My Year Abroad

My Year Abroad: Studying History in France

Written by Martin Greenacre.

In Britain, we have an absurd fixation with university league tables. In the absence of a similar system in France, I knew little of what to expect when I arrived in Dijon for my year abroad studying history at the Université de Bourgogne. The titles of the courses were not even released until the first week of classes, and the course choice was so limited that I, with a preference for modern social history, found myself writing an essay about the history of bears in the middle ages.

This is because students at Dijon are required to take courses from Antiquity, medieval, modern and contemporary periods. It was interesting to note the differences in terminology. L’histoire moderne is what we refer to as the early modern period, ending at the French Revolution, followed by histoire contemporaine, which is the period we call modern history. I also took a course entitled Temps présent, which was essentially post-war French history stretching all the way up until the 2005 French riots, and which brought in sociological concepts and demographic trends.

In their final year, history students at Dijon choose between continuing this broad historical degree, or studying ‘approaches to the contemporary world’, which focused on contemporary history, but which brought in courses on international relations, sociology, and the media. There is a significant stress on the interdisciplinary nature of history.

Similarly, a common complaint of non-British history professors at the University of Edinburgh is the monolingualism of students, which is a product of our culture. In Dijon, every history student is made to take a language throughout all three years of their degree. Interestingly, language courses are delivered in classes uniquely composed of history students, the courses being tailor-made to fit with the discipline. Other disciplines such as geography and sociology are also seen as essential to the historian, and are made requisites of the course.

Partly as a result of this rigid course structure, a French university often feels like a factory, where everybody arrives knowing their future career path and chooses a degree in service of this. One professor, while giving feedback on a student’s presentation, said, ‘If you want to become a teacher, you cannot write on the board in abbreviations’, without first asking whether said student wished to become a teacher. Skills such as critical thinking did not seem to be such a priority, and there were no tutorial-style discussions as I was used to in the UK. That being said, professors were nonetheless passionate about their subjects, and had the freedom to tailor courses to their interests.

My favourite course was entitled ‘La table des Européens’, and gave a history of food in Europe, including the development of restaurants, the arrival of colonial ingredients, and the link between food and cultural identity. It is a course only a French professor could come up with. And he duly began the first lecture with a game of finish-the-sentence, which went like this: “Italians eat… Pasta. The British eat… badly. The French eat… well.’

The events in Paris on 13 November 2015 were a sombre reminder of the importance of what we have chosen to study, prompting some difficult speeches from professors. One professor of Temps présent had a particularly important reminder for us. Terrorism, she said, is “not the radicalisation of Islam, but the Islamisation of radicalism”.

While I was not necessarily impressed by the educational system during my year at a French university, the academic experience was more valuable than I had anticipated. It is always interesting to see how another country approaches history. This is not even to mention the extraordinary opportunities outside of the classroom that a year abroad offers. It would be a great tragedy were future students to miss out on similar opportunities to study abroad.

I promised myself I would not mention Brexit. That’s it, I need to go and hide under my desk.

The Great War Column: Edinburgh’s Fallen Alumni

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

James Crozier was a former medical student at the University of Edinburgh and was tragically killed within the first few weeks of World War I.

The University’s Roll of Honour from 1915 lists the first of those to be killed during the opening months of the conflict. The document, which can be found at the National Library of Scotland, records 16 Edinburgh alumni killed between August 1914 and January 1915. The Roll of Honour further lists those that were wounded, as well as details of the various roles of alumni in the conflict.

James Crozier is the second name on the Roll of Honour, which is organised alphabetically rather than chronologically. Crozier is reported as having been killed in action on 27 August 1914. Further records tragically reveal that he had only arrived in France a mere 13 days earlier and that his death occurred on his first day of active combat. James served in the B Company of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, after having joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1912 before enlisting in 1914.

Crozier was originally from Cheshire but had moved to Scotland where he attended Loretto School in Musselburgh between 1906-1909. From 1910, he read Medicine at Edinburgh for two years while living with relatives in Longyester. We can only assume that his medical ambitions were put on hold in 1912 when he joined the RSF. Tragically, they would never be resumed.

The chronology of events surrounding Crozier’s premature death remains fragmented. However, from the limited information available, it is possible to put together a timeline of his experiences. Having enlisted in 1914, he was taken to Flanders, landing at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Within two weeks, he would be dead.

On 27 August 1914, his unit prepared for their first day of active service. They were based near Etreux, in northern France, and had been given the task of halting a German advance. However, they were outnumbered six to one by the German troops. Crozier is alleged to have shouted, ‘There they are, come on men!’ as he exposed himself to the onslaught of the enemy’s rifles. From Crozier’s unit, a mere four officers survived their first day of battle.

The first British casualty of the war is reported to have been on 21 August 1914, less than a week before the death of James Crozier. John Parr is widely believed to have been the first British Commonwealth soldier to be killed in action during the conflict.  Both deaths marked the start of a long and bloody war.

News of Crozier’s death did not reach home until October 1914. An obituary was printed in the Haddington Courier, which provides biographical information and highlights the importance of newspapers as an archival resource in historical research. Memorials across Midlothian pay further tribute to Crozier, including those at Loretto School and the Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. He was repatriated, unlike so many of those killed during the First World War. His gravestone is located at St Mary’s Church in Haddington, along with other members of his family.

James Crozier may have been the first Edinburgh University alumnus to be killed, but he would not be the last.  In the first year of the war, 18 alumni were counted among the war dead, however this would increase to over 160 in 1916 alone. The University suffered the deaths of hundreds of alumni, as well as many wounded, as a result of the conflict.

