As President Trump endorses a bill to restrict immigration, Lecturer in North American History, Julio Decker, reflects on the history of US attitudes to the ‘huddled masses’.
Much of what has been happening since the American election last year seems novel and unprecedented. It seems difficult to remember a single week of the Trump administration that did not collide with political customs. Last week, another seemingly unprecedented break with the past happened when White House Aid Stephen Miller declared that Emma Lazarus’s poem ‘The New Colossus’, engraved in the pedestal, was irrelevant as it was added after the Statue of Liberty had been erected. In a heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, he defended President Trump’s support for a Senate Bill that would halve the number of legal immigrants allowed to come to the United States. The bill would test potential migrants’ job prospects before admission, among them their English-language skills.
For many commentators, this seemed like a new low: denigrating a poem that stood for the American tradition of calling for the world to send ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’. And there is a case to make that Miller misrepresented the poem, which was written as part of a fundraiser for the statue, thus being explicitly connected to the Lady of Liberty. But Miller did get one thing right: opposition to immigration, and to the poem and what it represented, was not a break in American history: it had existed even before 1903 when the plaque with the poem was installed. Just like the travel ban, the Trump administration’s immigration policy proposals have such a clout because the restrictionist impulses have a long tradition in American history.
Lazarus wrote the sonnet in 1883, one year after Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned – with only a few exceptions – an entire nationality from entering the United States. Opposition to immigration was not limited to those from Asia: when the origin of most new arrivals started to shift from North-western to South-eastern Europe in the 1880s, many Americans started to demand restriction. These nativist voices explicitly rejected the spirit embodied in ‘The New Colossus’ – new immigrants were depicted as lowering wage levels, being unwilling to assimilate, and lacking the cultural knowledge to participate in a democratic society. In the late nineteenth century, these views were framed in contemporary racial theories – new immigrants were classified as part of the Alpine or Mediterranean races, supposedly inferior to Anglo-Saxons.
From the 1890s, nativist voices began to be heard in Washington. Conservative think-tanks and lobby groups such as the Immigration Restriction League built alliances with farmers, Southerners, and labour unions. Influential Senators such as Henry Cabot Lodge started to lobby for new means of reducing immigration. What university degrees, skills, job prospects, and language skills are to conservative lawmakers today, the literacy test was for nativist reformers of the early twentieth century. At Ellis Island and at other inspection sites at American borders, immigrants were meant to prove that they could read and write. Restrictionists argued that the test was impartial, and that apart from testing a crucial skill for participation in American politics, it would also exclude the most undesirable, as illiteracy supposedly correlated with criminality, poverty, and dependence on state aid. The real motivation, however, was another correlation – that illiteracy was the lowest among people from North-western Europe. Depending on the audience, restrictionists would openly address this racial dimension– the founder of the Immigration Restriction League, Prescott F. Hall, declared in 1919 that immigration restriction should be seen as a method of keeping ‘inferior stocks’ from ‘both diluting and supplanting good stocks’.
For most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, however, Presidents rejected the ‘radical departure from our national policy’, as Grover Cleveland wrote when he vetoed a literacy test bill in 1897. Woodrow Wilson vetoed similar bills in 1913 and 1915. Furious with the President’s threat of a veto, Senator Lodge declared that instead of clinging to the tradition embodied by ‘The New Colossus’, he should read Thomas Bailey Aldrich. In 1893, this poet had written ‘The Unguarded Gates’ as a reply to Lazarus, bemoaning that the nation let in ‘featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho, Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt and Slave’, who brought ‘with them unknown gods and rites’. The poem called out to Lady Liberty to rethink her welcome to the world:
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
To leave the gates unguarded?
Lodge was not the first to bring Aldrich’s poem into political debate – it was popular among restrictionists. While citing it did not convince Wilson in 1913, the nativists’ lobby work did eventually pay off when the United States entered World War One. Public doubts over immigrants’ loyalties helped restrictionists to organize the Congressional votes necessary for overriding another veto by Wilson. In 1917, the new Immigration Act included the literacy test. It also banned all immigration from the so-called Asiatic Barred Zone, stretching from the Ottoman Empire to New Guinea. While this wholesale ban excluded migrants regarded as non-white, the literacy test proved to be less effective than originally envisioned. In the 1920s, a wide coalition of Democrats and Republicans passed acts establishing a quota system which drastically limited immigration from South-eastern Europe. Like today, the radical anti-immigrant rhetoric was supported by the White House. ‘American liberty’, vice-president Calvin Coolidge wrote in an article for Good Housekeeping in 1921, ‘is dependent on quality in citizenship’. While the ‘Nordics propagate themselves successfully’, he wrote, in the question of limiting immigration ‘racial considerations [are] too grave to be brushed aside’. It is only ‘when the alien adds vigor to our stock that he is wanted’ – to ensure national progress, racially inferior immigrants therefore had to be excluded, he argued.
