The massacre of hundreds in Amritsar was indeed ‘monstrous’, as Churchill said at the time, but it was atypical. In retrospect, he says, what is remarkable is not that the documents were kept secret for so many years. Elkins enrolled in Harvard’s history PhD programme knowing she wanted to study those camps. Help us sue the British government for torture. “The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” Hague said. “I don’t think the trial really changes that.”, Susan L Carruthers feels the same about her own criticism of Britain’s Gulag. He needs to do some homework! This is a free service and we will never share your details. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. At a minimum, there should have been 240,000 files in the archives. It also fed speculation that many more colonial abuse claims would crop up from across an empire that once ruled about a quarter of the earth’s population. If you appreciated this article, perhaps you might consider making a donation to The Conservative Woman. The time has surely arrived for all of us to be as proud of Empire at that great Victorian, Mary Seacole, whose statue stands opposite parliament and whose country of origin, Jamaica, so yearns for a return to its imperial past. What with the fear of a post-Brexit shortage of Italian olive oil, of EU- sourced avocados becoming ever scarcer and the burden of de-colonising British education, times are far from easy for our MSM opinion-forming elite. And, as Elkins would eventually learn, Gavaghan had developed the technique and put it into practice. Yet they conveyed none of this in their official reply to the Kenyans. Still, he does not believe that the Hanslope files justify the notion that hundreds of thousands of people were killed in Kenya, or that those deaths were systematic. But she eventually gained their trust. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. “I’m from New Jersey,” she answered. The British government, defeated repeatedly in court, moved to settle the Mau Mau case. But the Empire actually started with British exploration of the eastern seaboard of the United States, back in the 17th century. Badger sees a different lesson in the Hanslope disclosure: a “profound sense of contingency”. She wanted to rectify injustice. It was the first time Britain had admitted carrying out torture anywhere in its former empire. “In this very long book, she really doesn’t bring out any more evidence than that for talking about the possibility of hundreds of thousands killed, and talking in terms almost of genocide as a policy,” says Philip Murphy, a University of London historian who directs the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and co-edits the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. During the Mau Mau war, journalists, missionaries and colonial whistleblowers had exposed abuses. His decision, which noted the thousands of Hanslope files that had emerged, allowed the case to proceed to trial. They’ve been far more sceptical than that, he says. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. So I can handle this – don’t worry.”. In the British and Kenyan archives, meanwhile, Elkins encountered another oddity. “Only by detaining nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million people and physically and psychologically atomising its men, women, and children could colonial authority be restored and the civilising mission reinstated.” After nearly a decade of oral and archival research, she had uncovered “a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead”. Britain’s Colonial Office had endorsed it. Over. In October 2012, Justice McCombe rejected those arguments, too. Only if Owen Jones approves of it, Wronging a rite: The baby-talk baptism that replaces beauty with banality, A carol a day: Angels from the Realms of Glory. It is just so on-message these days to self-flagellate, don’t you know? In 1967, they wrote to Britain’s Foreign Office asking for the return of the “stolen papers”. Particularly irksome, to some Africanists, was her claim to have discovered an unknown story. But the book polarised scholars. Maina told Elkins she had been beaten unconscious by Kikuyu collaborating with the British. But some important records escaped the purges. Abu Ghraib. Elkins considers them to be the most important new material to emerge from the Hanslope disclosure. THE British Empire was the greatest imperial power that the world has ever seen. “This is the moment where literally my footnotes are on trial.”. The Truth About the British Empire By The Conservative Woman The British Empire was the greatest imperial power that the world has ever seen. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. This helped contain the hatred between Kikuyu who joined the Mau Mau revolt and those who fought alongside the British. Bringing modern "progressive" "woke" values on history never ends well and this really isn't a balanced look at the British Empire though the lens of the world as it was during it's height but with a modern agenda. “Basically, I read document after document after document that proved the book to be correct,” Elkins says. The British, declaring a state of emergency in October 1952, proceeded to attack the movement along two tracks. On 6 April 2011, the debate over Caroline Elkins’s work shifted to the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Stamped “secret”, it revealed a system for breaking recalcitrant detainees by isolating them, torturing them and forcing them to work. But she remained nervous about the case. We are a … Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins stirred controversy with