5 Minutes With… Dr Robert Crowcroft

Written by Sophia Fothergill.

Dr Robert Crowcroft has been teaching at the University of Edinburgh for five years, and currently teaches an honours class entitled ‘From New Jerusalem to New Labour: The Labour Party in Contemporary Britain’. The interview below was conducted in October 2016.

Can you briefly summarise your area of interest in history?

I work on modern British political history. Most of my work is underpinned by an interest in the character, and imperatives, of democratic politics. That is what I am most concerned with. I have written on the Conservative and Labour parties, the history of Britain during the Second World War, and political leadership. I have also edited mass-market reference books on British history for Oxford University Press.

Why did you become interested in political history specifically?

An excellent question! The answer, quite simply, is that in my view political history is the most important form of history there is. Other approaches are immensely valuable, but everything flows from political history. As the historian John Vincent wrote, ‘there are too many dead bodies on the stage to begin anywhere else’. Everyone appears to enjoy discussing it. Political history no longer holds the same position of pre-eminence within the discipline that it once did, and, arguably, that is a real shame. Political historians should never have capitulated so meekly. We have a strong group of political history scholars here at Edinburgh, thank goodness.

To what extent do you feel that all voters should have an understanding of the history of political parties, and why?

One of the ways in which political history serves a valuable social purpose is in encouraging the public to be more aware, thoughtful citizens. To take two, rather obvious examples. The Thatcher era within the Conservative party marked a significant break with traditional Conservative statecraft, and yet, in our era, Thatcherism is now widely considered to represent ‘real’ conservatism. That’s historically dubious. The current state of the Labour party is quite novel, and history does not provide much of a guide to what will happen next. That said, many of Labour’s current problems have deep historical roots. The party has always been fixated with the spectre of ‘betrayal’, and this has long impacted its politics. Every Labour leader has had to worry about being compared to James Ramsay MacDonald, who (allegedly) betrayed the party in 1931.

Why do you think Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party?

The current ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is fascinating. I think there are a number of factors. The New Labour period was one in which the leadership showed little respect for the party, and this stored up considerable resentment.  The Blair and Brown governments also made what are now seen by some as unacceptable compromises with capitalism and free markets; there has been a backlash against it. The Iraq War is now an emotive part of Labour folklore. Overall, there is a sense that the New Labour leadership were guilty of betraying (that word again) various things, and this eventually led to a radical shift in the culture of the Labour party. One also has to recall that Corbyn encouraged lots of new members to join the party and vote for him, something which has certainly compounded the discomfort of so-called Labour ‘moderates’. Something else one has to bear in mind is the general existential crisis of Labour statecraft provoked by the fall of New Labour. Labour enjoyed thirteen years in power, including a prolonged period of global economic prosperity, electoral popularity and a weak opposition. And yet Labour was still unable to create the kind of society that it desires. That is an acute intellectual problem, one that the party does not appear able to resolve. It is intriguing!

One approach to the history of the Labour Party emphasises the frequent divides in the party between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions. Why do you think this problem is specific to the Labour Party, and can you offer any explanation as to why the Conservative Party tend to appear more united?

Every party is factionalised, the Conservative party being no exception. Historically, the Conservatives have usually been cunning enough to keep this away from the glare of public view, though that has changed in the last thirty years. Yet thinking about the divisions within Labour in terms of ‘left versus right’ often tells us little. For one thing, there have always been multiple factions on ‘the left’ and ‘the right’. Moreover, many of the most important conflicts within Labour have not actually been related to doctrinal inclination. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent more than a decade manoeuvring against one another. At stake was power, not ideology. The same happened between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison. Their rivalry shaped politics atop the Labour party between 1935 and 1955. Framing one’s objections to somebody else as ideological is a useful way of presenting your ambitions in a more acceptable fashion. A lot of the time, at least, we should not take these claims too seriously.

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Written by Pablo Perez Ruiz.

“Toussaint’s failure was the failure of enlightenment, not of darkness.” – C.L.R James, Black Jacobins.

“This is where the African intellectual lives in paradoxical terms: powerful yet powerless.” – Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals.

Pan-Africanism, when taken as a broad ‘group of movements’ with ‘no single nucleus’ and stemming from the experiences of the African diaspora, cannot be seen as a simple, reactive response to Western domination and discrimination, but rather as a creative, transterritorial solidarity movement that predated some of the current debates around transnational migration. After defining the concepts of African diaspora and pan-Africanism, this essay will discuss the ‘Western’ origins of pan-Africanism, and the case for pan-Africanism as a response rooted in Western epistemology and according to Western expectations of the colonised. Two case studies will be analysed: that of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism, together with their respective critiques by Fanon and Appiah. The Western-dependent nature of some pan-African thought can be understood through Foucault’s notion of bounded resistance, although with certain qualifications. Ultimately, although agreeing with El Saadawi that ‘migrants cannot replace those who continue to struggle and work at home in Africa’, the merits of pan-Africanism, with its legacy of trans-territoriality as a particular example, have to be recognised as open spaces of resistance through which the African intellectual diaspora asserted their agency and negotiated their conflicted identities. This article does however fall into two common biases that follow from the nature of the existing sources: it prioritises the literate African elites over the many others that left no written records, and it provides a male-centric perspective of pan-Africanism.