Symbols like the Statue of Liberty are imbued with political meaning. For many liberal Americans, the statue stands for an American tradition of welcoming immigrants regardless of English-language skills, race, or ethnicity. But the statue so many immigrants saw on their arrival to New York also embodies another powerful strand in American politics, one those with a positive view of the United States tend to repress. Immigration legislation was also shaped by a strong tradition of nativism, racism, and conservatism, one that politicians can mobilize when calling for tighter regulation. In their vision of American history, Lady Liberty was wrong in welcoming the world’s poor and huddled masses – this is why ultra-nationalists interpret the latest Vogue cover as a criticism of the Trump administration. Understanding this history gives us a stern warning: when this tradition is embraced by the White House, consequences for immigrants can be dire.
University of Bristol history graduate Karen Mead reflects on her summer research internship and how it led her to a dissertation on Bristol women’s relationships with American GIs:
When I was invited to be a history research intern last summer, I was thrilled. I could never have anticipated the journey on which the research would take me! The project initially involved researching African-American GIs’ experiences in Bristol during the Second World War. Together with Dr Julio Decker, lecturer in North American history, I was to work with archival material from the Bristol Archives. As with many archives, much of the Bristol Record Catalogue is conveniently listed online. Following an extensive search of the material they held, it seemed they held promising material for the research project. I made an appointment and was excited to be viewing primary sources, the bedrock of historians’ work.
It quickly became clear, from looking at the initial material, that the task was not going to be as straightforward as I had imagined. From the outset, despite online listings to the contrary, police records for the crucial war years were missing. Equally, some of the material had sustained damage and some records were incomplete. It also became clear that, due to the US military having jurisdiction over their own servicemen, any records of their transgressions were likely to be held in the United States; this further limited the material we could work with. Unfortunately, these problems are regular obstacles that historians can encounter in the course of their research. Nevertheless, inspiration came from an unlikely source. Following nearly nine months of research, the unexpected find of twelve letters to the Bristol Mayor, which initially seemed outside the scope of the research project, transformed the central focus of the research project onto a under examined area of the Second World War.
Whilst examining the Lord Mayor’s Wartime Correspondence, I came across a selection of letters written by members of the public, British servicemen, and even from America following the publication of a small article in the Sunday Pictorial Newspaper in August 1945. The article detailed scenes in Bristol when African-American soldiers were leaving to return to the United States at the end of the war. Whilst the authenticity of the article may be apocryphal, the responses were damning. The writers of these letters fiercely criticised the purported behaviour of these women. This indicated to me that these writers perceived the behaviour as unpatriotic and suggests that some British servicemen considered British women their property on their return from the war.
With such clear condemnation and an awareness of the contemporary labels attached to women who had relationships with American servicemen, these letters led me to consider the motivations and experiences of these women. At first, I thought that this topic would have attracted significant historical scholarship. To my surprise, only a few female scholars had directly looked at these relationships in the last few years. Their research focussed on government actions to discourage such relationships, the tension they caused, and the framing of the relationships as unpatriotic. These articles were notable for their lack of evidence from the women themselves. In light of the sparse scholarship, I wanted to recover these women’s stories. As many of these women did not leave contemporary accounts for historians to draw upon, this proved challenging.
After much searching, I found oral history interviews and questionnaires completed by GI brides in the Imperial War Museum Archives in London. These detailed oral history interviews and questionnaire responses, covering their experiences of meeting their husbands to moving to America, shed light on a previously unexplored aspect of the social history of the Second World War. Importantly, these sources challenged the limited historical research on these relationships to date and formed the bedrock of my dissertation. My final piece ‘Finding Love in War: An examination of the motivations and experiences in their relationships with American GIs during the Second World War, 1942-1946’ combines oral history and documentary sources. It reveals that – contrary to contemporary stereotypes – the women in the study married their American GIs for love, had positive experiences introducing their GI to their families and were welcomed by their new American relatives. This study challenges prevailing historical scholarship on these relationships, which has suggested women were motivated by the luxury items that GIs could provide, often resulting in transitory encounters. Moreover, it highlights the importance of diversifying the historical picture by examining evidence from the individuals involved.
 L.McCormick, One Yank and They’re Off: Interaction between US Troops and Northern Irish Women 1942-1945, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 15 (2006), 228-257; S. O’ Rose, ‘Girls and GI’s: Race, Sex, and Diplomacy in Second World War Britain’, The International History Review, 19 (1997) 146-160; W. Webster, ‘Fit to Fight, Fit to Mix’: Sexual Patriotism in Second World War Britain, Women’s History Review, 22 (2013), 607-624.
In the wake of Canada Day, Dr John Reeks looks at the war work of Canadian-born University of Bristol historian Charles M. Macinnes.
