of the World is therefore not only a fascinating and pleasurable read, it is also a morally instructive piece of writing, and it would make a fine present for any adult or child. There are criticisms to be made- undoubtedly academic historians would take issue with many of the arguments put forward, and, despite its range, it is still broadly Eurocentric. Nonetheless, it is well worth digging out and appreciating as an incredible achievement by one of the twentieth century’s most notable thinkers.

Dictatorship and Democracy in the Brazilian Countryside: Rural Perspectives and New Periodisations

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 10.51.28
By Lewis Twiby

On 14 November, as part of a series of lectures for the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History (CSMCH) the University of Edinburgh’s own Dr. Jacob Blanc gave a lecture on his recent research. Dr. Blanc’s research focused on the construction of the Itaipu Hydroelectric dam along the Brazilian-Paraguayan border by the Brazilian military junta during a period named abertura (‘opening’ in Portuguese). Dr. Blanc, throughout the lecture, spoke of how traditionally studies of abertura have focused mainly on the urban populaces in Rio de Janiero and Brasilia, but less have focused on the rural areas. Using interviews, public archives (like the Memórias Revelados project), and exclusive access to the Itaipu Binational, Dr. Blanc has detailed the double-reality of abertura where even the groups who campaigned against the dam were heavily divided. The main group – the MJT – the European-descended landed farmers, landless peasants, and the Avá-Guarani indigenous population all had different views and aims in regards to the dam.

    Dr. Blanc began the main body of his lecture by discussing the first major standoff between the MJT and the military junta. Forty thousand people lived in the area where the Itaipu Dam would flood and all were eager to either prevent the dam’s construction, or demand compensation for lost land. Starting on 18 March 1981 the MJT marched onto the Itaipu construction site and began a two month long protest camp. The Euro-descended farmers wanted money for their lost land, the landless peasants wanted land for land, while the Avá-Guarani did not want the dam at all. Dr. Blanc emphasised the importance of this protest in influencing the protesters and Brazilians across the country. Thirty-one unions across the country went on sympathy strikes, journalists questioned the junta’s commitment to abertura, and opposition politicians connected the suffering of the farmers to the suffering of all Brazilians. For many of the farmers the camp protest was their first contact with the state – many used government and Itaipu interchangeably – and would help influence their actions in organising later grassroots movements. The MJT successfully won some demands, like a 62 per cent increase in the money the junta gave the landed farmers for their land, but Dr. Blanc reiterated how this protest highlighted the division in Brazilian society.

    Most of the media only reported on the landed farmers of European descent and homogenised the leaders of the movement. Instead of portraying the movement as being a large swathe of rural Brazilian society it was instead portrayed as a ‘respectful protest’ led by the landed farmers. Although landless peasants felt they won when the landed farmers got more money from the state, they themselves never got a tangible victory. Many of these landless peasants would become radicalised by the Itaipu protests. Furthermore, Dr. Blanc spoke of the ignoring or the removal of the agency of the Avá-Guarani. After interviewing several current leaders of the Avá-Guarani he found that they were ‘never seen by the farmers.’ When they were acknowledged they were portrayed in a demeaning manner, even by sympathetic media like the paper Folla de São Paulo. They were portrayed as apolitical actors who would ‘call upon their Gods’ instead of showing how they took part in the same protests as the farmers. The junta used this to their advantage as well having only legally defined Avá-Guarani receive rights based on an arbitrary ‘Criteria of Indianness’, but activists did manage to have this criteria overturned.

    Dr. Blanc went on to discuss what happened after the creation of the Itaipu Dam, focusing particularly on the peasants and Avá-Guarani who did not receive the tangible victories which the landed farmers did. Inspired by their role in the protests in September 1981 the landless peasants founded MASTRO which, in turn, went on to create the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST). The MST would occupy lands in order to push for land reform which caused clashes with the junta – across Brazil in 1983/4 two peasants were killed and many more beaten during the junta’s heavy-handed response. Meanwhile, the Avá-Guarani were relocated in June 1982 to a reservation, and were then moved to new reservations a further two times. Dr. Blanc showed how Brazil’s indigenous population were largely forgotten figures during the years of the junta. In 2014’s Truth Commission, the only mention of Brazil’s indigenous population was a short reference in an appendix despite 8,000 being murdered by the junta.

    Concluding his lecture, Dr. Blanc argued that the urban abertura was not representative of the experience of rural Brazilians. Instead there were two aberturas – one for the rural population and one for the urban population. However, he emphasised that neither abertura was the ‘real’ abertura. Both were felt and experienced on their own terms. While the urban abertura showed students and workers how to organise grassroots movements, the Itaipu protests did the same for landless peasants and indigenous Brazilians. Finally, the University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Cassia Roth spoke about Dr. Blanc’s findings comparing it to her own research. She praised Dr. Blanc’s research saying that traditional accounts of the abertura largely focused on the urban elite instead of women and the poor of the favelas. She further argued that more people experienced the abertura found in Dr. Blanc’s research than the traditional accounts.

