On 1 April (2014), Rosie Spooner led a fascinating discussion on international exhibitions in London, Glasgow and Canada, including postcards from her personal, family archive. Apart from discussion on theory, material culture and the relationship between metropole and periphery we also discussed the ways in which people were often used as exhibits in themselves at imperial exhibitions. Invariably these were African men and women who were brought over to recreate village scenes. Although in Glasgow they also had Highland village scenes with real people used as exhibits.
This idea of the ‘human zoo’ has been in the news this week. In 1914, Norway hosted such an exhibition which had a Congolese village with Africans dressed in ‘traditional dress’ as exhibits.
To quote from The Independent, 20 April 2014:
The original exhibition, called The Congolese Village, was staged in Frogner Park, Oslo, and opened by the King of Norway. It ran for five months and, as well as a roller coaster and pantomime theatre, showed 80 African men, women and children living in palm-roof cabins, surrounded by indigenous artefacts and going about their daily routine of cooking, eating and making handicrafts.
It was the idea of a London-based Hungarian-born impresario named Benno Singer, and was marketed as a carnival freakshow. It tapped into an enthusiasm in other parts of Europe for human zoos, which were supposed to show off the civilising effect of colonialism. Huge crowds gathered to see a similar exhibition in Belgium, despite some of the 267 Congolese villagers dying during the show’s run and being unceremoniously buried in a common grave.
And now artists in Oslo are planning to recreate this exhibition next month. Despite planning to use this as a way to confront the racism of Norway’s past, some anti-racist groups are horrified by the idea as are some neo-Nazi groups. It will open on 15 May and run for four months, all going well.
As the Huffington Post, 18 April 2014, explains:
Mohamed Ali Fadlabi, of Sudan, and Lars Cuzner, of Sweden and Canada, are calling their project “European Attraction Limited,” an attempt to challenge notions of postmodern racism and the treatment of minorities today through historical reenactment.
Would this work in Glasgow? Would a re-enactment of the Sri Lankan waiters and Indian potters at the 1888 Kelvingrove Exhibition, or the aforementioned Highland villages, meet with approval, concern or apathy?
The next meeting of the Colonial/Post-Colonial (POCO) group will be held in Room 205, 5 University Gardens at 17.00 on Tuesday 1st April 2014.
Our next speaker will be Rosie Spooner, who will be addressing: ‘Object Lessons: Changing Approaches to Imperial and Colonial Histories’.
Rosie Spooner is an early-career researcher, writer and curator originally from Toronto, and currently undertaking a Ph.D. in the History of Art department at the University of Glasgow. Looking at the material culture of colonial encounters, her doctoral research examines the movement of objects, people and ideas between England, Scotland and Canada through the mechanisms of the International Exhibition, exploring how these events functioned as sites where varied and complex colonial, national and imperial identities were propagated and performed. Her developing curatorial practice brings together historic and contemporary objects, artworks and exhibitionary models in an effort to re-frame these categories, issues which similarly underpin her academic research.
How have academics and commentators variously envisaged the British Empire, and how have approaches to researching and writing colonial and imperial histories shifted? Examining pieces of relevant historiography, this discussion is less concerned with historical findings and more centred on looking at how the subject or discipline of imperial studies has evolved. As well as tracing a kind of epistemological lineage, looking at key ideas, interpretations and arguments, I hope to share some of the approaches I am pursuing in my own research. Drawing on Ivan Gaskell’s contention that we are in the midst of a ‘tangible turn’ — a descendent of the linguistic and cultural turns before it — I consider how one can work with material culture, and draw on attendant methodologies, to further understandings of colonial, imperial and postcolonial histories. Central to my own research is a concern with what kinds of information material objects can reveal to the researcher, and how an analysis of their stories can contribute to existing areas of scholarship.
– Antoinette Burton, ed., After the Imperial Turn: Thinking With and Through the Nation (Durham, NC.: Duke University Press, 2003). Particularly Burton’s introductory chapter.
– Sarah Longair and John McAleer, eds., Curating Empire: Museums and the British Imperial Experience (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012).
– Richard Price, “One Big Thing: Britain, Its Empire, and Their Imperial Culture,” Journal of British Studies 45, no. 3 (July 2006): 602–627.
– Nicholas Thomas, Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government (London: Polity Press, 1994).
This blog piece will provide a summary of the POCO Group meeting on 4 March 2014, when Paul Sutton delivered a stimulating lecture on ‘Nationalism in the Caribbean: Symbol and Substance in the Long-View’.