Charles M. MacInnes, known to his friends as ‘Mac’, joined the University of Bristol in 1919 as Assistant Lecturer in History. A Canadian by birth, and despite being nearly completely blind, he rose quickly through the academic ranks. In 1922, he was awarded £20 for research into the history of the tobacco trade and thereafter started to take on a number of research students in the fields of colonial history, the history of slavery, and British political history. He published widely on these subjects, including his first book, The Early English Tobacco Trade, published in 1926, and his 1934 England and Slavery, which made the case that ‘much remains to be done’ to eradicate the evil practice from human society. Following the death of Professor Robert B. Mowat in a plane crash in 1941, MacInnes was promoted first to a readership and then to the professoriate, subsequently becoming Head of History in 1943, before finally rising to take the Deanship of the Faculty of Arts in 1952.
In retirement, MacInnes wrote several more books but one is particularly notable: 1962’s Bristol at War, an account of the city’s reaction to, and suffering during, the Second World War. It is, by professional standards, a failure. MacInnes was clear at the outset that he wanted to avoid writing a book aimed at scholars, or in other words, ‘a trickle of text running through vast meadows of footnotes’. This he certainly achieved. Bristol at War is both readable and instructive, informing the reader about the vast civic undertaking that constituted Bristol’s war effort, whether that be the work of the Women’s Voluntary Service in training ambulance drivers and receiving troops evacuated from Dunkirk, or the Lord Mayor’s War Services Council, which raised and expended nearly £100,000 for a variety of wartime causes between 1940 and 1945. The book in nonetheless nothing short of being a whitewash. One crucial individual is consistently and deliberately written out of Bristol’s wartime history, a person who had won widespread plaudits for his labours at the time and had even been awarded a CBE for his efforts in the 1959 New Year’s Honours. That figure was MacInnes himself.
Bristol Archives hold sixteen large folders of letters and documents which MacInnes had collected in the process of compiling materials for Bristol at War. Organised thematically – ‘Anglo-American Relations’, ‘The Lord Mayor’s War Service Council’, ‘Bristol Information Committee’, and so on – they closely parallel the chapters of the book itself. Upon opening the files, though, it becomes quickly apparent that many of these letters are coming into and going out of MacInnes’s own offices at the University: despite not awarding himself a single mention in Bristol at War, not even the briefest of footnotes, MacInnes himself was at the very heart of Bristol civil wartime operations. I shall take just three examples of his involvement, though there are many more.
First, he was a member of the Bristol Information Committee and convened a subcommittee tasked with improving civilian attitudes to the evacuation of children during the Blitz. During the so-called ‘Phoney War’ of summer 1940 the problem of children returning to the dangerous city caused a great deal of anxiety among Bristol’s political leaders. In a letter of 3 March 1941 to Phyllis Forbes-Dennis, who was seeking to draw inspiration for her own campaign in Plymouth, he explained that ‘it has been my function to disseminate information by means of loud-speaker vans for various authorities’. He went on to explain that his present preoccupation was drawing up a report on morale in Bristol, which could be used to inform the decisions then being made. The subsequent report found its admirers on Bristol’s Council, in the offices of the Regional Information Committee, and the Ministry of Health. Not content with academic investigation, he took practical steps, including organizing twenty Christmas parties – for thousands of Bristol’s citizens – in the winter of 1940. MacInnes also saw to it that ‘travelling troops of players and entertainers…will be visiting bombed areas’ in an effort to boost morale. These parties and entertainments were extremely successful. On 13 August 1943, H. V. Hindle, Secretary to the Lord Mayor’s War Services Councils, wrote to MacInnes to explain that despite cutting back on ‘air raid recuperative work’, the committee ‘strongly felt that the Christmas parties for old people and children should still go on’.
Second, he was at the fore of efforts to improve understanding and to promote friendship between the people of Bristol and the citizens of Allied nations, many of whom, especially the Americans, were now stationed in Bristol itself. One such initiative was the organization of lecture tours, in collaboration with civic organisations like the Rotary Club and the main political parties. ‘The object of these lectures’, MacInnes explained in a circular dated 29 June 1940, was to ‘strengthen the morale of the civil population’ and to promote ‘the feeling of confidence as to the issue of the war’. As the years rolled on, the lectures increasingly focused on the contributions of Britain’s allies and speakers encouraged Bristol’s citizens to return the kindnesses that had been shown to them in the dark days of the Blitz. MacInnes was a person to whom Bristol’s great and good would always answer the call. When he convened an unofficial meeting at the University in February 1943 to discuss the deteriorating relationship between the city and American merchant seamen stationed there, representatives from the Bristol Port Authority, the W. V. S., the Ministry of Information, and the American Red Cross were all in attendance. He was also not above writing speculative letters to foreign ambassadors and consuls, in the hopes of procuring useful materials for his activities. In a 1943 letter to Canada House, for instance, he suggested putting on so-called ‘Canada Parties’ in Bristol: ‘it would be nice if…the Canadian touch could be in evidence’.
