Indians in Europe during the Great War

In the final instalment of her three-part series on Indian colonial soldiers during the First World War, our Erasmus+ trainee Birgit Ampe discusses Mulk Raj Anand’s novel ‘Across the Black Waters’ and the reactions of Indian soldiers to what they saw in Europe.

It is often suggested that the outcome of the First World War was decided not so much by the main powers, but by their colonies. This is especially the case for Britain and India. The latter’s contribution to the conflict was one of the main factors that helped to secure British victory. It comes as no surprise, then, that British propaganda praised the achievements of the Indian troops in France and Flanders.

Indian soldiers at rest

But what was not mentioned was how these Indian men had to leave their homes and families in order to get to the front. Many of them had hardly ever crossed the boundaries of their village, let alone travelled across the ocean. So how did they react when they first set foot on the shores of France and came into contact with Europe and its inhabitants?

One particular source that deals with this question is the First World War novel Across the Black Waters (1939) by Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand. The story follows Lalu as he arrives in France and is sent to fight at the front in Flanders. Throughout the novel, the reader is presented with Lalu’s opinions as he explores this strange new land.

One could argue that Lalu’s narrative is a fictional account and thus not a faithful representation of reality. But, as I already suggested in the second blog post, the novel stays true to the sentiments and ideas expressed in letters written by actual Indian soldiers.

The main protagonist of the novel, Lalu, was fortunate in his upbringing since he was able to attend the Bishop Cotton School in India and could therefore more or less understand English. His time at the school also made him familiar with the ideas of the West, and tales of its wealth and splendour. It is obvious that Lalu is already biased beforehand. So when the soldiers are given some spare time to explore the city before they go to the trenches, Lalu feels the need to justify everything he sees: “He had aspired to this Europe as to some heaven, and sought to justify everything in Blighty [informal term for Britain]. He was inclined to forget the good things at home” (44). Lalu goes on to praise the wealth of the city, the kindness of the people and the equality that seems to exist between men and women and the different social classes.

It immediately strikes the reader that Lalu’s praise mimics that of real sepoys, who expressed similar opinions in their letters. However, it should be pointed out that these sepoys were not educated in the same manner that Lalu was. Mulk Raj Anand might have created a semi-educated protagonist in order to allow for a more complex character whose opinions can change towards the end of the novel, as we will see later on. But more importantly, by being in-between, Lalu acts as a bridge between the Indians and the Europeans.

The other characters in the novel resemble the sepoys perhaps more. They are uneducated and do not share Lalu’s need for justification. Nevertheless, they are  intrigued by the beauty and wealth of France. They are very curious and marvel at the different customs of the French. But what they are most surprised about is the kindness of the people. The attitude of the French people stands in sharp contrast to that of the British who look upon the Indians as inferior. The French on the other hand are “kind and polite” (16), and treat the sepoys as equals. Their friendliness makes the Indians feel that “they had grown to the dignity of human beings and [makes them forget] the way in which they had always been treated as so much cattle in India” (37-38).

The sepoys especially enjoy the kindness bestowed upon them by the women. The outgoing character of the French women is new to the Indians and it excites them. This attraction is mostly sexual, as is illustrated by the men’s eagerness to visit a brothel. For Lalu, however, women are not just sexual beings. He is physically attracted to them and he enjoys looking at the French girls who are in his opinion more beautiful than the “flabby and tired” (19) women of India. But later on in the novel, when he meets a French farmer and his family, Lalu has more complex feelings. The wife of the farmer acts as his mother and so there is no sexual attraction. He is, however, attracted to the farmer’s daughter. But as a reader we notice that the feelings are more than merely sexual.

This mixture of feelings is also present in the sepoys’ letters. Many Indian men wrote to their families that the women they met were like mothers and sisters to them. Only a few letters revealed a sexual attraction towards the women. Perhaps the men did not want their families to know about these feelings. We can fairly assume that men felt more sexually attracted to the women than they let on in their letters. Mulk Raj Anand certainly picked up on this point and incorporated it into his novel.

Despite the kindness they receive from the women and the French people in general, the sepoys were plagued by a sense of inferiority. Colonisation had a negative effect on the colonised and it influenced the way they think and behave. Indians often felt inferior and embarrassed in the face of the coloniser.

These feelings are also present in the novel, when the sepoys feel the need to salute every white man, even a peasant. The narrator concludes that “[t]his was the most tragic element in the position of the Indian soldiers: they were face to face with death in the unknown, but they could not stare at one of the myriad faces of their French and English comrades with the impunity of human beings” (227).

Interestingly, these feelings of inferiority are hardly ever described by real sepoys in their letters. Did they hold back their opinions because they knew their letters would be read? Or did they want to prove their loyalty to the Empire by not mentioning how they truly felt?

In the novel, the difference the sepoys experienced between themselves and the French and English soldiers illustrates how they identified with their homeland and how India never left their minds. This is especially the case when they explore the city. The sepoys comment on the small rivers and are eager to visit a French farm.

I already mentioned in the previous blog post how some Indians compared certain aspects of the war to elements of rural labour, not least because most Indian soldiers were peasants before. But the novel suggests that they were also genuinely interested in agriculture. For example, when some Indians are talking to a French soldier with Lalu as an interpreter, they ask him: “Did you ask whether he owned land, whether they plough the land, like us, with oxen? Whether they use a plough to break the soil, and the scythe and sickle to cut the crop, and flail? And how they thresh? That is what we want to know” (82).

Indian soldiers marching (source: Imperial War Museum, Q 70214)

The characters in the novel generally cast India in a positive light, but Lalu, who is somewhat biased, disapproves of the outdated methods of the Indians, arguing that that “[i]n every land, even in our own country, it could be like this […] [b]ut our elders say, ‘It is not the custom to do this, it is not the custom to do that.’ Fools!” (50).

This idea was expressed by real sepoys in their letters as well. They did not use such strong language, but it is clear that they admired the West and believed that India had a long way to go before it could ever reach the same economic standard.

Towards the end of the novel, however, Lalu is forced to change his opinion of the West. The difficult life in the trenches and the meaninglessness of the war begin to take their toll on Lalu’s naive mind, and he eventually “reproached himself for his predilection for the fashionable life. … So ashamed was he of thinking of the enthusiasm which he had felt as he started out on this journey” (179).

