Research

I am a historian of Modern Imperial Britain with a focus on the transformations wrought by decolonization on local, national, and global scales. I examine these transformations through three inter-related fields of research: 1. multiculturalism; 2. community development; and 3. the interpretation of decolonization and the post-imperial world through visual culture and the arts.

 

Multiculturalism

My first book project examines how late imperial migration shaped the forms of welfare, social rights and citizenship in postwar Britain. In “Empire and the Origins of Multiculturalism: Migrants, Welfare and the Decolonization of Britain, 1948–1982,” I argue that the presence of imperial migrants in cities and towns throughout Britain created a problem of community, generated a discussion of imperial history, and produced an investment in multiculturalism. Through examination of encounters between migrants, social workers, community organizations, and the state, I show how a social democratic ideal of community gave way to a social imaginary which defined migrants and their descendants on the basis of their belonging to distinct cultural communities. Significantly, this conceptual shift occurred alongside formal decolonization and contributed to the eclipse of shared imperial identity by new forms of multicultural national identity.

As an outgrowth of this project, I am writing two articles on the politics of race and racism in post-war Britain. The first examines efforts by the Home Office to scrutinize the families of Commonwealth Citizens as they petitioned for entry into Britain after the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962. The second presents research on a group called Bookshop Joint Action, which brought together Black and Radical Booksellers in Britain to fight fascist attacks on their stores in the 1970s. You can learn more about some of the individuals involved in this campaign at The Radical Lives of Eric and Jessica Huntley, and New Beacon Books, the bookstore founded by John La Rose. The Huntleys and John La Rose were critical in setting up important archives at the London Metropolitan Archives and The George Padmore Institute that have been crucial to my research. Engaging with this one aspect of their political work is a very small gesture of thanks for their foresight in collecting and saving their papers for history.

A third project focuses on the Women's Corona Society, which is today called Corona Worldwide. The organization began as a mutual aid society and social group for the wives of colonial officers, but during decolonization became an explicitly multiracial organization intended to repair relations between Britain and its former colonies and to foster friendships between women of all races. I am interested in the work done by women in making a post-imperial world and the possibilities and limits of friendship as a political relation.

[Images: Nottingham Consultative Committee for Commonwealth Citizens, "Commonwealth Citizens' Association Annual Ball," n. d., Nottinghamshire Archives/DD/CR/57]

Community Development

In my research for my first book, I came to realize that ideas of community and development were central to the late imperial project. Community and development were not only the work of imperial officials, however. Community development shaped anti-colonial nationalist movements and animated much of the policy of post-independence nation-states. This project will trace links between cooperative societies of the late nineteenth century in Canada and Britain, village community development in South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean during decolonization, and south-south community development expertise and exchange in the post-independence era. The project will end with the rise of micro-finance as the predominant mode of development in the 1970s and consider this shift from collective uplift to individual advancement in the beginning of the neoliberal era.

I have begun research for this project in archives in London, Nova Scotia, and Barbados. To reckon with the local forms of community development, I hope to travel to archives in Jamaica and India to complete this project.

[Image: Pansy Rae Hart, "A Better Village," Kingston: Jamaica Social Welfare Commission, 1959. Photographed at the British Library]

Decolonization and Visual Culture

“Performing Multiculturalism: the Commonwealth Arts Festival of 1965” was published in the Journal of British Studies in 2014. This article explores the diplomatic and aesthetic challenges faced by the organizers of a three-week festival of the arts. The Festival highlighted the political and cultural challenge presented by decolonization as organizers had to both encourage the participation of post-colonial governments and to transform imperial cultural hierarchies into a more democratic post-imperial association. Through this process Commonwealth multiculturalism was brought to a global stage. This multiculturalism celebrated the unique artistic productions of each Commonwealth nation, but did so alongside an imperial nostalgia that could not let go of the certainties of the past.

In conducting research for this article, I discovered several internet archives related to this Festival.

Life, October 1, 1965

The Commonwealth Dances, Movietone newsreel

Commonwealth Goes Gay, British Pathé newsreel

Commonwealth Art, British Pathé silent reel of the Art Exhibition at the Festival Hall

Commonwealth Arts and Dancing Festival, British Pathé silent reel of performances from the Festival

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