Part 2 of our Beijing Conference papers includes offerings by perspectivesonafrica editor Vincent Hirribarren (University of Leeds), Henry Irving (University of Leeds), and Liang Yuetian (Peking University).
Vincent Hiribarren, University of Leeds
‘The British conquest of Nigeria: The Long Scramble for Borno (1890-1961)’
In this paper Vincent Hiribarren tried to show a facet of British colonialism in Africa that he named “territorial imperialism”. His aim was to analyse how the British re-used the territory of Borno throughout the colonial period.
The title “Long Scramble for Borno” was chosen because of the permanent British efforts to use the nineteenth-century territory of Borno during the colonial period. Instead of being a short period of time at the beginning of the twentieth century, the “Scramble of Borno” was a long process at the root of British imperialism in north-eastern Nigeria.
Hiribarren argued that the British manipulated the concept of the territory of Borno in their competition against the other Europeans in Africa as the colonial administration recycled the late nineteenth-century kingdom of Borno within the Nigerian framework. The quest for territorial legitimacy led the British to constantly adapt their colonial administration to the previous nineteenth-century space.
Thus, British imperialism did not always destroy African polities but, as in the case of Borno, favoured the reconstruction of a nineteenth-century territory.
Henry Irving, University of Leeds
‘Empire and the “Zone of Uncertainty”
In this paper Henry Irving analysed the relationship between post World War II British economy and the official political discourse at the end of the British Empire.
Firstly, Irving explained how economic regulations were used in Britain between 1945 and 1955. Political and economic tools of management called “controls” were introduced to plan industrial production. However, these controls were ill-named as their effectiveness relied more on the political climate than their economic effects. This tension between political choices and their economic consequences was dubbed “the Zone of Uncertainty”.
In the last part of his paper, Irving drew a parallel between the “Zone of Uncertainty” in British economic planning and the process of decision-making in colonial Africa. Given that the “Zone of Uncertainty” proved how fallible the British administration was, why would its colonial counterpart be more efficient? In other terms, was not the end of the British Empire in Africa the inevitable outcome of a “Zone of Uncertainty”?
Liang Yuetian, (Peking University)
‘Subjects or Aliens? John Reeves and George Chalmers’ Controversy on Legal Effects of American Independence’
Liang Yuetian is a specialist of the end of the first British Empire. His research focuses on the legal effects of American independence in Britain. His paper tried to analyse one question asked at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Britain: “Were the Americans born before 1976 still legally British subjects after the American War of Independence?”
Liang analysed the controversy between John Reeves (1752-1829) and George Chalmers (1742-1825). While the former stressed that the Americans who were born before 1776 should be regarded as British subjects, the latter argued the opposite. More than a simple legal dispute, this paper illustrated how the end of British Empire reshaped the conception of Britishness. Were the Americans subjects or foreigners? Were they entitled to the same rights or did they have to be considered as aliens?
This paper is an echo of John Torpey’s book, The Invention of Passport. How did modern societies face the creation of a rigid legal system separating “us” and “the others”? The end of imperialism had thus more than legal consequences for the former subjects. In a rich paper, Liang showed how rights concerning properties and taxes should also be taken into account to analyse imperialism.