The notions of pan-Africanism and African diaspora are highly elusive terms in the literature. Starting from Adi and Sherwood’s assertion that ‘there has never been one universally accepted definition of what constitutes pan-Africanism’, this article advocates for Shepperson’s view of pan-Africanism as a ‘group of movements’ with no ‘single nucleus’. That allows for the inclusion of different perspectives such as Afrocentrism and Negritude, seeing pan-Africanism as both a series of movements and ideas celebrating ‘Africanness’ and resisting racism and exploitation. Lemelle and Kelley have eloquently framed pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’; a crucial point when assessing its reliance on Western epistemology and expectations. Pan-Africanism’s status as a ‘transnational solidarity’ is also important to understand its relation to the African diaspora; pan-Africanism’s trans-geographical and long-lasting nature has made it take different forms at different times and locations, sometimes leading to conflicting agendas. In what refers to the term ‘African diaspora’, a broad definition is preferred to accommodate a range of perspectives. Shepperson is again helpful in his view of the African diaspora as more extended in time and space than has been commonly supposed. Although originally intended as a counter-narrative of American slavery and European colonial discourse and in an attempt to develop an affirmative version of African history, the idea of African diaspora has now become accepted in the mainstream literature. Two problematic issues arise from this notion of diaspora: first, the danger of emphasising common experience over differences, which Falola has dealt with by talking about different strategies but common struggles; second, the danger of using the term African diaspora as a pretext to talk about something else, what Achille Mbembe sees as the West’s tendency to use Africa as an intermediary to ‘accede to its own subconscious.’ A broad conception of diaspora and pan-Africanism are thus necessary to contextualise the experiences of the thinkers considered below.


To understand the wider nature of pan-Africanism we need to first look at its roots. Although Falola has pointed out the difficulties in dating the origins of the movement, which included experiences of slavery in America, colonization of Africa by Europeans, and worldwide racism, influential thinkers like W.E.B.D have asserted that pan-Africanism ‘had no deep roots in Africa itself’, but rather originated in the places of the African diaspora.  Before 1945, the core of the pan-African movement resided in the diaspora and it was the shared experience of racism across ethnic-lines that created the first opportunities to mobilize. Early pan-Africanism was thus considerably influenced by its place of origin, i.e. North America and Britain, and the frames of thought it provided. The case of North America is particularly interesting, as the difficulty of tracing back one’s origin led to the ‘adoption of Africa as one single “nation”.’ The adoption of Christian elements in early North-American pan-Africanism is evident in its ‘bias towards imperialist forms of progress and Christianisation’ and its ‘evangelistic approach to Africa.’ Early civil rights leader Thomas Fortune affirmed that ‘Christian religion [in Africa] is destined to supplant all other religious systems of belief, because it is the best code of moral philosophy ever given to man’. Others like Edward Blyden expressed similar thoughts, and the Bible was the key text for many pan-Africanists of the nineteenth century. At the other side of the Atlantic, the pan-Africanism originating in Britain with the founding of the African Association in 1897 and the First pan-African Conference held in London in 1900 also exhibited some features derived from its origin within the West. The publicity announcing the conference did not call for the complete destruction of Empire, but was framed in terms of the need to ‘influence public opinion on existing proceedings and conditions affecting the welfare of Natives in various parts of the Empire’. The aim was to persuade the metropole and to influence domestic public opinion by using the frameworks of thought of the coloniser.

Whether the use of the oppressor’s language and discourse by pan-Africanists in North America and Britain was a conscious strategic move or an unconscious, dependent reaction to Western domination requires a brief mention of the Western (mis)education received by many of those in the African intellectual diaspora. As Adi has highlighted, the British had a vested interest in ‘developing a class of Africans sympathetic to the interest of the British ruling class’ and in teaching these Africans the British traditions of governance. With this in mind, tracing the education of many of the leaders of the African diaspora shows the influence that Western education may have had on their thought and behaviour. Molony’s exhaustive biography of Nyerere’s formative years has shown the influence that being educated in Edinburgh had on Nyerere’s political thought, and also how the experience of exile heightened his awareness of racism and colonialism. The experience of exile reinforced an ‘African identity’ in many intellectuals; Horton, also educated in Edinburgh, adopted the name ‘Africanus’ during his time in Britain. C.L.R. James’ Letters from London is another good example of the disappointment faced by a ‘Black Englishman’ in Britain, and his writing simultaneously uses the colonisers’ most refined language while being critical of the realities in the metropole. Although being subjects of the French rather than the British Empire, both Diop and Senghor studied at the Sorbonne, and the first was granted French citizenship, joined the French army, and became the first African ‘immortal’ member of the Académie Française. There is a crucial element of class in the African diaspora’s elites adoption of Western epistemology and attitudes, and subsequently in their response to the West through pan-Africanism. Ultimately, ‘the way in which a group enters a society has a profound impact upon their social status and their social psychology’, and the position of the African diaspora intellectual as both powerful and powerless was key in their articulation of pan-Africanism.

The study of the particular cases of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism can help elucidate some of the tensions mentioned above. In ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century’, Senghor argues for a ‘black personality,’ the African’s certain way of ‘conceiving life and of living it,’ and defines negritude as ‘the sum of the cultural values of the black world’. Building on the ideas of ‘African uniqueness’ developed by German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, Senghor opposes African and European ontologies: the first ‘conceives the world as a fundamentally mobile reality’, the latter as ‘objective, static, and dichotomic.’ Senghor creates the philosophical category of the ‘African Man’ (note the gendered language), and elevates him to the highest form of being after God. Negritude thus becomes ‘morality in action’, deriving from the African’s natural trait of living according to the moral law. There is a feeling of essentialism and disconnection from reality all throughout the piece, which can be read as an attempt for self-confirmation and reassurance by an intellectual member of the African diaspora. Fanon was highly critical of Senghor, and saw his search for a ‘black culture’ as a product of the ‘anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that Western culture in which they all risk being swamped.’ There is indeed a tension within the piece, and it is not clear who Senghor is writing for. Senghor seems to be, as exposed by Fanon, trying to ‘rehabilitate himself and to escape from the claws of colonialism’, but his thought is still too inscribed within the same epistemology as that of the coloniser. Moreover, Fanon criticised a particular kind of African intellectual for dedicating his/her efforts to comparing ‘coins and sarcophagi’ instead of joining the political struggle against colonialism. Culture would ultimately be created through national struggle rather than through intellectuals trying to ‘renew contact with the oldest and most pre-colonial springs of life of their people.’