This brief exposition illustrates the close connection between Across the Black Waters and the corpus of letters written by actual Indian soldiers. Historical sources, such as these letters, can provide valuable insight into the lives of the Indian World War I soldiers, but the element of censorship must always be taken into account when examining them. In this respect, it can be useful to look at literary sources too, since these often highlight other aspects of soldiers’ experiences and reveal new perspectives on the historical past.

Birgit Ampe is an Erasmus+ trainee and visiting postgraduate student at the CSMCH. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Ghent in Belgium. She intends to start a second Masters degree in library studies at the University of Brussels in September 2018.

Fact versus Fiction: Mulk Raj Anand’s ‘Across the Black Waters’

In the second instalment of her three-part series on Indian colonial soldiers during the First World War, our Erasmus+ trainee Birgit Ampe discusses Mulk Raj Anand’s novel ‘Across the Black Waters’ alongside actual letters written by Indian soldiers.

Since the end of the First World War, many novels have been published describing the experiences of the soldiers who fought in the trenches. But whereas stories about the British combatants are strongly represented, those about the Indian sepoys are notably absent. One of the few novels that does take the sepoys’ experience as a subject is Across the Black Waters by Indian author Mulk Raj Anand. Published in 1939, the novel follows a young Indian boy, Lalu, as he arrives in France and is sent to fight at the front. Throughout the novel we see Lalu mature as his service progresses. His feelings and emotions are described extensively as well as those of the other sepoys.

But how far do these feelings represent the reality? In order to find out, we must look at the letters from real First World War sepoys. Even though the letters were subjected to censorship, they can provide a glimpse into the minds of the Indian soldiers. By comparing them to the novel we can establish how close the fiction of Mulk Raj Anand lies to the reality.

The majority of the letters either hint at the war or explicitly refer to it. With this in mind, one thing that is immediately apparent when regarding the letters as a whole, is that the tone of the letters changes as the war progresses. At the beginning of the war, a feeling of optimism is present and morale is high. The Indians express in their letters a will to fight and are grateful for an opportunity to show their loyalty to the Empire.

Indian soldiers in the trenches

The same ideas are described at the beginning of Mulk Raj Anand’s novel. When the Indians arrive at Marseilles they let out shouts of joy and are very excited (11). Lalu himself believes it is “thrilling to be going out on this adventure” (13). Lalu’s excitement lasts for a few chapters and does not even diminish when he has to enter the trenches, as he feels it is an honour to be fighting alongside the British Tommies (124).

However, these feelings of hope did not last. When the first battles proved to be more difficult than imagined, the sepoys began to despair. This was reflected in their letters. Morale declined and they even wrote letters home urging their family members not to enlist.

The sepoys in the novel do not write such letters but it is clear that despair has taken hold of them. When the first attack turns into a slaughter and when they are mowed down by the Germans’ superior guns, they start to realise that they should not be part of this war:

They did not know what they were fighting for or what anyone else was fighting for. And, almost from the beginning, things had gone wrong, almost from the start they had been shattered by the bombardments, flooded by rains and frozen by the cold. (178)

When the winter kicked in towards the end of 1914, the Indians’ morale declined even further. The sepoys were not used to the cold climate of France and Flanders, and the perpetual rain and snow made life in the trenches even more difficult. Throughout the novel, references to the cold are made, but they are subtly woven into the larger emotional framework. It is mentioned for example that some Sikhs froze to death overnight, or that several sepoys got frostbite (303).

When in 1915, morale reached its breaking point, it was decided to move the infantry to the Middle East. The tone of the letters of the remaining cavalry turned slowly from despair into resignation as they accepted their fate. The events in the novel only span across the year 1914, but occasionally some feelings of resignation are already present among the sepoys. They lose the joy of eating and “did not even complain about the inconvenience of changing trenches and this red-hot reception they were greeting from the enemy, as if after the hardships of the first attack they were now prepared to accept anything” (187). So although a general feeling of resignation is not yet present, some hints to it can already be found in the novel.

Besides the changing curve of emotions, the loyalty to the British Government in a context of war is worth examining. Overall, the Indians speak favourably of the Government or Sarkar in their letters. They want to show their loyalty and believe that it is their duty to fight because they have profited of the ‘salt of the Sarkar’.

In the novel, however, this image is more nuanced. Whereas the higher ranking officers keep reminding the soldiers that the Government is good and benevolent, the soldiers themselves have mixed feelings towards the Sarkar. The Government is blamed for the lack of information the sepoys receive and the fact that they have to fight in a war that is not theirs.

When they have to return to the trenches after some failed attacks, one sepoy even cries: “Oh, I won’t fight! I will not fight for this dirty Sarkar” (200). At one point, it is even hinted that there is a general “fear of the Sarkar” (266). However, when the men actually have to fight, they speak differently of the British Government. They urge each other on to go over the parapet of the trenches by saying that they should “prove true to the salt of the Sarkar” (284). This more nuanced image is very interesting and one wonders whether this could be closer to the truth since the letters by real sepoys were censored.

Indian soldiers at rest

Another aspect in the letters that is often connected to the war is religion. The sepoys often mentioned how daily religious observances were being abandoned, a concern that is also present in the novel.

A good example to illustrate this is the ‘sanctity’ of the kitchen. When the sepoys set up camp after their arrival in France, they build a makeshift kitchen and are very angry when an unsuspecting woman walks through it. Later on in the novel, when their camp has to be broken down and everything needs to be loaded into trucks, Lalu remarks:

Seeing that he himself and the other sepoys were going freely about the kitchens with their boots of cowhide skins and their leather belts, and handling food without washing their hands, he thought that if Dhanoo and Kirpu needed any more proof of the spoliation of their religion they could see it here. (70)

In the letters written by Muslim soldiers in particular, religion was mentioned in relation to Turkey. In 1914, Turkey joined the war on the side of the Germans which proved to be a difficulty for some Muslims. This is also briefly touched upon in the novel when Lalu confirms a Muslim soldier’s suspicions that the Turks have joined the war. The Muslim is horror-stricken and exclaims: “Then we have been fighting against the Khalif of Islam!” (349).

Although religion is omnipresent in the novel, the war is hardly ever described in terms of it. This was, however, the case in the letters where the war was compared to religious epics of destruction. Nevertheless, in both the letters and the novel, war is described in terms of the sepoys’ home. For example, in the novel, the sound of the artillery is compared to the drums of a marriage procession (148), and the noise of gun fire is likened to that in a cotton factory (157).

