The decolonization of history : historians and historical consciousness in francophone and anglophone anti-colonial communities, 1930-1970
Title: The decolonization of history : historians and historical consciousness in francophone and anglophone anti-colonial communities, 1930-1970
Author: TURKINGTON, Sharon Elisheva
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2018
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
This thesis examines the role of historical thinking and historical knowledge in anti-colonial ideology, in a process identified as the ‘decolonization of history.’ This study argues that historical thinking was central to anti-colonial discourses during the period 1930-1970, and traces the evolution of ‘historical rhetoric’ across the chronology of decolonisation. Informed by both the history of ideas and imperial history, it presents a detailed study of sources demonstrating the role of historians in decolonization by means of anti-colonial networks and publications across the French and British empires. Secondly, it highlights the historiographical phenomenon resulting from this, the decolonization of historical knowledge. This work is shaped biographically using the legacies of Suzanne Césaire, Paulette Nardal, Cheikh Anta Diop, CLR James, and Melville Herskovits. These thinkers not only represent different linguistic backgrounds and social stratum, but also variations in anti-colonial thought, including Négritude, Afrocentrism, Marxism, and anti-colonial anthropology on the part of Herskovits. However, the commonality between these thinkers is their identification of historical mythologizing as a crucial element in the rationalising rhetoric of imperial ideology. Furthermore, their work shows the historic point at which anti-colonial historical theorizing became essential to the project of decolonization. They engaged with the past not only to convince colonized peoples of the richness and complexity of their pre-colonial history, but also to deconstruct colonial narratives which, they argued, withheld or misinterpreted historical facts that were imperative to the project of self-determination. Colonialism itself, therefore, is at the heart of this thesis. The objectivity of the works produced by these intellectuals is not the focus of this thesis. Rather, this thesis treats all historical knowledge as a project intricately bound to power, and the quest for believability. By re-examining history as a mobilising device in the context of empire and decolonisation, we can learn more about how historians function as part of a normative education system, and what happens when the norm is perverted, or questioned.
Defence date: 10 January 2018; Examining Board: Professor Stéphane Van Damme, European University Institute; Professor Laura Downs, European University Institute; Professor Pierre-Philippe Fraiture, Warwick University; Professor Emmanuelle Loyer, Centre d'histoire de Sciences Po
Type of Access: embargoedAccess