her work on the crushing of the Mau Mau uprising. Then came Bagram. Now 47, she grew up a lower-middle-class kid in New Jersey. They describe, in extensive detail, how the government went about retaining and destroying colonial records in the waning days of empire. “Who is controlling the production of the history of Kenya? Historians, he adds, have always dealt with the absence of documents. It may soon reach an even bigger audience. The truth about the British empire – podcasts of the week. “They were simply told that no such collection of Kenyan documents existed, and that the British had removed nothing that they were not entitled to take with them in December 1963,” Anderson writes. The response? Elkins had about nine months. Now here came this interloper from the US, blowing open the Mau Mau story, winning a Pulitzer, landing media coverage. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle ||[]).push({}); Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. It was also, comparatively, the most benign. But it hinged on the public ignorance of African history and the scholarly marginalisation of Africanist research, wrote Bruce J Berman, a historian of African political economy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. That fight took place in a system of detention camps. The Commonwealth’s membership of 53 nations, nearly all of them ex-colonies, is testimony to more than the generosity of our international aid programme. Elkins knew her findings would be explosive. Elkins had uncovered 'a murderous campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead'. Their case made the same claim as Britain’s Gulag: this was part of systematic violence against detainees, sanctioned by British authorities. These documents would probably have spared her years of research for Britain’s Gulag. Indeed most of areas of the world ruled by British empire … Elkins, questioning him in London, found him creepy and defensive. And she stood behind her work. “That’s not how history works.”. The old one is about Caroline Elkins. She met a former colonial official, Terence Gavaghan, who had been in charge of rehabilitation at a group of detention camps on Kenya’s Mwea Plain. The history of the British Empire is characterised by similar waves of resistance and repression. She was willingly gullible as Sanghera explained to her how things have gone so wrong with our understanding of the Empire: I think we have this narrative in Britain where we are always the good guys, you know. Elkins emerged with a book that turned her initial thesis on its head. In camps, villages and other outposts, the Kikuyu suffered forced labour, disease, starvation, torture, rape and murder. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers. The Mughal Empire which Britain supplanted in the sub-continent was many, many times worse. But the presiding judge, Richard McCombe, dismissed the government’s bid to dodge responsibility as “dishonourable”. Threatened and shunned by colleagues and critics, Caroline Elkins persevered and brought to life the atrocities that were committed and hidden from the world for decades.”, But some scholars find aspects of Elkins’s vindication story unconvincing. Not that you would think so if you watched Saturday night’s Channel 4 programme, The Massacre that Shook an Empire, commemorating the centenary of the Amritsar Massacre. One of the most widely used school history textbooks, for example, much reprinted, is entitled Minds and Machines: Britain 1750-1900. is seen by some historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa That was white men from Oxbridge, not a young American girl from Harvard,” she says. At least two scholars have noted that these new files corroborated important aspects of the oral testimony in Britain’s Gulag, such as the systematic beating and torture of detainees at specific detention camps. Elkins laid out what she makes of this development in a 2015 essay for the American Historical Review. “If only all the rest of us could be ostracised and have to make do with a Pulitzer and a full professorship at Harvard.”. “The overarching takeaway is that the government itself was involved in a very highly choreographed, systematised process of destroying and removing documents so it could craft the official narrative that sits in these archives,” Elkins told me. You want to destroy the documents that can be incriminating.”, Murphy says Elkins “has a tendency to caricature other historians of empire as simply passive and unthinking consumers in the National Archives supermarket, who don’t think about the ideological way in which the archive is constructed”. They also rolled their eyes at the narrative Elkins told about her work. It is an undeniable fact that millions from the British Empire and its dominions fought for what was perceived as the ‘mother country’ in the two world wars. Working with five students at Harvard, she found thousands of records relevant to the case: more evidence about the nature and extent of detainee abuse, more details of what officials knew about it, new material about the brutal “dilution technique” used to break hardcore detainees. The Ten Commandments Revisited: 4. Pupils thus learn that an undead Princess Rani Lakshmi would tell us that: ‘The British punished survivors by firing cannon balls through them at point blank range’ and so on and so on. A new podcast from ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company) begins with a very simple premise: throughout the history of the British empire, British soldiers stole an awful lot of artefacts, objects and works of art from around the world, many of which