    Dr. Blanc’s research is a useful insight into the experience of marginalised groups in Brazil’s military government. By arguing that there were two aberturas felt differently but both equally valid, he has shown that there is no correct way to experience the past. Dr. Blanc’s lecture is an interesting addition to this semester’s CSMCH lectures, giving further insight to a neglected part of Brazil’s history.


Argentine Voices

By Anna Nicol

It is 3.30pm on Thursday in La Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, and from the crowd of busy tourists and locals, emerges a sea of white headscarves. These are the Madres (Mothers), women who first came to this square in 1977 with questions, many still unanswered. They have come to represent the relatives and the lives of thousands of ‘disappeared’, men and women who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered during Argentina’s military dictatorship, which spanned from 1976 to 1983.

    The late twentieth century witnessed the establishment of numerous military dictatorships across Latin America. These arose for various reasons, including ideas of ‘exceptionalism’ stemming from long histories of bloodless transitions of power, U.S. sponsorship, and the global fear of Communism fostering ‘subversives’ aiming to destabilise the status quo. 1976 saw a military coup overthrow the rule of Isabel Perón, the third wife of the late President Juan Domingo Perón, and the beginning of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War.’ Initially known as the ‘Gentlemen’s Coup’, due to the country’s long history of military intervention to combat any sign of instability, few could predict the violence and upheaval the dictatorship would entail.

    The junta tightened censorship and shut down newspapers and media outlets hinting at any signs of anti-regime content. No more than three people could meet in a public space without being arrested. Individuals were kidnapped from their homes and off the street for allegedly being involved in underground politics, associated with a ‘subversive’ or as a result of personal vendettas. Families and friends searched for their whereabouts in a climate where asking questions could result in your own disappearance. The crackdown on ‘subversives’ began and it is now estimated that around 30,000 went missing.  

    Silenced, mothers of the ‘disappeared’ began to find each other and found some respite through their shared experiences. However, after searching and asking the authorities for information on the location of their children, they decided the answers they needed could only be found through their own actions. They decided to meet in the main square of Buenos Aires at 3.30pm on Thursday 30 April 1977 to deliver a letter to the Presidential Palace, demanding information on the whereabouts of their children. They were promptly sent away. They resolved to walk around the square in pairs every week. In September 1977, they joined a Catholic march to Luján, a city 68 kilometres to the north-west of Buenos Aires, where they decided to wear material nappies on their heads to recognise each other in a crowd and to symbolise their roles as mothers looking for their disappeared children. Their presence strengthened, to the extent that they received public support and became targets themselves, resulting in the 1977 disappearance and murder of three of the leading Madres: Azucena Villaflor, Esther Careaga, and María Eugenia Bianco.

    In order to delegitimise their struggle, the government began to refer to them as ‘Las Locas’ (the Crazies). But the mothers claimed the label, citing ‘of course we were crazy, crazy with sadness’. In 1978, the power of their voices grew, grabbing the attention of the international press when Argentina hosted the World Cup. The government aimed to present an image of prosperity and political stability to the rest of the world, attempting to quash those who would hinder their plans. The Madres decided that this was the publicity they needed; they now donned white handkerchiefs, an easier garment than a nappy, and the coverage in Argentina turned from reporting on the football to interviewing the women and broadcasting their struggle to find their missing children.

    The work of the Madres has shown how protest has changed and sheds lights on different forms of struggle. Fights against human rights violations are now associated with organisations such as Amnesty International but during the 1970s and 80s, human rights groups in Latin America were not seen as legitimate bodies and so groups such as the Madres had to find their own way of campaigning for justice. They also represent how catalysts for change in history do not necessarily come from governments or large institutions like non-governmental organisations. Meeting on Thursdays at the same time weekly, wearing the same and recognisable handkerchief meant that they became a well-established and legitimate movement, making it harder for the government to silence them.

    Now, 40 years later, most of the Madres have either passed away or are in their 80s. The struggle is far from over, as not all of the disappeared people have been accounted for and are now labelled “desaparecidos” to mark their permanent disappearance. An increasing concern is shared amongst the group as the current government continues to make decisions that seem to undo the pillars of justice, and in turn, shaping how the country remembers. In 1990 President Carlos Menem pardoned General Videla and the other imprisoned leaders of the junta. On 28 December 2017, Miguel Etchecolatz, the leader of the police investigations and imprisoned for the abduction of Uruguayan babies, was transferred to house arrest. These pardons and changes in sentencing sparked outrage among human rights groups as they question whether justice has truly been served. It concerns the Madres that the turmoil of the junta could be forgotten and once they have gone, who will be left to remember.