Turning now to the pan-Africanism of Diop, his Afrocentric ideas need to be framed as an attempt to emancipate Africa from the Euro-centric vision of history. Against the Western imperial version of history, Diop formulated an alternative thesis which saw Egyptian civilization as a black civilization and as the ‘initiator’ of Western civilization, thus challenging the Western view of civilization originating in Ancient Greece. Ancient Egypt is seen as the basis of African cultural (and political) unity and as a reason for African pride.  In The African Origin of Civilization, Diop reversed European ideas of Africa as an ‘indispensable negative trope in the language of modernity.’ European conceptions of history relied on Africa being backwards for Europe to be modern, and it is this rhetorical artifice that Diop set out to challenge by calling to rehabilitate African people’s place in history through a ‘cultural revolution’ that allows Africans to explain their own historical past. This cultural revolution would allow Africans to ‘define the image of a modern Africa reconciled with its past and preparing for its future.’ The mention of Africa’s future means political engagement against European chauvinism, and not just intellectual lucubrations. However, writers like Appiah have been highly critical of Diop, calling his writings ‘Europe Upside Down’: criticizing the West through Western (specifically Victorian) modes of thinking. The preoccupation with the Ancient world, the prejudice against cultures without writing, and the prioritising of the ‘great male leader’ make Diop’s Afrocentrism an ‘essentially reactive structure’ according to Appiah. Trying to identify a common origin on African civilization only replicates European attempts to find an origin for Western culture.

With these two case studies in mind, Foucault’s notion of resistance can be a helpful framework to conceptualise the tensions in the pan-Africanism of the African intellectual diaspora. Foucault’s view of resistance as dependent on power and existing within power seems to fit the argument so far: African intellectuals in the diaspora, having received a Western education, could only contest their own upbringing with the tools that this education had provided them. Thus, Senghor disputes the idea of the European superior subject by creating an even more superior African subject, while Diop contests European history of civilization by creating an African-Egyptian alternative. They are both oppositional but dependent accounts existing within the wider framework of pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’. But merely dismissing Diop and Senghor’s account as incomplete, co-opted modes of resistance, would be unfair, and would assume the existence of a ‘true’ form of resistance derived from ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ African culture which has been untouched by the West. Moreover, it would assume that the intellectual diaspora’s Western education and access to Western culture is more problematic in their relation to pan-Africanism and African modernity than that of the masses. Re-reading Foucault, true resistance is possible if seen as a ‘multiplicity of points of resistance’ with no single ‘soul of revolt’. This fits C.L.R. James’ idea that ‘those people who are in Western civilization, who have grown up in it, but made to feel and themselves feeling that they are outside, have a unique insight into their society’. To the idea of resistance as revisited above, it is fundamental to add an awareness of both discursive and political-economic forms of oppression, as highlighted by both Fanon and Sekou Toure among others. The intellectual decolonization must come hand in hand with an awareness of the social realities on the ground, and Diop had been quite successful in his call for a ‘politically engaged objectivity’, playing with Western ideals of objectivity while calling for action.


Looking more closely at both Senghor and Diop can therefore not only expand our ideas of resistance and of the agency of the African intellectual diaspora but also enrich our understanding of migration and transnationalism. Tageldin has eloquently argued that Senghor’s pan-Africanism predates contemporary debates of trans-territoriality and trans-nationalism. By manipulating ‘race and culture to defy the limits that politics might impose on more “worldly” histories and geographies’, Senghor (and other pan-Africanists) transcended geographical lines. Despite his sometimes ‘nativist’ conception of Africa, Senghor’s negritude can be also read as transborder and transcontinental, i.e. including those in the diaspora. Migration was the context for the writings of both Diop, Senghor and others, and their writings have to be read in light of their concerns for Africa and for themselves, especially in what refers to the tension between assimilation and individuality. As Falola has highlighted, ‘migration can create a profound need to understand the homeland’, and the impossibility for many in the diaspora to become full citizens of their host countries may have played in their transnationalism and connections with their homeland. Although the experiences of transnationalism in the first half of the twentieth century may have been limited to a small African elite, they were in many ways precursors of the later generations in their tendency to build and maintain multiple linkages with their countries of origin.

Despite the origins of pan-Africanism within the West and the role of a Western-educated elite of pan-African thinkers, the thought of intellectuals such as Senghor or Diop cannot merely be seen as futile, ‘impure’ resistance but as creative attempts to deal with multiple issues ranging from identity and the experience of migration to racism and oppression. Although elements of class are important, and some thinkers such as Senghor might have lacked an awareness about or involvement in the political and economic realities in Africa, the members of the African intellectual diaspora can be seen as precursors of later debates around transnationalism and trans-territoriality. Despite its focus on the more intellectual side of pan-Africanism, this essay does not suggest the separation between the ideological and the practical in pan-Africanism, as they have both been highly intertwined across pan-African history. Moreover, the individual treatment of writers and intellectuals does not intend to abstract them from the broader movements of which they were part, but was used as a more manageable approach to the topic. Ultimately, the stretch in time and space of pan-Africanism and the African diaspora makes this account one of the multiple possible explorations of pan-Africanism, one of multiple ‘points of resistance’, one trace of agency in the larger span of African history.

