Letters to the Aborigines Protection Society presents some of the findings from my doctoral research in an attempt to make my research accessible and available to the world. So much of the knowledge that historians accrue through our research remains locked in our heads, to sporadically burst forth, cherry-picked and curated, in dense and paywalled publications. By recording some of my research online, I hope that some of it may prove useful or at least interesting to somebody out there.
In a nutshell, I study letters written by people from South Africa to a British organization called the Aborigines’ Protection Society around the 1870s and 1880s. Why on Earth would I do that? There are many answers to that question, some of which I hope to explain in future blog posts and articles, but the most basic answer is: perspective. When people write letters, they create little windows into what their world looks like. Letters may not reflect reality, but they reflect how their authors perceived reality, and therefore are extremely useful for historians. But letters are not only useful for what is written in them, they are also useful for who they are written to. The mere fact that South Africans in the 1870s and 1880s were writing to a British humanitarian organization is very interesting, as it reveals some of the international connections that permeated life in the British empire long before “globalization” is thought to have started. Thus, by studying these letters, my research expands our knowledge about 1) historical perceptions of the British empire, and 2) the connectedness of life within the British empire in the late nineteenth century.
Letters to the Aborigines Protection Society is not just a platform for my own arguments and interpretations. For now, I am working to populate a database of transcribed and photographed letters, with more added all the time. When the database is complete, I will then write biographical information for the South Africans whose letters I study, which may be valuable resources to genealogists and local historians. This website will also be slowly updated with lesson plans for teaching histories of colonialism and the British empire, short articles and videos on how to analyse historical letters, blogs on my research findings, and more.