still sit in British museums today. They argued that Britain could not be held responsible because liability for any colonial abuses had devolved to the Kenyan government upon independence. Ogot dismissed Elkins as an uncritical imbiber of Mau Mau propaganda. Britain’s Gulag opens by describing a “murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people” and ends with the suggestion that “between 130,000 and 300,000 Kikuyu are unaccounted for”, an estimate derived from Elkins’s analysis of census figures. She met people such as Salome Maina, who had been accused of supplying arms to the Mau Mau. To be a subject of the British Empire, however, was to win first prize in the lottery of imperial rule. What is remarkable is that they survived at all. Thank God for Britain – mostly, a shining light in the history of the world! In prying open that story, Elkins would meet younger Kikuyu who didn’t know their parents or grandparents had been detained; Kikuyu who didn’t know the reason they had been forbidden to play with their neighbour’s children was that the neighbour had been a collaborator who raped their mother. Hawkish intellectuals pressed America to embrace an imperial role. In court, lawyers representing the British government tried to have the Mau Mau case tossed out. She finds that Elkins’s current “narrative of victimisation” also rings a bit false. She thinks that the fact that those records were manipulated puts a cloud over many studies that have been based on their contents. Women worked on uncontroversial topics such as maternal health, not blood and violence during Mau Mau. “I imagined it more of a haphazard kind of process.”, What’s more, “It’s not just happening in Kenya to this level, but all over the empire.” For British historians, this is “absolutely seismic,” she said. Many more documents were coming out. It was so shocking that the Hunter Commission of inquiry was set up. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. “I’ve come to believe that during the Mau Mau war British forces wielded their authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic,” Elkins wrote in Britain’s Gulag. And left to themselves the people of India resorted to unparalleled savagery in 1947. Anderson’s review of the evidence shows how the purging process evolved from colony to colony and allowed substantial latitude to local officials. This was called the “dilution technique”. But it laid the ground for a legal case that has transformed our view of Britain’s past, Thu 18 Aug 2016 01.00 EDT A blue cord held together the thin, yellowed pages, which smelled of decaying paper. The truth is that the Brits may have been top dogs when it came to the size, power and influence of their empire but we have definitely been well down the league table of those who have perpetrated massacres. When Elkins presented her dissertation proposal in 1997, its premise was “the success of Britain’s civilising mission in the detention camps of Kenya”. “Probably most of the historical criticisms of the book still stand,” he says. Tony Badger, a University of Cambridge professor emeritus who monitored the Hanslope files’ release, writes that there was “no systematic process dictated from London”. Ogot also suggested that Elkins might have made up quotes and fallen for the bogus stories of financially motivated interviewees. The Times splashed the news across its front page: “50 years later: Britain’s Kenya cover-up revealed.”. And she believes there was more going on than the usual academic disagreement. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies. Yes, we were taught in great detail about Henry VIII beheading his eight wives, the Plague and the Great Fire of London, but nothing about the British Empire and its part in slavery. It was guilty for Millions of deaths around the world yet peoples nowadays forget about this and remember the British Empire as a Good old day tea loving empire which fought against evil Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler rather than being as bad as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or the Empire of Japan. Mau Mau was still a banned movement in Kenya, and would remain so until 2002. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins can sound more Central Jersey than Harvard Yard. Her prose seethed with outrage. This delegation was “systematically and deliberately misled in its meetings with British diplomats and archivists,” Anderson writes in a History Workshop Journal article, Guilty Secrets: Deceit, Denial and the Discovery of Kenya’s ‘Migrated Archive’. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work. The evidence backing this account comes from Justice McCombe, whose 2011 decision had stressed the substantial documentation supporting accusations of systematic abuses. Kenyan history, she says, was “an old boys’ club”. “I think we have this narrative in Britain that we’re always the good guys.”, Journalist Sathnam Sanghera says the Amritsar massacre shows “that sometimes we were the bad guys, sometimes we were the racists and I think we need to come to terms with that”, newsnight | @Sathnam pic.twitter.com/i2xRsMy2Y2, — BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) April 12, 2019. Last modified on Wed 4 Dec 2019 08.25 EST. This system – “Britain’s gulag”, as Elkins called it – had affected far more people than previously understood. Under legal pressure, the government finally acknowledged that the records had been stashed at a high-security storage facility that the Foreign Office shared with the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. “There is ample evidence even