Third, he capitalised on his academic connections to organise recuperative holidays in Oxford for heavily-overworked and war-fatigued Bristolians during the autumn of 1941, particularly those living in dangerous parts of the city. In all, approximately 7,000 citizens took advantage of the scheme, which saw them placed in Oxford colleges for a two-week period. There, they could sight-see, play a game of cricket, or merely relax in a park or quad. So successful was the ‘Holidays in Oxford’ scheme that it made the national press, with the Daily Express reporting on 13 July 1941 that Bristol’s ‘soldiers of the Home Front…are being led into peace’ by Charles M. MacInnes, a ‘jolly, red-faced man of nearly 50, with blue eyes, shaggy hair, and tons of determination’. In all, the scheme cost nearly £20,000, though some colleges like Oriel were so happy to help that they refused to charge a penny. In MacInnes’s own words to the President of Magdalen in a letter of October 1941, the scheme ‘will help substantially to maintain public morale no matter what disasters may befall us…Bristol will always be grateful to Oxford for what it has done’. Similarly, one might add, Bristol owes a debt of gratitude to ‘Mac’ himself, without whom none of this would have been possible!
Yet, when he came to write his memories up in Bristol at War, MacInnes systematically removed himself from the story. Christmas parties had been organised ‘by the aid of the Lord Mayor’s grants’; the success of the Oxford holidays was simply attributed to the fact that ‘Bristol’s connection with that University in the past had at times been intimate’. The Lord Mayor gets the credit for tirelessly ‘reminding American friends that men from the old city on the Avon were the first Britons ever to set foot in the New World’. Even the ubiquitous loudspeaker vans appear from nowhere, and are simply described as having been ‘at the disposal [of the Ministry of Information]…manned by voluntary drivers and broadcasters’. Quite why he did this is unclear: perhaps through scholarly reluctance to write about himself, or perhaps because he was possessed of an almost super-human humility.
The upshot is that MacInnes is remembered in the documents but not the history. The evidence of his involvement in the civic war effort is everywhere in the archives, but nowhere in the books and articles. A profile in the University of Bristol’s centenary edition of the alumni magazine Nonesuch ironically mentions the fact that MacInnes was ‘well-known for his Christmas parties’ without passing comment on the many thousands of ordinary citizens who benefitted from them during Britain’s ‘darkest hour’. It carries a photograph of the 1957 bronze bust of MacInnes produced by Jacob Epstein without questioning why the pioneer of modern sculpture would be commissioned to honour a mere Professor of History. The blame for these omissions ultimately lies with MacInnes himself. Perhaps the truth is that ‘Mac’ was uniquely ill-placed to write the history of Bristol at war: too close to events, too intimately involved, and too modest, to write an honest account of what transpired. His braille typewriter, which had such a good war in Mac’s hands, was employed in his retirement to write an incomplete and ultimately highly misleading piece of history. ‘Bristol at War’ still awaits its historian: so too does Charles MacInnes.
The following sources have been consulted:
Charles M. MacInnes, Bristol at War (Museum Press: London, 1962)
Bristol University Library, Special Collections, Faculty of Arts Minute Books, DM2287/3/4
Bristol Archives, Papers of Professor Charles M MacInnes, 11757/1-16
Nonesuch, Spring 2009, Issue 2
“We’ve killed off the dodo, released unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and raised sea levels: welcome to the Anthropocene, the geological age in which humankind has permanently left our mark on the planet.”
This was the description I gave to my new unit, ‘The Age of the Anthropocene’ hoping to catch the attention of second year students keen to explore the impact and meaning of global environmental change. It worked: students from History, English Literature, Religion and Theology, Philosophy, Ancient History, and Study Abroad students joined me this autumn to explore how the notion of the ‘Anthropocene’ has gained traction as a definition of time that recognizes the unprecedented Earth-altering impact of the human species. We engaged with debates among scientists and humanities scholars over the concept, while also exploring how it has captured popular and scholarly imagination.
One of the activities that I looked forward to was holding an inaugural Bristol ‘Anthropocene Slam’ – inspired by the original Anthropocene Slam at the Nelson Institute, Centre for Culture History and Environment (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2014); the Anthropocene exhibition at the Deutsches Museum (Munich, 2014-16); and the BBC/British Museum initiative, ‘The History of the World in 100 Objects’. The challenge was to select an object/visual/sound that encapsulates and communicates the Anthropocene to a wide audience. Here, the students describe the unit, the Slam, and present their selection of objects which best communicate the Anthropocene to you, the public.
What is the Age of Anthropocene unit?
The Anthropocene is the notion that humanity has become a geological force in its own right, moving us in to a new epoch. Proposed by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000, it has inspired this unit ‘The Age of Anthropocene’, which explores the origins, reality and future of the changing planet. Expect hard-hitting truths about the changing relationship between humans and the environment, using the most innovative of recent scholarship, but also material and technology sources.
What is the Anthropocene Slam?
Slam! Now I’ve got your attention. For the Anthropocene slam we were each tasked with presenting a material source ranging from audio to bleach bottles, which represented our perceptions of what the broad concept of the Anthropocene meant. Our overall purpose was to present the Anthropocene with clarity, in the most effective fashion. Our broad scope reflected how the Anthropocene affects all areas of life.