From this short comparison we can conclude that Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Across the Black Waters stayed true to the reality of the First World War sepoys. The emotions and feelings expressed in the soldiers’ letters are portrayed in a very realistic way in the novel. Even though the novel was written for an English-speaking audience, it managed to present the perspective of the colonised rather than that of the coloniser. And just as the letters gave the sepoys a voice in reality, so Across the Black Waters gave them a voice in fiction.

Birgit Ampe is an Erasmus+ trainee and visiting postgraduate student at the CSMCH. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Ghent in Belgium. She intends to start a second Masters degree in library studies at the University of Brussels in September 2018.

Indian Soldiers, Their Letters and the Great War

From March to May 2018, the CSMCH is hosting Birgit Ampe as an Erasmus+ trainee and visiting postgraduate student. Amongst other things, Birgit is using her time in Edinburgh to pursue research on Indian soldiers during the First World War. In the first of three blog posts, she explores some of the letters that Indian soldiers wrote during the war, and what these can tell us about the relationship between Indians and the colonial administration. 

When the war broke out in 1914, it was soon termed the Great War. It was only later that it would become known as the First World War. This more accurate term envelops the true nature of the conflict: the great powers used their vast empires to march on the enemy. This was especially true for Britain, which at the onset of the war controlled over one-fifth of the world’s land mass and held a quarter of the world’s population. In the British Empire, India was seen as the crown jewel. It then comes as no surprise that most of Britain’s colonial recruits came from India. In total, 1.27 million Indian men contributed to the war effort, including 827,000 combatants. These so-called sepoy were first deployed in France and later also in the Middle East.

The majority of the Indian soldiers were recruited from the middle peasantry, which has led many historians to conclude that these illiterate men were voiceless victims of the war. This is, however, not entirely true. In the British Library and the Cambridge University Library we can find an entire collection of letters written (or dictated to scribes) by Indian soldiers. The reason for their survival is perhaps not what one might suspect. Throughout the war, Indian inward and outward mail was translated, examined, and if needed, censored by the Indian Base Post Office to ensure no inappropriate things were written. This Office made weekly reports with extracts from the letters. So thanks to censorship these letters have survived.

Some of the letters from this collection have been reprinted by David Omissi in Indian Voices of the Great War (1999). As the title already suggests, the Indian soldiers were anything but voiceless. It is of course important to keep in mind that these letters were sometimes written with censorship in mind, but as David Omissi himself explains in the introduction to his work, most letters show genuine feelings and thoughts which can provide a glimpse into the minds of the soldiers. And that is exactly what this blog post will try to do, by means of highlighting some of the main ideas and recurrent themes as presented by Omissi in his introduction.

A scribe transcribes a soldier’s letter (source: IWM, Q 53887)

At first glance, it is immediately clear that the war has a prominent place in the letters. Although the soldiers had been given strict orders not to write about the war, it was almost impossible not to do so, because this unprecedented event had inevitably become part of their lives. Interestingly, the emotions expressed in the letters seem to mirror the developments during the war. When, for example, the first battles proved to be more difficult and the number of casualties much higher, there was a marked shift in tone from hope to despair. Many soldiers no longer believed the war would be over soon, but instead urged their family members not to enlist.

Morale began to decline even further with the arrival of winter. The Indian soldiers were not used to such harsh weather conditions and the number of self-inflicted wounds increased. In 1915, Indian morale had reached its lowest point and it was feared that it would not survive another winter. The Indian infantry was consequently moved from France to the Middle East. Immediately, we see another shift in the letters. There is a less depressing tone and – apart from some despairing letters – the soldiers seem to have adjusted to the war. However, this adjustment came with a feeling of resignation and a loss of belief in personal survival. As a Sikh wrote to his mother:

I am very happy. In the end I have to die, and to die is best. Except for resignation, there is no remedy. (351)

Perhaps as interesting as what the soldiers wrote, is how they wrote it. Many of them described the war in terms of what they were familiar with. Since the majority of the soldiers were recruited from the middle peasantry, they frequently described the war using references to rural labour. For example, a soldier wrote to his uncle:

Germany fights the world with ghastly might, harder to crush than well-soaked grain in the mill. (123) 

Religious imagery is also frequently used. Muslims refer to the war as the Karbala, whereas Hindus compare it to the Mahabharata, both tales of destruction.

In fact, religion played a very important role, not only in the imagery, but in the everyday lives of the soldiers. Daily religious observances, such as eating halal, remained important to the men, even when the war made it difficult to do so. Some Muslims complained in their letters about the difficulty to come by halal food and how other Muslims had become lax in their observance. But this was not the only challenge Muslims faced. In 1914, Turkey joined the war. At the time, this country was a great Muslim power, and fighting it meant fighting the home of the Khalifa. However, from their letters we can gather that many Muslims decided to remain loyal to Britain, writing that “Turkey is nothing at all to us” (1).

The letters do not only give us an insight in how the soldiers felt about the war, but also about what they left behind. There are heart wrenching letters about homesickness, disputes about family allowances and the strain of war on marriage. It is also worth remembering that these soldiers were peasants before enlistment. Even in the midst of war, their minds were still preoccupied with the agricultural conditions back at home, as we can see in the following letter:

He said that the wheat harvest had been utterly ruined. Please write and tell me whether this is true or not. (112)

But leaving one’s own nation behind, also meant coming into contact with a new one. For most Indian soldiers this was a positive encounter, as their letters show. The beauty of France is often praised, along with the friendliness of the people and the wealth of the cities. When compared to India, the latter seems to come off as rather backward, with some soldiers even claiming that it would “take at least five hundred years for India to attain to such conditions” (58).

One reason why the soldiers made such claims is the education of women. Many Indian men were surprised that French women were so well-educated. They even wrote letters home expressing a wish that their daughters should be educated as well as their sons. Overall, the Indian soldiers wrote positively about women. Some compared them to mothers and sisters, because of the care they received from them, while others had more sexual thoughts in mind when they wrote “[t]he ladies are very nice and bestow their favours upon us freely” (171).

