Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A heartening trip to Keele

It can be a bit disheartening being an academic at times. Long hours researching and writing on your own; unending cutbacks by government; controversy about what a university is or should be.

So it's always great to attend a conference that lightens the mood and encourages the mind. That's what I did over the weekend, zooming up the M5 and M6 to Keele to attend a conference entitled 'The organiser and the victim: power relationships in the colonial world', held in the Claus Moser building at Keele (above). I did my best to talk about the recent trend towards telling individual stories in Imperial maritime history, as evidenced by my own Britain and the Sea since 1600 and Miles Ogborn's really involving Global Lives. But other people's papers were much better and, indeed, brought out some of the complexities of Lenin's question 'Who whom?': 'Who is doing what to whom?'

It all turned out to be a lot more complex than just a bunch of nasty imperialists oppressing indigenous or native peoples. Stephen Constantine gave a really impressive keynote address on colonial and home authorities' perceptions of migrants, bringing out how men and women were thought of differently; Laura Sandy talked about the lost world of slave overseers in colonial America; and Will Jackson of Leeds University spoke on the place of less-than-economically-successful white settlers in twentieth century Kenya.

Three themes emerged: the uselessness of the phrase 'poor whites', as accepting of the 'white man's' difference as European peoples were at the time; the rise of histories of the individual; and the constant passage and negotiation between the 'imperial' and the 'non-imperial'. Sometimes you can't see what you're writing about until other people tell you!

So with energies somewhat restored, we can all face the rigours of term once more...

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