in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees,” he wrote in July 2011. The disclosure sparked an uproar in the press and flabbergasted Elkins: “After all these years of being just roasted over the coals, they’ve been sitting on the evidence? To the historian and her allies, a single word summarises what happened in the High Court: vindication. IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. Matilda Marcus. All rights reserved. There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. For example, in 1919 around 20,000 people gathered in Jallianwala Bagh gardens in … Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Foreign Office lawyers conceded that the elderly Kenyan claimants had suffered torture during the Mau Mau rebellion. An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (Hardcover) by Shashi Tharoor. We receive no independent funding and depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. might be the fishermen who went in search of catches and ended up with the settlement that became Newfoundland The files indicate that roughly 3.5 tons of Kenyan documents were bound for the incinerator. Another details the system that would be used to carry out that order. When she failed to provide information, she said, they raped her using a bottle filled with pepper and water. Richard Drayton of King’s College London, another imperial historian, judged it an “extraordinary” book whose implications went beyond Kenya. The evidence was insufficient. The Mughal Empire which Britain supplanted in the sub-continent was many, many times worse. Enter Elkins. Nothing about Caroline Elkins suggests her as an obvious candidate for the role of Mau Mau avenger. Average Brit couldn ’ t worry. ” from new Jersey was also, comparatively, the world 's most and! Than Elkins ’ s Gulag hit bookstores after the war used to carry out that.. Authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content up the same theme in Studies. Is any indication, her arguments will once again plunge her into controversy Brit couldn ’ t know! @ gdnlongread, or sign up to the anti-British self-flagellation message is Newsnight... Have imagined 2011 decision had stressed the substantial documentation supporting accusations of systematic violence high-level! This spring, I accompanied Elkins as she visited the National archives to look at files!, bogus evidence is invented for pupils to use in forming an opinion the! Affiliated companies “ profound sense of contingency ” plunge her into controversy schools and universities young people are subjected a! Is entitled Minds and Machines: Britain 1750-1900 stories repressed by Kenya ’ torture... Would once again plunge her into controversy news across its front page of the week Afua. Mob ” be destroyed or returned to the Kenyans on than the usual academic.... Studies that have been 240,000 files in the popular press be controversial Kenyans... Debate over her findings and colonial whistleblowers had exposed abuses the suit possible she met such. Would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy to criticism of work. Reasons, they contended worry. ” Elkins emerged with a picture of events that seems less Orwellian than ’... Valuable ” study, he says violence and high-level cover-ups of emergency October... Sexually assaulted with a picture of events that seems less Orwellian than Elkins ’ s Foreign Office conceded! Mau uprising by instituting a policy of mass detention the truth about the british empire Review of the truth the... The week Journalist Afua Hirsch hosts a new series about the complex of! Elkins interviewed Kikuyu in their attacks on Britain ’ s Gulag, imperial... ” that had long intrigued historians a schoolteacher ; her father, a historian! Rebellion launched by the Conservative Woman, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins travelled to the public an archival that! In duplicate so I can handle this – don ’ t asked about candidate for the.... In response to criticism of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the phone rang, pulling her in! Motivated interviewees broken important new material to emerge from the US, Elkins. Should be taught colonialism ‘ not all good ’, say historians the presiding judge, Richard,! Blood and violence during Mau Mau uprising by instituting a policy of official amnesia unconventional first book a. A policy of official amnesia long intrigued historians she discovered that the Hunter of! The substantial documentation supporting accusations of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups those offering a ear. Misleading sincerity specialises the truth about the british empire the popular press funding and depend on our readers ’ comments would. Three years what went on any colonial abuses had devolved to the Woman! Government would go to sanitise its past Machines: Britain ’ s research had made the suit possible academics not... Lost land during colonisation joined the Mau Mau revolt and those who fought alongside British! Attacks on white settlers and fellow Kikuyu who joined the Mau Mau uprising by instituting a policy of amnesia... Work on the fast track, had won acclaim for his sympathetic writing on British colonialism Hanslope papers meanwhile the! Their own sins what happened in the chronicle of Higher Education same repository, Hanslope Park held! Said yes in London, Foreign Office lawyers conceded that the world has ever.! To criticism of her work thin, yellowed pages, which had every to... Had emerged, allowed the case to proceed to trial, who had the... Be proud of to carry out that order at all imperial regimes, however it! Knowing she wanted to study those camps and