Object 1: Fordite /Detroit agate
Proposed by Thecla Horton
I chose this as an item that I think most represents the Anthropocene for a number of reasons. Fordite is layers and layers of old car paint, from when cars were hand spray-painted, which built up in the painting bays on the ‘tracks’ and ‘skids’ that cars were painted on. The colourful layers show many years of this, these layers were then ‘baked’ when the car bodies went into ovens to set the paint. This process is now extinct as cars are no longer hand sprayed.
Firstly, I think it is a good representation of the Anthropocene as a product of the automobile industry-a significant driver behind the oil industry, mass consumption, and a significant contributor to global warming. The fact that the production of this material is now extinct seems symbolic to the proposed idea that we are entering the 6th mass extinction. Technology and our world is moving so quickly that even these man made materials are becoming rare.
It looks natural and beautiful even the name, Fordite/Detroit agate, is suggestive of a natural mineral, the pattern of multiple layers making it look like it is millions of years old. Yet it is a fossil of the beginning of the Anthropocene. While fossils have taken millions of years to form, the human impact on the planet has happened so rapidly and violently to produce fossils within just a few years, and then for it also to become virtually ‘extinct’.
Object 2: Photograph of Male, Maldives
Proposed by Toby Lane
This is Malé, the capital of the Maldives. Situated in the Indian Ocean it is home to over 130,000 people and is the fifth most densely populated island globally. It is the world’s lowest lying nation with the islands that make up the Maldives being on average only a few feet above sea level. Sea level rise consequently jeopardises the future existence of the Maldives and the way of life for all those who live on the island. The example of the Maldives epitomises the problems offered by the onset of the Anthropocene but also its unjust nature. Those who live on Malé have contributed little towards anthropogenic climate change but will be massively affected by the decisions and excesses of others. Furthermore the fate of Maldives is almost entirely outside of its inhabitants’ influence and the country lacks the ability to defend itself. Malé itself is only protected by a 3m high sea wall which took 14 years to construct at an expense of $63 million (99% of which was funded by Japan). Finally, a study of the Maldives also emphasises how little time is left in order to take action on climate change if catastrophic levels of disruption are to be avoided. In April 2012 President Nasheed of the Maldives declared that “If carbon emissions continue at the rate they are climbing today, my country will be underwater in seven years.”
Object 3: Emojis
Proposed by Noa Leach
Object 4: Video of a turtle (warning: scenes of an animal in distress)
Proposed by George Mumford
Object 5: Pollution mask
Proposed by Matt Davis
Since the end of the Second World War and the onset of the ‘Great Acceleration’ phase of the Anthropocene air pollution has risen rapidly.
In the build-up to the 2008 Olympic games held in Beijing the Chinese media became fixated on the city’s choking pollution. During an air quality crisis in February 2015, the concentration of ‘hazardous particulate matter’, known as PM 2.5 since they are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, rose to nearly twenty times the safe level.
Due to the health risk many people who live in China’s major cities have started wearing pollution masks in an attempt to keep themselves safe from PM 2.5, that are small enough to seep into a person’s lungs or bloodstream. The cause of the ridiculously high air pollution has been attributed to the Chinese industrial sector as the nation’s heaviest polluters. Despite the use of pollution masks a recent report has claimed air pollution is killing around four thousand people per day in China, and accounts for one in six premature deaths.
Air pollution masks represent much about human interaction and the general consequences of the Anthropocene. It has been predicted by scientists that continued burning of fossil fuels and high pollution levels will make much of the Earth’s surface uninhabitable by the year 2100. Pollution masks represent how Beijing has arguably become the closest city yet to be rendered unfit for human habitation due to the effects of the Anthropocene, and although the government is taking action to reduce pollution, the staggering number of deaths caused already begs the question ‘are they acting too late?’ The mask also represents the human reliance upon technological remedies to the Anthropocene, a quick fix that makes the immediate threat smaller and yet fails to address the cause of the problem, that of a constant striving for economic growth, over consumption and a frame of mind that prioritizes the pursuit of human progress over nature.
Object 6: Bunch of Keys
Proposed by Beth Gaffney
This object consists of a household key chain, three different sized keys, a combination padlock, and a supermarket points fob. This object symbolises Paul Crutzen and John McNeill’s third stage of the Anthropocene: ‘The Age of the Stewards’, which marks mankind’s recognition that human activities are indeed affecting the structure and functioning of the Earth system as a whole and is filtering through to decision making. Just as a steward is an official person responsible to take care of something, mankind uses keys to lock something into a safe space. This illustrates how humans have come to acknowledge their responsibility for the earth systems, which they value for continuance of human life.
However, keys are generally forgotten about; they remain hidden in our pockets for most of the day and are often misplaced. This suggests that mankind “knows” the importance of protecting the Earth systems, but often forget to act appropriately in everyday life. Mankind’s planetary ecological consciousness has not formed.
