Ireland, India, and Palestine: Connections across the Decolonizing British Empire

AHA Session 29
North American Conference on British Studies 1
National History Center 1
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin
Dane K. Kennedy, George Washington University

Session Abstract

This session takes as its subject connections between Ireland, India and Palestine, three parts of the British Empire that experienced partition at the moment of decolonization. Both colonial officials and anti-colonial leaders made conceptual and practical links between these three countries, and recent scholarship has begun to describe and analyze the networks of ideology and practice that bound them together. The papers in this panel contribute to a growing body of scholarship on late imperialism and decolonization, and suggest fruitful avenues for research in transnational and comparative history.

Lucy Chester’s paper will examine imperial and anti-colonial links between South Asia and Palestine during 1947-1948. British, Zionist, Palestinian Arab, Muslim League, and Indian National Congress leaders were all keenly aware of connections between these two territories. Depending on their interests, some of these parties sought to downplay any resemblance, while others highlighted potential analogies in order to achieve specific political ends.

Michael Silvestri’s paper will analyze one of the most complex and multi-layered cinematic interpretations of the events of 1947, the British director Ken McMullen's 1987 film Partition. This paper will explore how McMullen’s film links the histories of Ireland and India, and raises questions of anti-colonial solidarity among nationalists, the imperial service of the Irish and the inter-imperial analogies made by both nationalists and imperialists.

Penny Sinanoglou’s paper will examine the perception of haste in the 1948 partition and decolonization of Palestine in light of British experiences in India the previous year. It will show that both historically and historiographically, a focus on the supposed speed of Britain’s withdrawal from both countries diverted attention from a much longer and more gradual process of planning for the various contingencies of decolonization.

Taken together, these three papers will illuminate the interconnected late imperial histories of Ireland, India and Palestine, and will offer readings of both archival and more recent artistic sources. The panel will be of particular interest not only to historians of the Ireland, India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, and the British Empire, but also to those historians engaged in transnational and comparative studies of imperialism and decolonization.

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