A final interesting point to be found in the letters is that there is a lack of Indian identity and nationalist discourse. Instead, the soldiers seem to have a strong sense of duty towards the Government or Sirkar:

I consider it an honour that I am called to do this work, and am looked upon as a loyal subject. […] Our Government has done everything possible to make things easy for us and has provided us with every comfort, but up to date I have not been able to make any recompense. Now is the time. (585)

But perhaps even more than loyalty to the Government, there was loyalty to the King. It must be stressed, however, that this loyalty was directed towards the person of the King, rather than his office.

When examining these letters and highlighting certain recurrent ideas, it becomes clear that the Indian soldiers were not as different from their British colleagues, even though they came from an entirely different culture. They are in essence just men, with their own ideas, fears and curiosity. David Omissi’s work is invaluable to the research on Indian soldiers as through these letters we get a rare glimpse into the thoughts and lives of these often forgotten people.

Birgit Ampe is an Erasmus+ trainee and visiting postgraduate student at the CSMCH. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Ghent in Belgium. She intends to start a second Masters degree in library studies at the University of Brussels in September 2018.

CSMCH-IASH colloquium on the Indian left

To mark the end of his 3-month fellowship period, our inaugural CSMCH-IASH postdoctoral fellow Rakesh Ankit, organised a small colloquium on the left in 20th century India. The two invited speakers – Virinder Kalra (Warwick) and Taylor Sherman (LSE) – both offered contrasting perspectives on an important theme in Indian political history. After the event, Rakesh wrote this short summary of the day’s highlights. 

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

Starting the proceedings of the afternoon with a focus on the political consciousness of the Ghadar Party as gleaned from its poetics, Virinder Kalra posed the question, who is a revolutionary subject? With respect to the Ghadar-ites of 1914-17, this assumes added importance, when one realises their diverse and enduring legacies in the left in/on India. The Ghadar Party, founded in 1913, in Virinder’s words, was an ‘archetype of a certain kind of migratory and student consciousness’. Articulating its ‘politics through poetry’, in which ‘[political] truth was subordinate to the flow of political language’, it was a ‘proto-type secular anti-religious group’.

Virinder Kalra discusses the Ghadar Party

Beginning with the verses of Kartar Singh Sarabha and following it up with examples from Ghadar di Goonj, a 6-volume poem collection, described as a ‘lightening – storm – flame – fire’, Prof. Kalra mentioned its trans-national trajectory, well-traced by Maia Ramnath in Haj to Utopia (2011). Over the next 20 years, it would inspire many; from Bhagat Singh to Udham Singh. One of its more appealing features was its overt secular nature seen in forthright preferences expressed between the binaries of sacred versus profane and religion versus revolt. The Ghadar movement termed Pandits, Qazis and Rai Bahadurs as ‘black heart collaborators’ of the colonial regime thereby entwining the two, as shown by Harish Puri (1993). However, this interpretation has not gone unquestioned and it has been argued that the language of mobilisation employed in these poems was more often than not replete with Sikh religious motifs.

Virinder offered a more nuanced reading to decode these poetic motifs, which almost always portrayed organised religion as negative and, even when giving a call for action in the name of sacred duty, did not particularise it. Religious imagery was used outside a religious context. It can be read as a case of invoking religion to overcome religion. It was not so much a call for religious action but righteous action caused by material conditions and subjectivities. Unsurprisingly, it inspired revolutionary consciousness in a range of organisations like Kirti Kisan Party, Hindustan Socialist Revolutionary Association, while also being attempted to be appropriated by right-wing religious movements like Ahrars and the Arya Samaj. This fount of ‘leading inspiration’ had then, its ‘identities as process…’ in the words of Stuart Hall.

Initiating the discussion, Talat Ahmed (Edinburgh) asked about the specificity of poetry as a historical source, whether the Ghadar-ites were ‘anti-religious’ or better understood as ‘non-religious’ and how we could more accurately or approximately define their revolutionary subject. In his response, Virinder agreed about the Ghadar-ites employing religious motifs, not ‘from above’, but ‘from below’. This ambivalence was accompanied by an absence of women and lower castes/outcastes in their midst, which further qualifies the Ghadar-ites’ claim to be a modern, revolutionary subject. Their Marxism may have been alternative but it had its own populated margins.

Following on from Talat’s comment, Taylor Sherman wondered whether the Ghadar moment was a case of ‘youthful misadventure’. Further, what immediacy or urgency were they seized by in their sense of time? Prof. Kalra offered that just as religion was a rhetorical vehicle for poetry, youth was a similar rhetorical device; as was Heroism. Taken together, they responded to the ‘unsettled’ time of 1910s and 20s and imparted a sense of now or never. After all, the anti-colonial nature of the group was never in doubt.

The final questions of the session came from the audience. Some wondered about the contestations around the contemporary meanings and legacies of the Ghadar Party and were accompanied by the as to why so much of the writings by the Ghadar-ites was without authorial identification. Especially when contrasted with the Progressives and Mavericks from 1930s onwards. Virinder agreed that identities, symbolisms and legacies are neither fixed nor settled to anyone’s satisfaction. Mixed practices and articulations made any institutional appropriation difficult and this makes the memory and history of Ghadar-ites more and not less fascinating. On the matter of to name or to not name, Prof. Kalra – his response amplified by Dr. Ahmed – elucidated by pointing that the critical factor here was 1917, which provided a context for what he called the clear, fixed, ‘settled left’ afterwards, a structured project, whereas before 1917, it had been a fluid churning of an ‘unsettled left’, largely rumblings.

Taylor Sherman, ‘Does a democracy need elections? Jayaprakash Narayan and democratic doubt in 1950s and 1960s India’

Taylor Sherman began by questioning the scholarly consensus that India in 1950s was a strong state with a stable democratic regime, personified by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, before it went downhill under his daughter Indira Gandhi in 1970s. Citing Ornit Shani’s recent celebration of India’s first general election and her eulogy to the ‘bureaucratic imagination’ that conducted it, Dr. Sherman brought up the limitations of this understanding.

Taylor Sherman explores the political engagement of Jayaprakash Narayan

While the former was ‘too long-term-ist and schematic’, Shani is too ‘short-term’. Neither consider ‘how Indians themselves viewed democracy’. Bringing up one such prominent Indian, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) – the Marxist, whose socialism was always tempered by a strong influence of Gandhi – and his ‘democratic doubts’ articulated to the extent of arguing for abolishing Parliamentary Democracy, Taylor asked the question JP seemed to be asking: does a democracy need elections to do its tasks of development?