Described as a ‘legend of Caribbean Studies’ by Graham Campbell of the African Caribbean Network, Professor Paul Sutton has recently retired after a pre-eminent forty year academic career and the group were keen to hear his views. The lecture began with two excerpts that related to Jamaican and Scottish independence which Paul used to outline the interchangeability and similarities between both movements. According to this view, nationalism was a central feature of both. Paul quoted Benedict Anderson’s influential book Imagined Communities which suggested that nationalism brings people together in one country yet also divides them from each other . Two concepts were deployed to outline parallels with nationalism in the Caribbean which was then compared with Scotland. ‘Symbol’ referred to rhetoric and vision that drove nationalism and promoted independence movements (examples included national mottos such as Jamaica’s
‘Out of many, one people’) whilst ‘substance’ described to the practical effects and consequences for post-colonial states.
Caribbean nationalism had several common characteristics (although individual islands retained very distinctive identities), including a shared history of indenture and chattel slavery. In the twentieth century, this fostered the desire to regain control from the colonial master, Great Britain. In order to reinforce this point, an influential speech of March 1961 by Dr Eric Williams – one of the founding fathers of the modern Caribbean – was quoted:
Massa Day Done everywhere. How can anyone in his senses expect Massa Day to survive in Trinidad and Tobago? For Massa Day Done in Trinidad and Tobago, too, since the advent of the PNM [People’s National Movement] in 1956. Let us assess the position in Trinidad today. 
Paul Sutton met Eric Williams in 1980 and compiled a list of his speeches the next year. Williams was the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and retained this position up to his death in March 1981. Preceding his political career, he was an academic historian and author of Capitalism & Slavery, a wonderful text which continues to influence researchers today. In both politics and academic writing, Williams was critical of colonialism yet he also sought to retain aspects of Government and administration. Whilst the ‘Massa’ stood for racial hierarchy and exploitation as well as the degradation of West India labour and expropriation of wealth, it was also recognised that the British implemented successful modes of governance – the Westminster model – that could be applied in independent Caribbean states.
However, Williams and others were described by more radical proponents of nationalism – such as the Black Power Revolution in T&T – as ‘Afro-Saxons’ as they did not fully reject the values of ‘Massa’. Similarly, there are parallels with the vision for Scottish independence as the sterling will be retained as well as the Queen as head of state. Nonetheless, national heroes in respective Caribbean states are mainly leaders of rebellions or working class leaders and several have airports named after them. Will there be an Alex Salmond Airport in Glasgow or Edinburgh post-September 2014? Will George Square in Glasgow be reclaimed? The issues for any newly independent state with regards to the assimilation or authenticity of shared heritage was discussed and the example of modern Trinidad illustrated any view of the national past varied amongst a ethnically diverse population.
In terms of the substance for post-colonial states, Paul argued that West Indian nationalism legitimated the movement for independence and led to the creation of a separate post-colonial state. This state was marked by a real difference to the colonial predecessor, especially in economics. Importantly, increased state power was assumed to be the key to economic and social progress. This drew comparisons with the vision for post-Union Scotland and it was noted that much of the debate surrounding the referendum has centred on economics and the vision that Government intervention will lead to a more equitable society. In order to elucidate his views, Paul drew on the experience of Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and outlined three periods when the state implemented change in the respective nations.
The period 1950-1970 saw gradual change and was marked by the transition from agriculture to industry, which was termed ‘industrialisation by invitation’. The state was reformed to prioritise education, for example, which was deemed to be in the national interest. In terms of Foreign Policy, links with both the U.S. and Great Britain were maintained. Radical change marked the years 1970 to 1980, especially in Guyana where the state cut all ties with the British Monarchy and became a Republic. Paul argued that the radical nature of these years was based on the failure of the gradualism in the previous decades. Yes, there was a national flag and airline but did this initiate real change? The new international economic order arguably led to calls for Caribbean integration whilst there was political opposition on the international stage from America as well as internally from the middle classes. The 1980s saw the gradual adoption of neo-liberal capital economics as integration – not separation – with the global economy was viewed as the way forward, a process that accelerated in the 1990s. There was a return to privatisation and foreign management and Paul discussed the emigration of the educated elites (‘the brain drain’ or ‘human capital flight’), especially from Guyana. In recent times, there has been a desire to look back on the period before independence as the halcyon times, demonstrated by one opinion poll in 2011 which suggested 60 per cent of Jamaicans felt the nation would be better off under British rule. Is this a caveat for pro-independence Scots?