Review: Scotland and Europe – The Past Shaping the Future

Written by Felix Carpenter.

A review of Professor Sir Tom Devine’s lecture ‘Scotland and Europe: The past shaping the future’, September 2016.

Sir Tom Devine enters the stage, introduced as the foremost historian of modern Scottish history. Professor Devine is that unusual thing: an establishment figure who in 2014 supported Scottish independence, at the cost of – he would later remind his audience – the friendship of our last Labour Prime Minister. While this lecture more directly pointed itself towards the realities of Brexit Britain rather than the Neverendum, the two naturally conflated as the hour drew on. Whatever the politics at hand, Professor Devine has a rare grasp of Scottish political and social affairs of the past few centuries. Among his first remarks, ‘the future is not my period’.

It is a peculiarity of British Imperial history that Scots were so overrepresented in colonial pursuits of all kinds. During the nineteenth century, between a quarter and a third of all posts in the Empire were filled by Scots, even though their number made up only a tenth of the United Kingdom’s population. Today, when Scots think of their role in the past internationally, it is this phenomenon that is most striking. But Professor Devine’s thesis requires us to delve back deeper, to an ‘old Scotia’ obscured by amnesic clouds. A picture is painted of Scots as a nomadic people; restless, transient, mercantile. During the seventeenth century it is estimated up to 60,000 Scots descended onto the European continent in search of prosperity. Professor Devine inserts his eponymous ‘Devine Paradox’ theory, that by 1851 Scotland was the most industrialised country per capita in Europe, yet had almost the highest levels of emigration.

A series of politically potent historical curiosities are brought up. Scots colonising Poland, with 400 merchant communities lining the Vistula. The phrase ‘as mean as a Scot’ emerged from this, describing a certain Thomas Chalmers, known for his ability to undercut Polish rival businesses due to his unscrupulousness. These Scots were also nicknamed ‘the Jews of Poland’ for this tendency. After the Reformation, the Act of Union of 1707 and the Jacobite rebellions, political refugees fled south to the low countries, and in turn brought back the intellectual European idealism that would flower into the Scottish Enlightenment. Non-industrialised nations, such as the Russia of Peter and Catherine the Great, sought highly trained Scottish engineers and doctors to boost society – Professor Devine offering the truism ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’. By 1760 Scottish banks were owed a non-inflation adjusted £2.6 million across the globe, due to their ambitious global credit schemes.

In the pre-Empire era, it was Europe that dominated Scottish internationalism, but it was these internationalist forays that positioned Scots so naturally to assume the imperial banner and lead Britain’s exploits in the following century. Professor Devine notes that £10,000 worth of that total of Scottish loans was to a certain George Washington of Virginia. Scotland was already looking beyond the European continent. Concluding, Professor Devine refers to former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s phrase, ‘Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role’. His parting question: whether Scotland will find its role either in Europe or as part of the UK? Brexit is mentioned, but doubt is cast on its materialisation.

In the question and answer session, I go back to a point made in the lecture about the lack of pro-Brexit voices in mainstream Scottish politics – particularly the Scottish National Party – and whether this is due to a genuine pro-European sentiment or politicised anti-Englishness. The response points to polls showing more violent opposition in Scotland to the perceived unreformed, opaque European bureaucracy than even in England, as well as to a general lack of knowledge about European institutions or European representatives among Scots; tellingly, anti-Englishness is not addressed. The last question of the evening asks whether the hypothesised European connection is overshadowed by the Anglo-Scottish relationship, and union. Professor Devine fumbles momentarily, and then offers wryly ‘when you are in bed together you get the warmth, but it can be too warm.’

Presidential Campaign 2016: Thoughts from Across the Pond…

Some thoughts on the current Presidential Campaign from Professor George H. Gilliam, UVA.

The great philosopher Woody Allen once remarked that 80 per cent of life is just showing up. Most Americans have stopped showing up at political events. This year, only about 9 per cent (fewer than one in ten!) of the population actually voted in the Republican and Democratic caucuses or primaries. We are now paying the price for years of political apathy and avoidance. Clinton and Trump! Is this really the best we have to offer?

It is very easy to become influential in American politics. One simply has to show up, and be present to vote. The vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin in 2008 showed that one need not be well educated or well informed in order to reach political heights. Two years later, a swarm of angry, misinformed Republicans joined to so-called TEA [Taxed Enough Already!] Party movement and not only hijacked the Republican Party but gained control of the legislative branch of both the federal and many state governments. What had been a slow race to the bottom accelerated. Many citizens who were well prepared for public service – women and men who had been leaders in their businesses or professions, who pay attention to civic issues, who care about community – chose not to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the insurgents: Americans claim not to be class conscious but in fact issues of class played a large part in the decision of many to abjure political participation. In a year in which the ‘best and brightest’ did not want to dirty their hands, it was easy for highly-motivated outsiders to win control. The Republican Party now is run by a minority of the minority. The Democratic Party narrowly avoided being captured by a man who never theretofore had claimed to be a Democrat; the price Democrats paid to avoid Sanders was reluctant acceptance of the heavily damaged Clinton.