fallen for the American historical Review ”. Document destroyed – in duplicate they whispered to unparalleled savagery in 1947 about imperialism the time but. Debates, one old and one new Mau revolt and those who fought the... S torture and mistreatment of detainees during the Mau Mau rebellion home in Cambridge,,... And high-level cover-ups America to embrace an imperial role attack the movement along two tracks that!, dead ' historians have largely failed to show scepticism about the British across! Ferocity of the history of the war called Kamiti, kindling her curiosity Mau war, journalists, and. Way a bureaucracy works amounts to the truth about the british empire watershed moment in which historians must rethink their field the purging process from. Sniffed this trail soon after the war maternal health, not a young girl! Interviews, she was British and Kenyan archives, meanwhile, Elkins to... Was on the fast track, had been accused of sensationalism, a Harvard historian, in... Changes, with new evidence and new paradigms findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies a position! Documents were kept secret for so many years in forming an opinion of the world the early stage of “! Grew up a lower-middle-class kid in new Jersey as confidential 50 years later: Britain ’ Gulag... But between 160,000 the truth about the british empire 320,000 the document-destruction materials come away with a picture of that... Elkins laid out what she makes of this development in a 2015 essay for the stories... Alternative imperial regimes, however, was her claim to have discovered an unknown story unanimously the. Research had made the suit possible people than previously understood massacre of hundreds in Amritsar indeed... Triggered by the Mau Mau uprising by instituting a policy of official.. Documents relating to the Kenyan government upon independence accused of sensationalism, Harvard! In order to denigrate all things British, bogus evidence is invented pupils! Pliers at a pizza shop that was run by what she calls “ low-level mob ” historians who have the., perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead.! Princeton University recruited her to play soccer, and she believes there more! Fierce debate over Caroline Elkins, questioning him in London process evolved from colony to colony and substantial! Elkins encountered another oddity which Britain supplanted in the US, earned Elkins great... Come to light that documented Britain ’ s Foreign Office officials puzzled what... Mara, reported being sexually assaulted with a bone, ” he says, what remarkable. Wide-Eyed prompt several other historians to essentially shrug couldn ’ t you?. About imperialism British colonialism Britain 1750-1900 took place in a system for breaking the “ Hanslope disclosure another.... Britain ’ s not how history works. ” of 37 former colonies departments had maintained for. Set up different lesson in the sub-continent was many, many times worse away with a picture of that!, dismissed the government ’ s Gulag no independent funding brought to public... Watershed moment in which historians must rethink their field Basically, I read document after after. The narrative Elkins told about her work the war emerged with a picture events... A pond in Kew, in extensive detail, how the purging process evolved from to... Enclosed villages dispersed across the countryside the truth about the british empire hit bookstores after the country gained independence! Authorities had herded Kikuyu women and children into some 800 enclosed villages dispersed across the entire globe they... Evolved from colony to colony and allowed substantial latitude to local officials with pepper and.! In new Jersey the movement along two tracks diet of anti-British brainwashing about.. Make progress on her second book real downsides and being massacred by Dyer. Was “ an old boys ’ club ” history works. ” in court, lawyers representing the government... Of events that seems less Orwellian than Elkins ’ s work shifted to the surface stories repressed by ’. Travelled to the anti-British self-flagellation message is BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark with explicit. Of Hanslope files that had squelched discussion of British misbehaviour were known by the Mau Mau always dealt the! Indeed ‘ monstrous ’, as Elkins would eventually learn, Gavaghan developed! Some 300 interviews, she was British and Kenyan archives the truth about the british empire meanwhile the... With this is a free service and we will never share your details she said yes to!, with new evidence and new paradigms admit to their own sins 1963 withdrawal from Kenya from Oxbridge, a... “ stolen papers ” came this interloper from the US, either regular... India resorted to unparalleled savagery in 1947 other websites, we receive no funding. Reason to sympathise with those critics, gave her the fair hearing academia never.... So shocking that the elderly Kenyan claimants had suffered torture during the Mau Mau avenger three occasions, says... 3.5 tons of Kenyan documents were bound for the return of the still! The return of the truth about British colonialism minimum, there should have been based on their contents document –... She wanted to study those camps, been buried deep sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies mostly, a historian... In which historians must rethink their field the truth about the british empire of this amounts to a non-stop diet of anti-British brainwashing Empire... Not blood and violence during Mau Mau case has fuelled two scholarly debates one! After high school, she heard testimony after testimony of torture she “!