Visualizing Labour in German East Africa: Photographic Images and their Circulation

Thirty years ago, in 1993, Cambridge University Library acquired a substantial quantity of materials from the Commonwealth and Britain’s former colonial territories. This repository originally came from the Colonial Society, which over the decades became the Royal Colonial Institute, then the Royal Empire Society, and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS).1 This institution had begun collecting and archiving these documents around 1868, when it received funding to rent a suite in the Westminster Palace Hotel, and did so more intensively after 1900, as the collection grew and moved to larger premises. By the time the RCS library was integrated into the special collections of Cambridge University Library, it housed extensive and invaluable archives, including ancient texts in cuneiform script dating back to around 2200 BCE, as well as documents from the twentieth century.2 Among the latter were ten boxes of postcards from different regions of the former British Empire, printed between 1890 and 1969.3

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  1. See the history of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) collection, (accessed 5 Jan. 2024). []
  2. See the RCS Library, (accessed 5 Jan. 2024). []
  3. Cambridge University Library, GBR/0115/RCS/PC, Postcard Collection. []

Museums Under Construction: On Loss, Disorder, Destruction, and Objects in Storerooms

Archaeological artefacts from the Ottoman Empire have only recently attracted attention in current debates over decolonization and restitution. Mirjam S. Brusius of the German Historical Institute London is researching the excavation of objects, the role of the local population, and why certain items have languished for decades in the storerooms of European museums.

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‘No Shows’ and Other Forms of Refusal: Reading Missionary Letters about the Loyalty Islands

As part of my PhD study, I am investigating and tracing the history of the island communities of the Ruapuke Mission Station in the Foveaux Strait in southern New Zealand and of the Loyalty Islands north-east of New Caledonia.

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The Postcolonial Nation in the Museum: World Appropriation and National Identity at the Humboldt Forum and British Museum

… the great increase in the medieval and ethnographical collections, and the great interest taken by the public in the British antiquity most especially, render it highly desirable, or rather quite necessary that a separate department should be created for them. The necessity for adopting this course seems self-evident to Mr Panizzi, and he thinks therefore that he need not dwell upon it.1

On 9 March 1866, the director of the British Museum, Anthony Panizzi, used these words to appeal to the trustees of the museum for the creation of a ‘Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography’. Two months later, the founding of the department was approved. Along with Romano-British antiquities, medieval objects, and the ethnological holdings, it also housed the collection of European prehistory. While the quotation and the department name might initially suggest that the merging of these seemingly disparate holdings was an administrative decision guided by pragmatism, a closer look reveals that the contemporary social penetration of an evolutionist model of human cultural development formed its actual basis: the ethnological collections had been brought together with the British European archaeology collections ‘as materials for reconstructing the lost portions of European history’,2 as the newly appointed Keeper of the Department Augustus Wollaston Franks had said a little earlier about the central Christy holdings within the collection.

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  1. British Museum Central Archives, CE5/77, 9 March 1866 (Officers’ Reports to General Meetings and Standing Committee, 1805–69), cited in David M. Wilson, The British Museum. A History (London 2002), 142. []
  2. British Museum Central Archives, CE4/84, 7 November 1865, Document C (Officers’ Reports to General Meetings and Standing Committee, 1805–69. []

All Along the Peace Walls – Revisiting 1960s and 1970s Belfast

I had the absolute pleasure of spending a day exploring Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast with Kevin McGlinchey in June 2022.1 Kevin replied to my letter to the editor of the Irish Independent seeking people to share their experiences of growing up on the island of Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s for my Ph.D. project. He instantly agreed to take me on a trip down memory lane, as he ‘valued the opportunity to bring to life an historical, personal, local and community experience of this particular area of Belfast and Belfast as a whole during both good and bad times.’2 Kevin was born in 1950 and grew up in Belfast, where he witnessed the beginning of the Troubles as a teenager.3

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  1. I sincerely thank Kevin and his sister Deirdre McGlinchey for their time and willingness to share their youth experiences with me, without which my research would not be possible. I am also grateful to Dr Séan Ó Duibhir for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. []
  2. Kevin McGlinchey, email to the author, 3 Nov. 2022. []
  3. ‘The Troubles’ is a euphemism for the Northern Ireland conflict, which lasted from the late 1960s to the 1980s. The Troubles are often considered to be a religious conflict between the Catholic and Protestant populations of Northern Ireland, but were in fact caused by Ireland’s colonial past, which was marked by political and confessional frictions. ‘[T]he Northern Irish conflict is not a religious conflict . . . Although religion has a place—and indeed an important one—in the repertoire of conflict in Northern Ireland, the majority of participants see the situation as primarily concerned with matters of politics and nationalism, not religion.’ Richard Jenkins, Rethinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations (London, 1997), 120. A summary of this view can be found in Claire Mitchell, Religion, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland: Boundaries of Belonging and Belief (Aldershot, 2006), 5: ‘The central argument is that religion is an ethnic marker, but that it is not generally politically relevant in and of itself. Instead, ethnonationalism lies at the root of the conflict.’ For more background to the conflict, see CAIN Archive: Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland, accessed 20 Feb. 2023. []

Not your Average National Hero: Scattered Archives and the Women of the Indonesian Anticolonial Movement

In her captivating autobiographical novel Buiten het gareel [Out of Line], the Indonesian author Suwarsih Djojopuspito painted a vivid image of her experiences as an activist teacher during the last few years of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The book, published in Dutch in 1940, tells the story of Sulastri, an idealistic young teacher who runs a non-governmental school for Indonesian children together with her husband, Sugondo.

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Germans, the Dutch East India Company, and Early Colonial South Africa

Germans were the largest foreign European group in the Dutch empire during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They worked for the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) in its territories along the Indian Ocean, stretching from present-day South Africa to Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Initially serving on temporary labour contracts as officials, sailors, and soldiers, soon Germans began to stay in the Dutch overseas territories for good. Some continued to work for the Company for the rest of their lives, while others applied for citizenship and became farm holders, teachers, ministers, or tradesmen.

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