Drawing upon JP’s trajectory from party politics to social movements like Sarvodaya and Bhoodan and his consequent criticism of the built-in iniquities of the ‘first-past-the-post’ system expressed most vocally between 1957 and 1961, she listed the ‘pure particulars’ of JP’s critique: (a) parliamentary democracy did not equal to majority rule given the discrepancy between votes polled and seats won, (b) people often did not vote ‘rationally’, (c) party machines were engaged in a relentless, remorseless and rapacious competition; a ‘competition of violators’ of democratic spirit, (d) the ubiquitous caste factor, (e) the 5-year electoral cycles meant that for a majority of that time, there was a state of executive rule through an indirect democratic arrangement, given the absence of recall/referendum, (f) Democracy was, all said and done, a ‘foreign’ system.

JP’s alternative Indian vision was a communitarian democracy of ‘pooling of resources, moral quality and mental attitude’. At its heart was not universal adult franchise but ‘universal adult participation’, leading to not merely democracy but self-rule from bottom i.e. the primary village community. This was welfare in miniature, local self-government and a decentralized structure, which could ‘avoid’ elections, which it did not ‘require’ for its primary, everyday goals of community development.

The discussion that followed threw further light on JP’s milieu, especially his disillusioning experience of the Congress party-apparatus during the 1937 and 1946 elections. Seeming contradictions in JP’s thinking viz. the inherent caste/communal violence in villages, the ‘client-patron’ relations and lack of land reforms were brought up and it was wondered whether his disenchantment with democracy was not a part of a larger disillusionment, which emerged in late—1950s India. Talat wondered what JP was reading so as to be so reliant on the ‘good-naturedness’ of the elites in his almost ‘oriental despotic’ model. Virinder queried about the parallels in JP’s thinking with the nativity/indigeneity that today’s right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP profess. Finally, another audience members saw echoes of Rousseau’s ‘General Will’ and ‘Deliberation’ in JP’s thought.

In her replies, Dr. Sherman shed more light on aspects of JP’s ‘individualist democracy’ of an ‘enlightened local and not distant rule’, albeit with the danger of dissent being smothered. In sum, the time of 1950s was reposited by Dr. Sherman as a ‘period of experiment’, in which JP – a pro-development figure – was a key thinker on ways to overcome the shortcomings and violence of the then-existing socialist democracy(s).

Rakesh Ankit teaches history at the Law School in OP Jindal University, Sonipat. He studied at the universities of Delhi, Oxford and Southampton, from where he completed his PhD in 2014. His dissertation was published as Kashmir, 1945-66: From Empire to the Cold War (Routledge, 2016) and he has also worked on the Interim Government of September 1946-August 1947 in British India. He was the inaugural CSMCH-IASH postdoctoral fellow from November 2017 to January 2018, during which he worked on a new project on the history of Indian Communism.

Lighting the way: Harold Macmillan and the audacity of balance

We continue our series of guest contributions with Theo Zenou’s reflections on Harold Macmillan’s famous book The Middle Way and its continuing relevance in the febrile politics of the twenty-first century

1938, Britain. While the political class was fixated upon foreign affairs, in the hope of averting world war, a quirky Member of Parliament—Harold Macmillan—authored a socio-economic treatise entitled The Middle Way. It was his sixth book in a decade, a feat rendered somewhat less impressive by the fact he literally owns the printing presses. Macmillan is the scion of publishing powerhouse, Macmillan and Co., and a partner at the family firm.

Macmillan, the free thinker

Born at the turn of the century, Macmillan was a child of privilege but not one of luxury. The Etonian inherited his wardrobe from his older brothers—making him, already as a youngster, appear old-fashioned and out of place. Prone to ill health and bouts of depression, Macmillan found solace in the family’s book collection. He admired Benjamin Disraeli’s One-Nation conservatism, yet found much of interest in Liberal reformism and Christian socialism. Macmillan, in short, was something of a political free-thinker.

After service in the Great War, Macmillan joined the Conservative Party and, in 1924, he was elected Tory MP for the constituency of Stockton-on-Tees in the North of England. In parliament, he rapidly emerged as a rebel. But a very peculiar kind of rebel: not brash or irate, but eccentric, impertinent and, some believed, pompous. His self-restraint, stiff even by the day’s standards, irked many.

Consigned to the back benches, Macmillan spent the roaring twenties and bleak thirties honing his vision. Recognising in the great depression a breakdown of modern civilization, he castigated the Conservative government for its punitive austerity programme. He went so far as to deem his own party “dominated by second-class brewers and company chairmen—a Casino Capitalism—[that] is not likely to represent anybody but itself.” All the while he feared poverty would engender the ascent of Soviet-style socialism. By the year 1938—and the publication of The Middle Way—Macmillan, the statesman-in-waiting, was fully formed.

The Middle Way

The original 1938 book cover of ‘The Middle Way’

The Middle Way made the case for a mixed economy, that is one neither wholly—or explicitly—capitalist or socialist, instead striking a balance between the “unfettered abuse” of the free market and the “intolerable restriction” of the state. To Macmillan, this entailed relinquishing economic dogmas, thinking critically about the trends that led to crises and experimenting with new approaches.

He outlined the methods by which not just recovery but prosperity could be achieved: a dynamic partnership between the public sector and private enterprise, bold projects of industrial reconstruction and infrastructure works, a regulatory framework for the financial industries in order to curtail speculation and encourage investment, social programmes to limit the fallout from unemployment. If this sounds similar to the economic theories of another Old Etonian—John Maynard Keynes—that’s because it is. Macmillan, whose firm published Keynes, quoted him extensively. Yet Macmillan, unlike Keynes, was a politician and The Middle Way is most interesting if seen not as a thesis on policy, but as a work of political philosophy that also speaks to the character of its notoriously unflappable, enigmatic author.

The Middle Way was a book about ensuring the survival and continuation of civilisation and democracy. Macmillan saw them as precious but wobbly edifices in need of constant repair. He identified as the great challenge ahead the necessity to “retain our heritage of political, intellectual and cultural freedom while, at the same time, opening up the way to higher standards of social welfare and economic security.” To him, politics was a tool to liberate society from “the humiliation and restraints of unnecessary poverty”, so that individual men and women could develop and realise themselves in relative harmony.