In addition, the different sized keys illustrate how human individuals have been given various “solutions” to protect the environment. However, neither of these three keys fit into the padlock. The keys also sit alongside a plastic supermarket key fob. The solutions provided by market environmentalism often falsely legitimatize the idea that one can continue his or her consumption habits without adjustment, and no broader systematic or structural changes are required. For example, polluters pay distant others, frequently located in the global south, to engage in emission reduction activities as a substitute for reductions at the source. These solutions prioritise the western anthropogenic world and are tokenistic.
By Dr Marianna Dudley (Lecturer in Environmental Humanities), Lucy Bennett (Religion and Theology), Matt Davis (History), James Foss (History), Beth Gaffney (History), Thecla Horton (History), Lydia Hunt (Philosophy and Theology), Yejin Jeong (Study Abroad), Toby Lane (History), Noa Leach (English), Rupert Liddell (Ancient History), George Mumford (History), Roisin Murphy (History), Olivia Nathan-King (Religion and Theology), and Cassie Rist (Religion and Theology) . Thanks go to Bristol Museum Curator Bonnie Griffin for joining our workshop and sharing her expertise, and to Cabot Innovation Fund for their support.
Our new colleague Dr Sumita Mukherjee looks at the place of Bristol city and university in the modern history of South Asian migration:
David Olusoga’s BBC2 programme Black and British: A Forgotten History has brilliantly demonstrated the ways in which peoples of African descent have been living in Britain since the Roman times, how they have been part of the fabric of British life and society for centuries, how migration and multiculturalism are not twentieth-century phenomena.
It should go without saying that just as men and women of African descent have lived and played their part in British history for centuries, so have men and women from Asia, including men and women from the Indian subcontinent. Much of my research has focused on Indian men and women who came to Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, before the more large-scale migrations of the post-war era.
A study of the effects of such migrations could focus on the city of Bristol. Bristol has many long-standing connections with Indian men and women. These links are publicly noted in College Green with the statue of Indian reformer Rammohan Roy. He came to Britain in 1831, was present at King William IV’s coronation, and politicians and philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Macaulay and Robert Owen all clamoured to meet with him. He was a vocal champion of women’s rights, and human rights more broadly.
Rammohan Roy statue at College Green, Bristol. Original image & CC licence here.
In 1833, staying in Bristol with Minister Lant Carpenter and his daughter, Mary, Roy died of suspected meningitis. He was buried in Bristol. A few years later, Dwarkanath Tagore, the father of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, shifted Roy’s grave to Arnos Vale and erected a monument; Roy’s tomb at Arnos Vale Cemetery is grade 2 listed, a tourist attraction and remains a site of commemoration for members of the Brahmo Samaj, the reformist group he founded.
Image of Rammohan Roy tomb at Arnos Vale (author’s own image).
Mary Carpenter moved to Red Lodge after the death of Roy, and it was there that she hosted, Keshub Chunder Sen, another Brahmo Samaj reformer, on his tour of England in 1870. Carpenter tried to make Sen comfortable by preparing ‘curry and rice’ for him in her Elizabethan drawing room, and together they formed the ‘National Indian Association’, first in Bristol (September 1870) and then in London (1871), as a place for Indian visitors to meet like-minded British people and to discuss reform issues.
Bristol was eulogised by many Brahmo Samajists and so Mary Carpenter hosted many other Indian visitors in the nineteenth century who came to pay their respects at Roy’s grave, and to build networks among like-minded reformers. They include Sasipada Banerji, whose son was born on 10 October 1871 at Carpenter’s house and named Albion, after his birth place. The family returned to India in 1872, but Albion came back later to Britain to study at Oxford.
Indeed, in the early twentieth century, the largest foreign student body at British universities were Indian students. Many Indians were encouraged to visit Britain to pursue higher education, having been educated in institutions in India that were modelled on British schools and colleges. In the academic year 1930-1, Bristol University had 28 Indian students. As John Reeks has discovered, one of those students, Man Mohan Singh, attempted to be the first Indian to fly from England to India in 1930. He was unsuccessful.
Another noteworthy example is Sukhsagar Datta, who came to Britain in 1908. He married Ruby Young in 1911, and joined the University of Bristol Medical School in 1914, qualifying as a doctor in 1920. He first worked at the Bristol General Hospital, and eventually the Stapleton Institution (now called Manor Park Hospital) until his retirement in 1956. Datta joined the Labour Party in 1926 and became chair of Bristol North Labour Party in 1946.
Bristol continued to host, and became home, for many more men and women of Indian origin. Many of these stories have yet to be uncovered; their names are hidden in censuses, their faces obscured in photos. Their stories are interwoven with other migrant groups, and together they have shaped the architecture and history of Bristol and Britain.
Andrew Hillier – who recently completed a PhD at the University of Bristol – shares his research in this blog, which addresses the history of Malaysian diaspora by exploring its spaces, places, furnishings and memorials.
