Portugal, Germany, Ireland – all a WW1 Africa connection…

It’s been a while since my last post, and the reason why: I’ve been travelling to Lisbon, Bayreuth and Maynooth and all for conferences on WW1 outside of the Western Front.

3 conferences in 2 weeks could result in repetitive content but on this occasion, not. They were all incredibly stimulating and informative and introduced many to a wide variety of related topics. I took the opportunity to break away from East Africa and focus on South Africa which is what started my whole journey into the East Africa campaign in the first place.

The conference in Lisbon provided an opportunity to explore South Africa’s desires for expansion (sub-imperialism) during WW1 looking at the Union’s relationships with Belgium and Portugal in Europe and Africa as well as Britain and Germany. Bayreuth saw a more focused look at South Africa in terms of internal politics – the role of the 4 white political parties, the South African Native National Congress, African People’s Organisation and Natal Indian Congress and Association. This was followed by a complete change of direction in Maynooth where Lord Kitchener became the centre of my talk – Your country needs you! but not in Africa. This latter did tend to be more EA in content but it was through SA’s planned involvement in 1915 that Kitchener’s true feelings about the war in Africa came to the fore. It is hoped that publications in some format will be forthcoming in due course. EA featured in a few other papers across the conferences: 25th Royal Fusiliers at Bukoba (Luke Diver), East African Asian visions (Margret Frenz) and Colonial perspectives (Jan-Georg Deutsch). David Killingray as usual provided an all-encompasing overview of themes which was lighthearted yet serious at the same time whilst Niall Barr alerted me to the fact that I take a ‘hunting for truffles approach’ to history rather than a ‘parachute’ one and most importantly – there’s a place for both. Geoffrey Roberts brought all three conferences for me to a close with how he saw WW1 impacting on WW2 as well as asking some provocative questions on Kitchener’s identity.

More significantly, the conferences were sufficiently small to allow a genuine and open sharing of ideas and knowledge. Colleagues were brought together from different parts of the world which allowed an exchange of cultural interpretations and even more forgotten involvement such as Eritrea/Ethiopia (Uoldelul Chelati Dirar), Jamaica (Dalea Bean), Cameroon (Henry
Kam Kah), Nigeria (James Olusegun Adeyeri), China & Japan (Jan Schmidt), the Azores (Sérgio Resendes) and the Arab Revolt (David Murphy) to feature. The mixing of disciplines, too, provided insights and new ways of interpreting ‘big politics’ – the presentations by Jack Levy and William Mulligan being particularly insightful, as was Amy Fox-Godden’s paper on learning between the theaters. The feature of neutral countries and the challenges they faced trying to remain neutral or finally entering the war demonstrated how complex international relations were (and are): Sweden (Anne Hedén), Netherlands (Wim Klinkert, Samuel Kruizinga), Spain (Carolina Garcia Sanz, Barry Whelan), Bulgaria (John Paul Newman), Portugal (Nuno Severiano Teixeira).

An interesting SA link came about through Branden Little’s paper on American relief in the Near East which was organised by Herbert Hoover, one time mining engineer in SA and involved in behind the scenes talks resulting in the formation of Anglo-America. Continuing the engineering theme was Alan Kearney’s talk on IEDs and how they were used in WW1.

All in all, it was a good two weeks of intensive WW1 learning and networking and my thanks to all those involved in organising and making the events the success they were.

Small Power is a Power? The Role and Resilience of Small and Medium Powers During the Great War 1914-1918” (António Paulo Duarte): 30th September to 1 October 2014, Instituto da Defesa Nacional – Lisboa

Catastrophe or catalyst? African and African Diasporas’ visions arising from World War One (Achim van Oppen, Christine Whyte, Annalisa Urbano, Doris Lohre): 2‐4 October 2014, Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies

Beyond the Western Front (David Murphy and Ian Speller): 11th-12th October 2014, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, The third international conference hosted by the Centre for Military History and Strategic Studies at NUI Maynooth

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