He emphasised that the mere accumulation of material things could not be the aim of these intersecting quests. Rather Macmillan imagined a world in which happiness—he defined it as “a light which illuminates the mind and spirit of those (…) ready to receive it”—is the main business of being human. However, he did not make any false promises of utopia: his middle way wouldn’t get anyone there. Macmillan firmly believed that “happiness is personal,” and it is up to the individual—and him alone—to tread his own path.

Underscoring this humanism were the ideas of rigour and responsibility. To achieve his political vision, Macmillan reiterated throughout The Middle Way—like a mantra—the need for “conscious regulation” and “conscious direction and control.” The qualifier “conscious,” straight out of psychology, appears odd when referring to the economy. No economist has used this turn of phrase before or since. However, Macmillan’s idiosyncratic choice of adjective says much about him as a man.

All his life, Macmillan struggled with regulating his own unconscious mind. By nature, he was hyper-emotional, easily upset and dispirited, susceptible to over-thinking and doubt. Not long before his death, Macmillan confided in his biographer Alistair Horne: “I always felt that one must maintain great control, but it is very exhausting keeping it to yourself. I wasn’t really ‘unflappable,’ I just had to keep it down.” Macmillan overcame his own mood swings through a constant quest for mental balance and he saw society in much the same way: as a living organism privy to the brutal pendulum swings of the left and the right, under threat from the excesses of socialism and capitalism. To ordain and order society—that is to be in the business of politics—is a perpetual balancing act. It offers no time for complacency, demands vigorous thinking and effective action and, above all, it never ends. That was, ultimately, the message of The Middle Way.

Beyond the Middle Way?

Consensus or crisis? Kennedy and Macmillan in June 1963

During the Second World War, Harold Macmillan served in the cabinet of another formidable Tory backbencher, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And at long last, in 1956, he became Prime Minister himself. By the time Macmillan reached office, his middle way had gone a long way. The post-war settlement, informed by the theories of Keynes, resulted in the creation of the welfare state and a more preponderant role for the government in economic affairs. Macmillan, then, possessed the tools to govern he so relishes. Though some experts credit global conjuncture for his economic success, his tenure nonetheless guided the return of prosperity and achieved a rise in living standards for all Britons. In 1957, in his most famous remark, often the source of mockery, he stated: “Let’s face it, most of our people never had it so good.”

Harold Macmillan resigned in 1963, on grounds of poor health, following the Profumo affair. Beyond this unfortunate turn of events, it’s clear that Macmillan was increasingly out of touch with the  British public. His composure, once lauded as a sign of stable leadership, was now the object of ridicule. A new Britain was emerging, and it had no room for an archaic gentleman born in the Victorian era.

In 1979, after a decade of economic decline and poor political management, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. She embraced the “unfettered” free market, loathed the state and preached the doctrine of monetarism, in many ways the very “casino capitalism” Macmillan had battled his whole life.

Thatcher derided, in particular, the middle way—though she referred to it by the more widely-used term of “consensus” (as in post-war Keynesian consensus). She said it is “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?’” Thatcher’s argument was salient, and an apt commentary on much of what ails politics. She forgot, however that, in 1938, Macmillan’s middle way was far from heralding consensus.

Unlike the flabby Prime Ministers who succeeded him, Macmillan had not been a passive receiver of consensus, but rather an active shaper of it. His successors failed to achieve equilibrium in the political balancing act that is the middle way, yet that is certainly no justification to throw the baby out with the bathwater. With gusto and method, Thatcher destroyed the middle way and replaced it with her own consensus: neo-liberalism.

Harold Macmillan died, disillusioned, in 1986. As a statesman, he hailed the middle ground as the only position in politics that can be occupied “with honour.” His eclecticism was not the result of a lack of conviction, but rather the harbinger of the strength of his principles. He had the temerity to think outside of existing dogmas, and formulate his own outlook. Macmillan, too, looked to his own life to understand truths about human existence and find an ingenious way to integrate them to politics.

Macmillan may seem the stuffy relic of a bygone world, but his middle way is urgently topical in our age of brutal political polarization and dizzying technological progress. Beyond the economic ideas—many of which still sound judicious—it is his breadth of vision we sorely need. In 1938, as now, it is the “preservation of Democracy” that is at stake. In an eerily prescient passage of The Middle Way, Macmillan noted: “[Man’s] present task is to liberate himself from the dominance of the machine; to found a new civilisation in which human life is supreme, and in which new vistas of freedom open up because the machine becomes his slave.” That is but one of the reasons why The Middle Way deserves re-appraisal as a major work of political thought.

Theo Zenou is an MSc Research student in History. His research interests lie in twentieth century American politics, and the way political leaders formulate grand visions for their country and people. His dissertation centres on the communication strategies of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. He is an affiliated student of the CSMCH.

Rise and fall of the postcard: a history of visual culture in modern tourism

Continuing with our exciting guest contributions by Centre affiliates, we have invited Jordan Girardin (University of St Andrews) to tell us more about the fascinating work he has been doing on postcards and the visual history of modern tourism.

In September 2017, British postcard publisher J Salmon of Sevenoaks announced it would cease its activity by the end of the year. Founded in 1880, Salmon of Sevenoaks was one of the UK’s leading publishers of postcards and calendars. But it struggled to find a sixth generation in the family to run the family business. It claimed that social media had brought the postcard industry to a gloomy end, with annual postcard sales slumping from 20 million at the end of the last century to only 5 million in recent years. Indeed, social media offers a more personalised snapshot of our travel experience. It can reach many more recipients, does not cost anything else than access to the Internet, and of course, takes less than a second to receive as opposed to however long it will take postal services to deliver your postcard.

1915 postcard of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh (William Ritchie and Sons)

The demise of J Salmon reminds us that postcards are a creation of the modern tourism industry, which developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. This new form of travel was characterised by the development of modern infrastructures and economic models. Railways developed in order to bring higher numbers of travellers to more destinations, and in less time. And hotels were built to minimise the burden of having to find local inns or lodgers, which was a usual challenge for eighteenth century travellers visiting smaller towns and villages.

These towns often reinvented themselves in the late nineteenth century to become resorts: Alpine villages became winter resorts, where interactions with the locals were scarce and a true Alpine experience was promised to the visitor. Seaside regions reshaped their status, by calling their strip of land a “Riviera”. The birth of advertising, alongside modern capitalism, allowed for a visual promotion of these new practices: posters that you now find in any good vintage shop were a mainstream way of promoting a certain destination, travel experience, and mode of transportation at the same time. While the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a very literary form of travel, the late nineteenth century was all about making an excellent first visual impression, in order to convince tourists to visit.