Paul Sutton finished by pointing out that there was national pride in respective countries and regional pride in sporting achievement but the vision that state power would unlock economic and social progress was now over. He contrasted this with British Overseas territory in the Caribbean: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands. All have significant political autonomy and also a higher per capita income than Great Britain. ‘Contingent Liability’ means the U.K. Government control finance. Thus, for Paul Sutton, they had the ‘best of both worlds’ and he concluded: ‘Symbols of independence are attractive but the substance of independence is elusive. There are no guarantees – so be careful what you wish for!’.
This provocative and stimulating lecture promoted a lively discussion amongst attendees that mainly focused on the political and historical differences between Scotland the Caribbean. From a historical perspective, it was pointed out that Scotland was never officially colonised. Indeed, the political elites agreed to the Incorporating Union of 1707 and effectively voted the Scottish Parliament out of existence. Article IV of the Union allowed for free trade with the English colonies in the New World and access to colonial commodities that dominated the global economy – tobacco, sugar and eventually cotton. In fact, Eric Williams described the impact of slavery on Scotland in his seminal text Capitalism & Slavery. Thus, many Scots were also ‘Massa’ in the West Indies and the nation reaped the economic benefits of colonialism for over two centuries. The legacy of slavery on Scotland is still under debate but another commentator pointed out the nation has a well advanced economy and financial system and, according to one report, would be a ‘rich and diversified country’ after independence. By contrast, the recent CARICOM press release for reparations outline the case is being pursued on the basis that the colonies suffered through the slave trade and slavery. Reparations are sought for ‘six broad aspects of the Caribbean condition that are the direct result of these crimes’, which are cultural deprivation, education, public health, cultural institutions, psychological trauma and scientific and technological backwardness. In short, Scotland is in a far better economic position to cope with the transition to independence than any of the former colonies of the British West Indies. Ironically, it was the expropriation of labour and sugar coated wealth in the colonial period that fuelled Scotland’s rise to a leading industrial nation.
 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (Verso, 1991).
 Excerpt from Forged From the Love of Liberty: Selected Speeches of Dr. Eric Williams, compiled by Paul K. Sutton (Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 1981).
The next meeting of the Colonial/Post-Colonial (POCO) group will be held in Room 205, 5 University Gardens at 17.00 on Tuesday 4th March 2014.
Paul Sutton will speak on ‘Nationalism in the Caribbean: Symbol and Substance in the Long-View’.
Paul Sutton is an academic and consultant specialising in the study of the Caribbean and of small states and territories. He recently retired as Senior Professor in Caribbean Studies at the Caribbean Studies Centre of London Metropolitan University. His most recent books are Modernising the State: Public Sector Reform in the Commonwealth Caribbean (published by Ian Randle in 2006) and (with Kate Quinn) Politics and Power in Haiti (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).
‘The current debate on independence in Scotland has a nationalist dimension and there are parallels with the debates on nationalism and independence in the Caribbean. While the experience and discussion of nationalism in the Caribbean stretches back to the nineteenth century in the cases of Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Paul will focus on the more recent Post-World War Two experiences of the Commonwealth Caribbean (the former colonies of the United Kingdom which gained their independence from 1962 onward). Paul has engaged with nationalism in the Commonwealth Caribbean for some 40 years beginning with PhD research in Trinidad and Tobago in 1972. He will reflect on this period to arrive at some judgements on what nationalism means for the countries of this region today (and in consequence hopefully generate some thoughts on what it means for Scotland today). The term ‘symbol’ is shorthand for the values the original national leaders (now called the ‘founding fathers’ in many cases) hoped to create within their countries following independence. I will set these out in general and then look a little deeper at several of them, especially Trinidad and Tobago where I had the experience of working with Dr Eric Williams, the ‘founding father’ of the country, on a collection of his speeches and writings just before his death in 1981. The term ‘substance’ addresses the policies chosen to express nationalist values and the outcomes of those policies. Paul will look at these in general and then focus in on how these have changed over the course of 40 years leading to a re-engagement with, or negation of, the nationalist values originally espoused. Paul will finish with a few observations on what nationalism means in the Commonwealth Caribbean today, particularly for the remaining British overseas territories who have an option to proceed to independence should they wish to do so’.
Here are some more photos from the current display at the Kelvingrove Museum relating to the 1888 International Exhibition, which included exhibits (animate and inanimate) from parts of the British Empire, especially India.
In 1888, the famous Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow was built as an exhibition centre highlighting the industrial expertise of Glasgow, but also of its colonies. India and Indian exhibits occupied the central court.