Moving a Sideshow to the Center: Local Experiences of World War I in East Africa

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michelle Moyd, Indiana University Bloomington
The East African campaign of World War I engaged hundreds of thousands of soldiers, porters, and other laborers between 1914 and 1918. Its geographical scope encompassed the lands that today comprise mainland Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and more. Recent scholarship has made it possible for us to understand local experiences of the war in ways that were not widely available before. This paper will present an overview of how different African actors within the East African campaign theater experienced the war as part of localized understandings of the nature of warfare, its costs, and in some cases, the opportunities it made available. For example in what ways did the East African campaign simply appear as a mere continuation of previous wars of colonial conquest to certain residents of German East Africa? This paper will also trace how some of the more “global” aspects of the war, such as food shortages and disease, manifested in local contexts. In the end, this paper will argue that by labeling extra-European theaters of war as “sideshows,” we miss opportunities to explore commonalities and differences in diverse human experiences of the war.  Certainly to those who lived through it, the East African campaign was no sideshow, but instead a profoundly disorienting and disruptive era of loss, suffering, and political change.
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