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Week 8: Violence and Empire

The violence of European colonialisms has become one of the central themes in the history of Empires over the past two decades. This seminar will focus on the period of decolonizations in the second half of the twentieth century, when nationalist insurgencies challenged Dutch, Portuguese, French and British colonial regimes. Students are asked to read at least one of the core readings with considerable care, both to provide a more general historical overview but also to establish the theoretical basis of discussions about the evolution of counter-insurgency and civil wars, and then to select a case study from the further reading, again reading in depth. Of course, the more reading you can do the better: but the point here is to fully understand a case, and not to skim. Throughout your reading, consider what is actually meant by the phrase ‘colonial violence’, and try to decide whether it has any veracity as a distinct category of violence?

Seminar and Essay Questions

  • Why were some wars of decolonization more violent than others?
  • What is meant by “hearts and minds” in the context of colonial domination?
  • What role was played by indigenous armed forces, including irregular militias, in colonial counter-insurgencies? Were these forces ‘collaborators”?
  • Who were the ‘colonial violence workers’, and how should we understand their role?
  • Is there such a thing as “colonial violence”?

Core Readings

Douglas Porch, Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), esp. good on Vietnam (Ch. 6), French failures (Ch. 5), and British COIN (Ch. 8). LinkLink opens in a new window.

David French, The British Way in Counter-Insurgency 1945-1967 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), chapters 4 and 5. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Kalyvas, Stathis N., The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), introduction. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Further Reading

Anderson, David M., Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005).

Anderson, David M., ‘British abuse and torture in Kenya’s counter-insurgency, 1952-60’, Small Wars & Insurgencies 23.4/5 (2012), pp. 700-719.

Anderson, David M, and Daniel Branch (eds), Allies at the end of Empire: Loyalists, Nationalists and the Cold War 1945-76 (Routledge: London, 2018). Chapters can be downloaded from The International History Review 39, I (2017). Cases covered include Indonesia, Kenya, Cyprus, Algeria, Congo, Angola, Aden, South Yemen and Oman.

Bayly, Christopher, and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire (Penguin: London, 2007).

Bennett, Huw, 'A very salutary effect: the counter-terror strategy in the early Malayan Emergency, 1948-1949', Journal of Strategic Studies 32.3 (2009), pp. 415-444.

Bennett, Huw, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (CUP, 2013).

Branch, Daniel, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya; Counter-insurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (CUP, 2009).

Branche, Raphaelle, La torture et l’armee pendant la guerre d’Algerie 1954-1962 (Paris: Gallimard, 2001).

Dale, Richard, ‘A Comparative Reconsideration of the Namibian Bush War, 1966-89’, Small Wars & Insurgencies 18.2 (2007), pp. 196-215.

Dixon, Paul, 'Hearts and Minds? British counter-insurgency from Malaya to Iraq', Journal of Strategic Studies 32.3 (2009).

Drohan, Brian. Brutality in an Age of Human Rights: Activism and Counter-insurgency at the End of the British Empire (Cornell University Press, 2017)

Elkins, Caroline, Britain’s Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005).

Elkins, Caroline. Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (Bodley Head: London, 2022).

Evans, Martin, Algeria: France’s Undeclared War (OUP, 2012).

Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967).

French, David, Fighting EOKA: The British Counter-Insurgency Campaign on Cyprus, 1955-1959 (OUP, 2015).

Hack, Karl, 'Iron claws on Malaya: the historiography of the Malayan Emergency', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 30.1 (1999), 99-125.

Horne, Alistair, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (London: Macmillan, 1977).

Hughes, Matthew, 'The banality of brutality: British armed forces and the repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39', English Historical Review CXXIV, 507 (2009), pp. 313-354.

Minter, William, Apartheid’s Contras: An Inquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique (London, 1994).

Nagl, John A., Counter-insurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (Westport CT: Praeger, 2002).

Norris, Jacob, 'Repression and rebellion: Britain’s response to the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39', Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 36, i (2008), pp. 25-45.

Thenault, Sylvie, Histoire de la guerre d’independance Algerienne (Paris: Flammarion, 2005).

Thomas, Martin and Gareth Curless (eds). Decolonization and Conflict: Colonial Comparisons and Legacies (Bloomsbury: London, 2017)