Postcards derived from that visual promotion of tourism. While many early forms of postcards exist – such as engravings attached to letters, or card-sized messages – the rise of modern postcards in continental Europe can be traced back to the 1860s. The trend followed shortly afterwards in Britain, where the tourism industry was already flourishing with resorts such as Brighton or Blackpool, and people swiftly embraced postcards as the ideal way to promote picturesque views of the English seaside.

A postcard of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice (early 20th century)

Naturally, the postcard industry has suffered from its incapacity to modernise, or to adapt to a changing travel industry. Recently, some applications have emerged and gained popularity, allowing tourists to design their own postcard with personal photos from their smartphones. Such apps are either private initiatives (like TouchNote), or sponsored by public services, like French postal services La Poste’s MaCartaMoi. The problem is that these tools still lack temporal productivity, as the reception delay is similar to classical postcards, leaving social media and digital communications as the best ways to give an instant and personalised overview of one’s journey.

However, this situation of decline has its lot of silver linings. Postcards have become a natural part of the usual tourist hub, and it would be foolish for a souvenir shop not to display any. Postcards will remain and will keep attracting a certain public, just as letters remain a form of communication, although in severe decline.

Moreover, some of the travel practices fuelled by postcards have been transferred to the way we send digital content. By the 1930s, postcards had become a way for individuals to show off about their holiday, and for travel companies (hotels, railways, tourism boards) to promote their destinations at no cost.  This attitude has precisely been transferred onto social media: people will gladly promote a holiday destination on Instagram and other social media platforms, through the use of geo-located pictures and appropriate hashtags. By embellishing our holiday photos, we send an idealised view of the places we visit. Tourism boards have understood the potential of this form and they have started to invite bloggers and ‘influencers’ to use their official social media accounts to give their own personal view on the region. These methods directly derive from the need for tourism infrastructures to promote their destination visually – a practice that rose in the late nineteenth century and was largely democratised thanks to all of us sending postcards.

Jordan Girardin is a teaching fellow in Modern History at the University of St Andrews. His main research interests gravitate around the transnational study of travel and tourism. His PhD thesis was an analysis of early tourism in the Alps, while his new project investigates networks of Esperanto speakers in Western Europe in the early 20th century. He is an affiliated staff member of the CSMCH.

Rupture, Repression, Repetition? A conference on the Algerian War at the University of Leeds

One of our affiliated staff members, Hugh McDonnell, attended a conference on the Algerian War held at the University of Leeds on 7-8 September 2017. Here he reports on some of the things he heard.

Mohamed Ben Kassen, Fusia El Kader, and Brahim Hadjadj in ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (1966)

Newcomers to the conference organising scene will have good reason to resent University of Leeds PhD student Beatrice Ivey and her colleague Dr Daniel Hartley for having set the bar quite so high with their hosting of ‘Rupture, Repression, Repetition? The Algerian War of Independence in the Present.’ That said, their debut was no doubt facilitated by the exciting offering of papers, spanning the spectrum of French and North African studies. Particularly satisfying was the constructive and sympathetic engagement between historians and those speaking from more theoretical or text-oriented backgrounds. The event did justice to the ambitious range of topics underlying the call for papers, ranging from French and Algerian wars of memory, and past and present states of emergency on both sides of the Mediterranean, to historical temporality in the thought of Alain Badiou.

Pinpointing particular papers inevitably fails to reflect the quality and insights across all panels, not least in the welcome roundtable for current PhD students. Nonetheless, personal highlights included offerings on cultural transpositions from the Algeria’s war of independence to its décennie noire; the war in contemporary Algerian literature; Nina Wardleworth’s exposition on the Algerian war in the French detective novel; Maria Flood on Jacques Panijel’s documentary on the Paris October 1961 massacre, Octobre à Paris; Patrick Crowley’s ‘Temporalities of War, Figurations of the Present: Literary Afterlives of the Algerian War of Independence’; and Andy Stafford’s insights into Mohammed Dib and the responsibility of the writer.

These were complemented by penetrating historical analyses of the same period. Stand-out contributions here included Tom Hunt on the unrecognised legacy of Algeria in the invention of Late Antiquity; Selim Nadi on the Algerian Revolution, the French State and the Counter-Colonial Strategy of the Holy Republic; Dónal Hasset on the narration of Algeria’s First World War through the lens of the War of Independence; and Claire Eldridge’s talk on generational change and memory transmission within the Algerian pied-noir community.

Emblematic of this exchange between literature and history were the two keynotes from Jane Hiddleston and Natalya Vince from Oxford and Portsmouth Universities respectively. Hiddleston’s compelling interpretation of ‘revolving memories’ in the work of figures from Boualem Sansal to Kateb Yacine was counterpoised by Vince’s stylish paper on ‘The Permanent Reinvention’ as a lens through which to view the Algerian Revolution in recent pasts. Nicely weaving together questions considered over the two days, Vince’s conclusion pinpointed the importance of memory as refracted, repackaged, repurposed. She stressed the periodisation of memory post-event and critiqued the notion of “Franco-Algerian” “memory wars”. At the same time, she urged scholars to avoid methodological nationalism, by encouraging them to reflect on Algeria in an international and local memory context. She ended by questioning the dichotomy between ‘public’ and ‘vernacular’ memory, which seemed an appropriate way to end a stimulating conference.

Hugh McDonnell is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Politics and International Relations on the European Research Council Starting Grant project entitled: Illuminating the ‘Grey Zone’: Addressing Complex Complicity in Human Rights Violations. He has recently published ‘Europeanising Spaces in Paris, c. 1947-1962’ (Liverpool University Press, 2016). He is an affiliated staff member of the CSMCH.

Writing ‘the Troubles’

The Centre recently sponsored an excellent PhD and early-career workshop on the place of ‘The Troubles’ in Irish history (8-9 September 2017). This guest post from Thomas Dolan summarises some of the discussions that animated the event.