In the past few dozen years, African-Americans who have offered for public office have found that pre-election polling consistently overestimates their support. Apparently, respondents to surveys do not want to appear racist, so tell the pollster that they will vote for the black man or woman when, in the privacy of the polling booth, they in fact vote white. The same phenomena may be at work this year. Trump is so – for want of a better word – disreputable on so many levels that many likely Trump voters are embarrassed to admit their preference. Many Americans are still virulently racist. They won’t admit to it, but they will vote Trump because they know his real slogan is ‘Make America White Again’. Unless Clinton had a lead in national polls of 8 to 10 points in the days leading up to the election she will be in trouble.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, one hopes that it will serve as a wake-up call to those who have chosen to remain on the sidelines. Good people cannot abdicate leadership to the likes of Trump and Clinton. But to take politics to a higher ground the good people have got to re-emerge in the nitty-gritty of politics. They have to start showing up.

– Professor George H. Gilliam, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia. Thoughts as of September 2016.

Review: American Historian Professor Frank Cogliano’s September lectures

A Review of Professor Frank Cogliano’s lectures, ‘The 2016 American Presidential Election: Precedents and Reflections’ and ‘You think the 2016 US Election is bad? You should try 1800!’, September 2016.

With the U.S. presidential election looming ever closer, there has been no shortage of exhibits, film screenings and lectures to entertain American history enthusiasts in Edinburgh this September.

Over the last month, I had the good fortune to attend not one, but two lectures delivered by Edinburgh University’s inimitable and well-loved Professor of American History, Frank Cogliano. The first, titled ‘The 2016 American Presidential Election: Precedents and Reflections’, was hosted at the National Library of Scotland and was so popular that I arrived to discover tickets had sold out two months in advance – luckily, I was able to sneak my way in. In his usual humorous yet informative style Professor Cogliano deftly guided the audience through the history of the Electoral College system, pausing to explain that yes, it is technically possible for the election to end in a tie (hint: keep your attention fixed on Nebraska and Maine). Drawing upon a range of historic presidential elections, Professor Cogliano offered potential outcomes for the forthcoming election, but neglected to go ‘on record’ with any prediction for November 8!

With the upcoming presidential election it made perfect sense for an American historian to kick off the Edinburgh University History Society’s annual lecture series. Professor Cogliano reprised his role as the ‘unofficial guide to presidential elections’ in addressing a busy lecture theatre full of young history enthusiasts. His title, “You think the 2016 US election is bad? You should try 1800” undoubtedly drew some curious audience members (and fans of the trendy Broadway musical Hamilton) and he provided some much-needed reassurance that perhaps the 2016 election is not as unprecedented as the media would like to have us believe. Both lectures were thoroughly enjoyable and I would encourage any presidential enthusiasts or otherwise to keep a look out for the many events happening around Edinburgh as Election Day draws closer.

Finally, for any keen election enthusiasts, Professor Cogliano highly recommends visiting where visitors can manipulate the political map of America to predict various election outcomes. (Professor Cogliano is sorry to say that his Fantasy Football team has suffered dreadfully as a result of this newfound source of entertainment.)

Africa’s Haven of Peace? Elections, Politics and Violence in Post-colonial East Africa

As I write, it is the 28 October 2015, and three days have passed since Tanzania went to the polls for the fifth time since the return of multi-party elections in 1995. Elections in Africa are always moments of high tension, and this election is no different. Today, the BBC News Africa page leads with ‘Tanzania poll crisis.’ Immediately below this headline is more information: ‘Zanzibar poll scrapped because of “rigging”’ and ‘Opposition calls for Tanzania’s entire election to be annulled’.

For many countries in the region, this chain of events is depressingly familiar. East Africa is no stranger to challenged elections. In December 2007, a hotly contested election in Kenya, which pitted Raila Odinga against the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, led to violence after Kibaki claimed a victory that Odinga believed to be rightly his. While early results had suggested that Odinga was ahead, as counting continued Kibaki pulled in front. Odinga alleged fraud and demanded a recount, but on 29 December the Electoral Commission declared Kibaki the winner and he was quickly sworn in as President. In the violence which followed over the next two months, more than 1,000 people lost their lives and a further 300,000 people were displaced.

The magnitude of the violence that characterised 2007-8 exceeded anything that had been seen previously in Kenya. Nevertheless political violence had been a feature of Kenyan elections since independence. In contrast, mainland Tanzania, excluding Zanzibar, has been characterised by relative peace, including at election time.

How do we explain these divergent post-colonial histories? One answer that is often given is the different role played by ethnicity in the two countries. In the 2007 elections in Kenya, the election pitted a Luo politician, Odinga, against a Kikuyu President, Kibaki. The voting and the political violence that followed the election were similarly divided along ethnic lines. In mainland Tanzania, conversely, ethnicity has rarely played a decisive role in elections.

This is often seen as a product of Tanzania’s distinctive history. Ethnicity matters less in Tanzania, it is said, for historical reasons. Some cite the presence of a common language, Swahili, while others draw attention to the role of Tanzania’s first post-independence President, Julius Nyerere (an Edinburgh graduate), who moved swiftly after independence in 1961 to ensure that ethnically-based associations were removed from any political role, and devoted himself to nation-building efforts that aimed at transcending ethnic identity in favour of a shared Tanzanian national identity.

But the relative absence of ethnicity from overt political debate in Tanzania is not the whole story. On closer examination, another striking contrast between Tanzania and Kenya rapidly becomes apparent. Political violence has been used in Kenyan elections because parties know that a great deal is at stake, and that they have the potential to win or to lose. In Tanzania, in contrast, the nationalist party which won independence in 1961, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), and which in 1977 united with the Zanzibar nationalist Afro-Shirazi Party to become Chama Cha Mapinduzi (the Party of the Revolution, CCM), has never before looked to be at serious risk of defeat.