Walter and Betty Medhurst arrived in Melaka (Malacca) in 1817. A printer by trade, Walter had been sent by the London Missionary Society (LMS) to the Ultra-Ganges region, to assist Robert Morrison and William Milne in the task of printing and distributing translations of the Bible and other tracts. But Medhurst was fired with evangelical zeal and his principal aim was to become a missionary himself. Two years after his arrival, having acquired a reasonable command of Chinese and shown a fervent devotion to the Gospel, he was ordained and spent a further two years in Malacca before moving to Penang. His fervour did not always endear him to his colleagues and as a result, a year later, he was transferred to Batavia (present-day Jakarta), where he lived for the next twenty years. The objective was to enter China and begin the mass ‘conversion of the heathen’ and so, when the first treaty ports were opened in 1843, Medhurst immediately embarked on this task.
As the first of my forbears to ‘go east’, the Medhursts are the starting point for my thesis, in which I explore the relationship between family and empire through the lens of four generations, who lived and worked in east and south-east Asia. Although they only spent four years in Malaysia, this was a formative time for Walter and Betty and, whilst Medhurst wrote of his experiences in China: Its State and Prospects (1838), I wanted to see the places for myself. In the event, apart from a fine memorial to William Milne in the Dutch Church in Malacca (plate 1), I found little evidence of the LMS, since, after the opening of the treaty ports, it removed its operations to Hong Kong.
However, the visit proved rewarding because there is a lively interest in the history of both Malacca and George Town (as Penang’s port-city is still called), spear-headed by Khoo Salma Nasution, who also runs her own publishing house. This contributed to the two port-cities being jointly listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in July 2008. In the words of the Declaration, their rich multi-cultural heritage had been preserved and maintained over several centuries and could still be seen in their ‘…unique architecture, culture and townscapes’. Of this, three elements were of particular interest.
1. Memorial tablet to William Milne, Dutch Church, Malacca.
First, the vibrant plural society of Chinese, Malay and Indian, which greeted Medhurst on his arrival, can still be found in both the buildings and the everyday life. Secondly, whereas Britain was the only European power to colonise Penang, in Malacca, the presence of the Portuguese and, later, the Dutch had plainly influenced the port-city’s development. Thirdly, leaving aside the European presence, what had given rise to the plural society in both settlements was the mass migration, principally of Chinese but also of Indians, Indonesians and others, which had begun in the 1500s. Accordingly, by the early 1800s, within the framework of Britain’s formal empire, there was an informal empire or diaspora, promoted by the Chinese both economically and culturally. Moreover, family had played a key role in stimulating and consolidating this process.
To understand this, it is logical to begin with Malacca because it was there that the Portuguese first landed in 1511, and established a safe haven for their voyages to and from the Spice Islands. Whilst there is little tangible evidence of this now, by inter-marrying, they added to the island’s plural society and left an enduring Catholic legacy. When the Dutch arrived, they introduced a very different version of Christianity and European culture, which shaped the city’s development during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. By the time the British formally acquired the Settlement in exchange for Bencoolen in 1824, the port had lost its importance, with Penang providing better facilities and Singapore already becoming a busy entrepôt. As a result, it is the Dutch influence which continues to exemplify the European presence.
It is evident in the simple lines of the Dutch Reformed Church which overlooks the central square, in the administrative buildings, such as the Stadthuys, and in the street architecture, where the Dutch style of merchant house, locally known as a ‘shophouse’ was introduced. A typical example can be found in Heeren Street, adjoining Jonkers Street. Totally derelict twenty years ago, it has been carefully restored by the Heritage of Malaysia Trust. It illustrates how Dutch building methods and materials were used in the construction of such houses and how, later, it served the needs of a Chinese merchant and his family. The shop’s façade contains one large shutter which would fold down to serve as a counter for displaying wares (plate 2).
2. Facade of restored shop-house, Heeren Street, Malacca, 2016.
Inside, there is a central open courtyard, with the family rooms being at the rear (plate 3). On the bench are examples of the original Dutch bricks which were shipped as ballast and then used for building. Fittingly, inside, there is a Vermeer print to show how closely the design matches that of similar houses in Delft. Here, therefore, we have strong linkages between Dutch and local Malaysian society.
3. The Inside courtyard of the shop-house
About 50 metres down the same street is a strikingly different building – one built by a rich Peranakan Chinese, or as they are more usually called now, a baba-nyonya. These were the Chinese who, from the 1500s, came over to settle and, often leaving a wife at ‘home’ on the mainland, to whom they would return from time to time, married a ‘local’ woman, either Malay or Indonesian. Contrary to Western colonial culture, where such inter-marriage was frowned upon, this class became respected and often affluent and formed a key part of the local community.
This is all brought together in the baba & nyonya Heritage Museum, the former home of a baba, Chan Cheng Siew (1865-1919), whose father had first migrated from China and who, having made a fortune in rubber and other investments, built this lavish mansion for himself and his family (plate 4).