    In light of this, they have inspired other groups, both the Abuelas (Grandmothers) of the children who were taken from pregnant prisoners and the Hijos (Children) of the disappeared. The Abuelas also formed in 1977 and fought for the rights of their grandchildren who were stolen from their imprisoned mothers and given to couples in the military. The Hijos are the children who have yet to find their parents and represent the younger generations who were affected by the dictatorship and who will carry the voices of the silenced into the future. As for the Madres, those remaining continue to campaign in the plaza, meeting every Thursday, rain or shine, drawing attention to how the past continues to live in the present.


June 1940

By Daniel Sharp

  Lighting a cigarette, the old man sat down by the window to wait. The time was coming, he knew, when he would die. Not from withered age would he perish though– he would do his part and bow out voluntarily. The time was coming but until it did, he was quite content to smoke his cigarettes and drink some wine.

    It was June, and Charles de Gerre could hear artillery in the distance. They were approaching. Many of his fellow Parisians had already fled, and he did not blame them. He was just old enough to recall the dark year of 1871 when another German army had conquered his beloved city. He reflected sadly that his life had begun and would end with Paris under the heel of an oppressor. He knew they would enter the city shortly, and he knew that there was nothing anyone could do – France had fallen. Perhaps, soon, the rest of the world would follow.

    But Monsieur de Gerre was not one of those who would flee, nor was he one who would accept what was coming. He knew he could not make a difference to what was going to happen, but he was damned if he was just going to roll over without a fight. He was a Parisian, for God’s sake, and abandon his city he would not. So he sat, waiting, watching out of the window while cigarette smoke curled around his large, domed head and long, grey, bedraggled hair. The smell of the wine as he brought the glass to his mouth invigorated him, and he considered that this was what he was fighting for. The wine, the art, the music, the culture and the cigarettes – all would soon be poisoned by the Nazis, and the least he could do was enjoy what he could before the end.

    Gazing out of the window at the wide street below, Charles breathed in the silent beauty of his city. Nothing stirred, all was eerie and quiet, but it was beautiful. In the distance he could hear the artillery pounding, but he focused his senses on the Eiffel Tower which rose up over the city and was within sight of his apartment. It was night, but he could make out the familiar shape. Ah, the Tower. This would be the last time he would ever see it. Soaking it in, recalling memories of walking under it with his long-departed wife, a tear came to Charles’ eye. He sniffed, wiped it away. Now was not the time for sentiment.

    Indeed, if Charles had begun to reminisce he would have died from sadness before anything else. Paris in 1871, the Great War, the deaths of his friends, sons and brothers and the suicide of his wife in 1919 after the war – all these, and many other events, would have ruined a less resilient man. But Charles de Gerre had borne the mud and the blood of the trenches, and had become accustomed to wrapping up his feelings in iron. Sometimes he pictured a miniature, deformed Eiffel Tower around his heart, twisted and writhed around it to hold in his sorrow.

    For hours Monsieur de Gerre waited for the moment to come– the wine bottles and the cigarette packets getting emptier and emptier until he worried that he would run out. He had picked up supplies for his wait a few days before, when he had taken a last, long walk around Paris to appreciate it before it was despoiled.

    The old man needn’t have worried, however, for the night passed and day came, and, with it, the Nazis. It would take a while for them to fully occupy the city, Charles reasoned, but that was immaterial to him, for all he needed was for a group of them to march down the street he had spent all night gazing out on. All he had to do was wait a little longer, and he would have revenge, however small his act would be.

    One last glass of wine and a cigarette later, the time came. At the other end of the street he spied a contingent of marching men – the Nazis. They must be coming down the street to keep us in check, thought Charles, while smirking at the surprise they were about to be given. The old man got up, adjusted his coat and put his hat on, and took his revolver from his pocket to check it was loaded. Satisfied, he hid it and walked downstairs to the main hallway. Taking a few breaths behind the door, he shut his eyes before opening it and running into the street.

    “Help! Help!” he shouted, “men with guns in the building – they want to ambush you!” The Nazis had nearly shot him on sight, but, alarmed at the seemingly harmless old man’s words, they shoved by him and ran into the building. Standing back, Charles let them enter, and looked up at his apartment window. It was not far up and he could see the explosives he had planted over the past few weeks, all waiting for this moment to be set off and engulf the invaders. The others in the block had left at his behest. God knows what will become of them, Charles thought as he aimed his revolver at his apartment window – but hopefully they will appreciate this.

    He fired, and hit his mark. The bullet flew into the central barrel of explosive powder, setting off the reaction Charles had so carefully designed over the last few weeks. The building was blown apart, rock and body parts flying across the street. Charles himself, smiling, allowed himself to be torn apart by the blast.

    The flames settled eventually, as the Nazis cleared the scene up. The commander of the clear-up crew grimaced as he observed the scene. The spirit of Paris, he realised, was a spirit of resistance.