Republican mural of the Battle of the Bogside, Derry

The incursion of Arlene Foster, the DUP and, by extension Sinn Féin, back onto the centre-stage of British politics has produced an upsurge of interest in the political situation in Northern Ireland reminiscent of the darker days of its long-running conflict. A fake news article circulating on social media during the fallout of the general election satirised the situation wonderfully: a London ‘hipster’, it was reported, had proudly proclaimed that he had been reading-up on the religious and conservative ethos of the DUP long before it had become fashionable to do so. The sold-out (a happy first for HCA’s Irish History Group) public lecture ‘Scribes, Sectarianism and the History of the Northern Ireland Troubles’ delivered recently at the University of Edinburgh by Professor Richard English (Queen’s University, Belfast) evidences how such events nourish a need for contemporary Irish and Northern Irish history in Britain.

The lecture was associated with the Writing the Troubles Workshop organised by members of the Irish History Group (Tommy Dolan, Roseanna Doughty, and Rachael Thomas), with the support of the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History. It brought together doctoral and early-career researchers scattered throughout these islands to reflect upon the challenging methodological and conceptual issues thrown-up when writing about the recent history of Northern Ireland. A key aim was to foster a relaxed, informal atmosphere conducive to discussion. Consequently, we opted for pre-circulated papers, with attendees delivering short ten-minute presentations on their work, followed by debate. The workshop then concluded with a reflective round-table discussion chaired by Professor Enda Delaney,

The format proved inspirational, the first panel setting the tone in terms of quality and feel. Martin’s McCleery’s vision of an ‘intimate history’ of political killings provoked much debate. His focus on the micro-dynamics of killings as a means of understanding the various ‘pathways’ many paramilitaries must adopt to overcome their instinctual aversion to murder complimented Rachael Kowlaski’s call for micro-studies of ‘nodal’ violent events during the conflict so as to better understand the intentions of the paramilitary organisations involved. In contrast, I suggested that historians try and generate conceptually-driven understandings of the evolution of a now relatively peaceful and political stable Northern Ireland, but that doing so could prove problematic for a historical community who, unlike, say, their British counterparts, have long been predisposed to the study of violent conflict and political impasse.

The second session reflected upon groups hitherto marginalised within the historiography of ‘the Troubles’. All found Adrian Grant’s vision of a ‘meso-history’ of  Belfast’s working-class communities intriguing; an approach melding ‘micro-studies with the grand narrative approach’. For example, Adrian demonstrated how focusing on the effects of deindustrialisation on these communities can generate better understandings of the origins of ‘the Troubles’, while allowing for reflections on ‘wider, global economic trends’. Aimee Walsh and Eli Davies supplied much-needed insights into the experiences of women. Considering female republican prisoners in Armagh Gaol during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Aimee forcefully demonstrated how the ‘female body has not been thoroughly considered in relation to the conflict’. Eli on the other hand, considered neglected literature produced by female authors during ‘the Troubles’, observing how the ‘daily, lived experiences of women’ have been silenced largely because they do not fit in with the ‘bigger male cultural narratives’. Discussion was further facilitated by Jan Freytag’s call for more nuanced understandings of the differing social and political roles played by individual Catholic clergymen during the conflict, as opposed to thinking of the Catholic Church as simply a monolithic institution.

The final session saw Roseanna Doughty and Rachel Thomas consider media representations of the conflict. Roseanna assessed British responses to the Peace Process, ably challenging a view widely held, especially amongst republicans, that the press merely parroted their government’s line. Rachael focused on the reaction of the American press to the 1981 republican Hunger Strikes. She argued that although these generated much Irish-American support for the republican movement, there were limiting factors, such as (interestingly) memories of the British-American alliance during the Second World War, and Reagan’s decision not involve his administration in efforts to resolve the protests. Lastly, Sarah Feinstein reflected upon contemporary representations of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison and the difficult task of dealing with the traumatic legacy of the Hunger Strikes. She focused on story-telling initiatives such as the construction of the Prison Memory Archive. As she observed, ‘what is unique among the footage is the many stories of the mundane…the everyday aspects of life where small moments of resistance, solidarity and compassion stand out…This brings a texture to both the site and the individuals who populated it’.

Professor English’s lecture

During the round-table Professor Delaney highlighted key issues generated by both the workshop and Professor English’s lecture. Above all, he noted a tension between the need to produce micro, local histories of ‘the Troubles’ and broader, conceptual studies. As Richard highlighted, ‘the Troubles’ were ‘intensely local’ and it is probably more accurate to think of ‘seventeen different conflicts’ as opposed to one. Yet he also urged us to be alert to the way in which much wider themes consistently intersected with, and impacted upon, the situation. The need for greater sensitivity to the role of religious belief in the recent history of Northern Ireland was also flagged, so too the need for more biographical literature. For example, we still lack good, scholarly biographies of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness!

Perhaps most importantly, Professor Delaney observed how although the idea of interdisciplinary scholarship is typically lauded in academia, historians rarely ever talk to each other formally, let alone with scholars working in other disciplines – and this is certainly true with respect to those focusing on Northern Ireland. In fact, the workshop evidenced how all our scholarship was heavily influenced by location; scholars based in Northern Ireland tending (on the whole) towards micro-histories: those working in Britain veering towards conceptual studies. Apparent to all, however, was the need for regular, reflexive dialogue between scholars dealing with the violent history of Northern Ireland in the post-Good Friday Agreement era. Consequently, we hope to build upon this highly successful and, indeed, very enjoyable workshop by maintaining dialogue between participants and staging further discussions in settings throughout these islands. Watch this space…

Thomas Dolan recently completed his PhD in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology under the supervision of Alvin Jackson and Owen Dudley Edwards. His thesis was entitled ‘Visions of History in the Thought of the Architects of Peace in Northern Ireland: Gerry Adams, John Hume and David Trimble’.

Welcome to the CSMCH blog!

Starting in September, we will be using this blog to publicise the Centre’s activities and to invite a broader discussion around what we are doing and what is happening in the world.

Amongst many other things, the blog will include…

  • Posts about our events
  • Guest contributions from our speakers and the wider academic community
  • Podcasts and videos
  • A range of other useful information, including details of conferences, workshops and special issues
A portrait of a scribe from the Indian illuminated manuscript, the Khamsa of Nizami (1595-6)

The blog is designed to complement our new website, which has full details of who we are and what we do.

We very much hope you will take part in this exciting conversation, whether virtually through the blog and via social media, or in person at one of our events.

We look forward to meeting you!

– Emile