Explaining political dominance

Our task, then, is to explain this dominance. On one level, the answer is simple. Julius Nyerere, leader first of TANU and then of CCM, commanded overwhelming support at independence and moved swiftly to establish a system of one-party democracy which made it impossible for a rival party to build up support. But this does not in itself explain CCM’s dominance. In other countries where political space was rapidly closed down after independence, ruling parties were eventually overthrown in coups, or their leaders removed by rivals. Why did this not happen in Tanzania? It may be because in Tanzania, the nationalist party did not simply close down political space in legislative terms, it also succeeded in monopolising political space in imaginative terms.

Immediately prior to independence, Julius Nyerere and TANU were able to link the demand for uhuru (freedom) to themselves as the only means of achieving independence. In contrast, in Kenya, two rival parties offered two competing visions of a post-colonial future, one a decentralized state, the other a strong centre. But what is perhaps even more striking is the way in which Julius Nyerere and TANU were able to respond to growing political criticism in the 1960s, once independence had been achieved and the fruits of independence seemed not to be forthcoming. They did so by setting out a new vision of the future.

This new vision of the future was encapsulated in the Arusha Declaration of 1967, which set Tanzania decisively on a socialist path. Where other post-colonial leaders were overthrown in coups or pushed aside by rivals, Nyerere was able to create a new narrative which put him at the heart of a struggle against illegitimate accumulation and corruption in politics, redefining politics as a moral struggle. While on one level the Arusha Declaration was a political manoeuvre, which shored up support and eliminated rivals, it also served to recapture and re-moralize public space, re-enchanting nationalist discourse in a narrative that put Nyerere firmly at the centre as author of the new aims of TANU.

The Arusha Declaration

The Arusha Declaration, published on 5th February 1967 after consultation with TANU’s National Executive Committee but based on ideas formulated by Nyerere himself, marked a bold shift. It announced that where TANU had once been open to all who wished to fight for Tanzania’s self-government and independence, it would henceforth be a party only for those committed to building a society based on the principles of Ujamaa (African Socialism).

Immediately afterwards a series of nationalisations were announced, along with “Education for Self-Reliance,” a new educational system which aimed to educate all in a way fitting to Ujamaa rather than focusing attention on an academic few, and a plan for rural resettlement and villagisation. A Leadership Code made clear that those who held political office must be fully committed to TANU’s objectives, and must give up any private or business interests which contradicted those objectives and placed them in the class of “exploiters.”

In the letters’ pages of the Swahili press, the Arusha Declaration was understood as an answer to the sorts of problems which had led to the fall of other African governments, particularly that of corruption. Links were sometimes explicitly made to circumstances in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, where growing criticism of corruption had led to the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966. A letter that appeared in the newspaper Ngurumo lamented the great wealth which many politicians had acquired and asked: ‘where have they acquired this wealth if not from injustice?’  In Ghana, the letter writer declared, one of Nkrumah’s ministers had ‘bought a gold bed,’ and this bed had now been seized by the new government and would be sold. There were lessons here, he argued, for Tanzania, writing that ‘[i]f we have discovered this sickness, and we seem to have done so in announcing the Arusha Declaration and the policy of ujamaa, should we not also seek out this remedy? There is only one remedy – this property should be seized and the money which is received should be put into the Government purse.’

The Arusha Declaration provided a new language for attacking corrupt officials. Thus on 21st October 1967 an article entitled ‘Against Ujamaa’ reported that C.R. Chipanda, working in the office of the Ministry of Lands in Mtwara, in northern Tanzania, had appeared in court for the offence of having failed to pay his servant enough and for not having paid for insurance for him. While the defendant claimed that the servant was a relative, the judge asserted that “exploitation has many faces”, and that this was an example of misusing the principle of African brotherhood.

The Arusha Declaration succeeded in re-legitimising TANU through re-establishing its claim to authority, no longer simply as the party which brought freedom from colonialism but as the party which would combat corruption and ensure justice for all. It did so by harnessing a language of political morality, and turning it to new ends. That the nationalist party therefore succeeded in crowding out alternatives is a product of a successful ideological project as much as a project of state repression.


CCM’s ideological hegemony helps to explain Tanzania’s stability over the fifty years which followed independence in 1961. Yet although the 2015 elections seem, as this article goes to press, to have ended in victory for CCM’s candidate, John Magufuli, it is striking that this year people have been seriously asking the question: ‘Could CCM lose?’

There are immediate practical reasons that help explain why, over the last few months, CCM has looked seriously at risk for the first time since independence. A large part of the reason is that a former CCM Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa, switched sides and joined the opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Party for Democracy and Progress, CHADEMA). Furious at being left off the list of candidates to run on the ruling party’s ticket, Lowassa deserted his party and was welcomed with open arms by an opposition that finally scented the possibility of election success with Lowassa as its presidential candidate. He stood as the candidate for the opposition coalition Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (the Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution, UKAWA), which unites CHADEMA with three other opposition parties. So for the first time, voters had a straight choice between two heavyweight candidates, John Magufuli for CCM and Edward Lowassa for UKAWA.

But if 2015 does turn out to mark the beginning of the end of CCM dominance, the seeds of this change go much further back in time. If Nyerere succeeded in constructing a political discourse which responded to widespread concerns within Tanzania society and sought to provide an answer to those concerns, this ability to be all things to all people could only ever be temporary. CCM remains in power, but it no longer has a monopoly over visions of the future. And for this reason, Tanzania’s elections may continue to make headlines in the years to come.


