Presentation given virtually by Darren Reid at the 2022 Canadian Historical Association annual meeting.
Participatory journalism in the imperial press system: subverting local discourses through letters to the editor in the late nineteenth century.
When I first started researching the Aborigines Protection Society, I carried a set of assumptions about settler relationships with the Society influenced by provocative statements that appear in colonial newspapers. One of my favourites is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald proclaiming that “the Aborigines’ Protection Society are a pack of conceited blockheads, and their noble chairman a twaddling busybody.” These types of statements led me to expect settlers to either not have written to the Society very often, or else to have written fairly negatively. Neither of my assumptions proved accurate. On the contrary, I found settlers to have written far more letters than missionaries, who are typically presumed to have been the Society’s primary correspondents. You can see from my table here that nearly twice as many settlers as missionaries corresponded with the Society in this period. And far from expressing criticism, I found settlers implored the Society to help them in seeking justice for Indigenous peoples in their colonies. And one of the most common forms of assistance settlers asked for was help publishing letters to the editor in the British press. My proposal in this presentation is that settler preoccupation with publishing letters in British newspapers complicates our current models of settler colonialism.
Presentation given virtually by Darren Reid at the 2021 Distant Communications conference.
Can the Subaltern Write? Navigating mediated voices in South African correspondence with the Aborigines’ Protection Society in the late nineteenth century
Several years ago, I began studying letters written by Black South Africans to the London-based Aborigines Protection Society in the late nineteenth century. I used their letters to explore their agency within imperial humanitarian networks, an agency that past generations of historians didn’t acknowledge. And I found that writing to the Aborigines Protection Society was a common strategy for African political leaders to lobby the British parliament and the British public in their efforts to resist colonial encroachment. The findings of this project are coming out in the next issue of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, so look out for the in the coming weeks.
But I struggled to grapple with the manifestation of agency within the act of writing a letter. Writing a letter is one thing, but if that letter isn’t opened, if it isn’t read, if it isn’t acted upon by the reader, then part of the potential of that manifestation of agency is unrealized. Thus letter-writing is mediated agency: it requires participation by both the writer and the reader. So after finding that African leaders wrote to letters to the APS, I then began wondering how the APS read those letters. Did it care that Africans were seeking its help, and did it even believe their voices? My paper today presents some of my findings in response to that question. My overall argument is while Black and White South Africans both wrote to the Aborigines Protection Society to lobby the British parliament, Black writers found it much more difficult to be taken seriously because it was much harder for them to establish their authorial credibility. Consequently, the notion of credibility was effectively leveraged as a tool to marginalize Black voices.
Presentation given virtually by Darren Reid at the 2021 Britain and the World conference.
The Aborigines’ Protection Society “from the bottom-up”: epistolary performances of imperial citizenship(s) in the late nineteenth century.
The Aborigines’ Protection Society is most often located in British historiography in terms of its impact on the empire: how it succeeded or failed in changing “native policies,” how it raised awareness of imperial injustices, how it was complicit in perpetuating genocidal discourses of “civilization.” Such approaches take for granted that the APS was principally a metropolitan organization, existing primarily in the minds and actions of its members in England. In this paper, I highlight that the APS also existed in the minds and the actions of its correspondents, the global network of settler, missionary, traveller, and Indigenous correspondents that provided the APS with information on the conditions of the imperial peripheries. The APS simply could not have been without their information, yet these correspondents did not write to the APS simply to provide information. They wrote as political agents intending to intervene in imperial situations, both local and foreign, that they perceived to be contrary to their own personal or collective interests. I argue that letters to the APS reveal performances of imperial citizenship(s) in which correspondents attempted to participate – through an epistolary mobility – in imperial politics from the edges of the empire. More than simply “attempting” to participate, I also argue that correspondents occasionally succeeded in their attempts, convincing the APS to raise their questions in the House of Commons and publish their opinions in daily newspapers. By approaching the APS from the perspectives of its global correspondents, I propose a new understanding both the APS and colony-metropole relationships in the late nineteenth century.