4. The Former Home of a Rich Peranakan, Malacca.
Whilst it is Chinese in its overall appearance and much of its furnishings, with chairs and tables made of Chinese black-wood and decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay, the fashion was to import and use British materials: plasterwork, tiles from Stoke on Trent, wrought iron pillars and beams manufactured by Macfarlanes in Glasgow and art nouveau glass for windows, chandeliers and artefacts (plates 5).
Further down the same street is Hotel Puri, the ancestral home of Tan Kim Seng, a third generation Chinese, born in Malacca, whose grandfather, like many others, first came from the Eng Choon district of Fujian in the eighteenth century. The current house, which was built in 1876, retains many of the original Chinese features as well as a library where the story of the Tan dynasty is displayed. By chance, I got talking to a cleaning lady who told me the history of her family, which was Indian, third generation Malay. Taking me to a map, she described the trajectory of their lives which now extended to Singapore, Italy, Britain and Canada, which she still visited. Thus, Malacca’s plural culture, underpinned by family connection, continues to thrive.
A similar pattern can be found in Penang where, in the nineteenth century, wealthy Chinese and Peranakan families established themselves, living and working alongside the British. It is illustrated by two houses, previously derelict but which have been restored by entrepreneurs dedicated to preserving Penang’s heritage. The Blue Mansion was built by one of Penang’s richest merchants, Cheong Fatt Tze, who arrived penniless from Guangdong in the mid-nineteenth century, and went on to amass a fortune through rubber, coffee and tea investments, and was appointed Consul-General to the Qing government in the 1890s. The house comprises 38 rooms, 5 courtyards and seven staircases and is a typical mixture of Chinese and European taste. One of its most distinctive features is the ‘cut and paste shard’ porcelain decoration on the outside of the building, the restoration of which could only be done by craftsmen brought over from the People’s Republic of China. Cheong left eight wives and six sons but none of them were able to continue his legacy.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was owned by a very different type of Straits Chinese. Chung Keng Kwee made his fortune through tin mining and other more dubious enterprises and was one of the principal leaders of the Chinese secret societies, until they were outlawed in the 1880s. Born in 1821, Chung came from a family of farmers living in a remote Hakka village in the region of Zengcheng, east of Guangzhou. Coming to the mainland in search of his father, he quickly established himself as an astute businessman and was appointed leader of one of the secret societies. Frequently in dispute with other Chinese Clans, the rivalries culminated in the Larut Wars which indirectly led to the Pangkor Treaty (1874) and the introduction of a British Resident as ‘adviser’ to the Sultan. Whilst the house has been restored to reflect this family history, the contents are primarily Peranakan, albeit it is difficult to define that style precisely.
The importance of family in these processes is exemplified in the ancestral home of the Khoo Clan, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. The Khoo family originated from Sin Kang Village in Fujian and was one of the Five Big Clans that formed the backbone of the Hokkien community in early Penang. According to the Kongsi curator, Lawrence Cheah, the birth of the first Khoo clansman in Penang took place in 1775. His son married a local woman and their children were thus baba nyonya. The earliest Khoo clansmen to Penang earned their livelihoods as fishermen and small-time merchants but, when Francis Light established the port-city in 1786, the Clan began to build their fortune, bringing over from China not only their own kinsmen but also substantial contingents of Chinese labour.
6. The Khoo Ancestral Temple, Penang
In 1850 the Clan bought the land on which their home now stands, presided over by its giant ancestral temple. In the adjoining rooms, the Clan’s history is displayed, with memorial tablets recording its members’ achievements, amongst whom are a number of UOB alumni (plate 7).
7. Bristol Alumni, Khoo Temple.
Each year, coming from all over East and South-east Asia and further afield, the Clan assembles at the Kongsi and nowhere could better represent the importance which the Chinese still attach to ancestral worship and filial piety than this set of magnificent buildings.
Whilst the formal British presence is represented by standard colonial architecture – Fort Cornwallis, former government buildings and a number of churches – the everyday life can be found in the street architecture and arcades, and, of course, in the Christian Cemetery. In this tranquil, if somewhat unkempt, setting, the hazards and heartache of colonial life can be found inscribed on gravestones and memorials. The following provide a few poignant examples.
8. Tombstones, Christian Cemetery, George Town.
Considering these lives in the context of this society, two questions occurred to me. First, what sort of contact took place between the British and this affluent Chinese/ Peranakan community? That there was a degree of intellectual interaction is evident from the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, produced and edited by James Logan between 1847 and 1858, and the proceedings of various learned societies – see Su Lin Lewis, ‘Between Orientalism and Nationalism: The Learned Society and the Making of “South East Asia”’, 10 (2013) Modern Intellectual History, pp. 353-374. But it would be interesting to know how this developed when imperialism became more strident. Secondly, given the appetite for British materials and furnishings, how was the exercise of designing, ordering and shipping from Britain performed? Might there be private archives with records of such transactions and what would they tell us about these relationships? Given the number of UOB alumni, perhaps there is scope for forging linkages between the University and Penang to explore these sort of questions.