Anderson, David, and Lochery, Emma ‘Violence and Exodus in Kenya’s Rift Valley, 2008: Predictable and Preventable?’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2.2 (2008), 328-343.

Hunter, Emma ‘Julius Nyerere, the Arusha Declaration, and the Deep Roots of a Contemporary Political Metaphor’ in Fouéré, Marie-Aude ed., Remembering Julius Nyerere in Tanzania: History, Legacy, Memory, (Dar es Salaam, 2015). [Publication forthcoming].

Hunter, Emma Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy and Citizenship in the era of Decolonization, (Cambridge, 2015).

Lynch, Gabrielle I Say to You: Ethnic Politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya, (Chicago, 2011).
‘Tanzania elections: could CCM lose to Ukawa’? 23 October 2015, <>,  accessed 28 October 2015.

‘Tanzania election: Zanzibar vote annulled over ‘violations’’, 28 October 2015, <>, accessed 28 October 2015.

A History of British Immigration Policy: Constructing the ‘Enemy Within’

‘I tried to get into a lifeboat, but, when it was launched, it was nearly empty, and soon the stream and waves pushed it far. The other lifeboats were already far away.  Many people had jumped into the sea and a good deal of them had already died. When I realised… that there was not much time left, I got down calmly into the sea, and swam away from the ship, which was quickly sinking.  She had turned on the right side, her bow was submerged, people were on the decks poured into the sea, and all of a sudden she sank with a terrible noise.  The sea was covered with oil… with wrecks, and pieces of wood.’

One would be forgiven for mistaking this as a contemporary news account of a tragic event in the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, these are the words of a passenger on the SS Arandora Star, sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland in July 1940. There are strong parallels between this event and the growing list of contemporary disasters in the Mediterranean. One particularly interesting parallel is that the sinking of the Arandora Star resulted in a sudden about-face of British public opinion on government policy, comparable to the recent shift in public perception of refugees following the multiple disasters in the Mediterranean Sea. In the context of what seemed to be an imminent German invasion from the spring of 1940, widespread paranoia began to frame the approximately 20,000 German nationals residing in Britain as an infiltrating ‘fifth column’ undermining the British state. The government began a policy of interning the bulk of this population, sometimes resulting in deportation. However, pressured by the outcry following the Arandora Star’s sinking, the British government was forced to retract this policy and within a year most interned foreign nationals had been released. This could be partly attributed to the fact that the sense of crisis had diminished by 1941, due to Britain’s air superiority over the German Luftwaffe, but it is unlikely the government would have acted as swiftly without popular pressure forcing its hand.

This is an example of compassionate public opinion influencing government policy, but it remains a notable exception in a history of British immigration policy marked by extreme treatment of those labelled ‘outsiders’. Anti-outsider sentiment has been fuelled by political and media rhetoric characterising a specific group as ‘un-British’ or representing foreign values, which in turn has fuelled waves of ever-harsher policies towards them.

The targets have changed over time: whereas Irish and Lithuanian immigrants suffered most from this characterisation in the early nineteenth century, Britain’s Jews were turned on in the 1930s. Today it is Muslims who bear the brunt of most anti-migrant rhetoric. The government views immigration legislation as an effective scapegoat for the country’s problems, particularly during a period of economic crisis; it is no coincidence that anti-migrant sentiment flared up throughout the Long Depression of the 1870s, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recent global financial crisis.

Only a skim over British legislation on immigration is needed to appreciate the relationship between public paranoia and government policy. The 1905 Aliens Act empowered immigration officers to exclude ‘undesirables’, such as the poor or the mentally ill; the 1914 Aliens Restriction Act allowed for the deportation of people fleeing religious persecution; the 1920 Aliens Order granted the Home Secretary power to deport anyone ‘not conducive to the public good’, and there was authorisation for widespread internment and deportation during both world wars. The post-war years of growth and prosperity are marked by their lack of mainstream anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, but this lasted exactly as long as the feeling of economic security. With the economic shocks of the late twentieth century came renewed anti-immigration sentiment: the 1971 British Nationality Act, restricting the right of Commonwealth citizens to reside in the UK; the 1988 Immigration Act ensuring fast-track deportations; the UK Borders Act 2007, giving immigration officers police-like powers; and so on. There is not space in this article to give a full list. Worth noting is the increasing rate of such legislation, with six major Acts during the last Labour government alone.

Detaining non-British nationals became accepted policy during the world wars. Similar detention during peacetime had been codified in law since 1920, but it was only following the 1971 Immigration Act that it became commonplace to temporarily detain immigrants and asylum seekers until their status was confirmed. By the 1990s this had become a key feature of the UK’s border policy, now including purpose-built internment facilities. Anti-terror legislation passed in the aftermath of 9/11 has furthered this trend, removing any detention time limit. Jean-Claude Paye has argued that this constitutes the end of habeas corpus, the right of a detained individual for their detention to be examined by a court of law. That such a long-established tradition has gradually been overturned over the last century with virtually no public outcry indicates the popular enthusiasm for controlling ‘the enemy within’ at any cost.

The history of British immigration policy is not uplifting reading, but exceptional instances of compassion, such as in the aftermath of Arandora Star or the recent shift in public perception of refugees, are positive signs that we can build on. This compassionate energy needs to create long-term change in immigration and asylum policy, but we cannot forget that there are people affected by our system right now, who need support. Take a look at the ‘Refugees Welcome in the UK’ Facebook page to see all the different ways you can help right now, whether by donating your time, money or old clothes, or by pressuring your MPs to do better.