1914–18: Global Conflict, Local Context
This panel explores the significance of the First World War in its East African, South Asian, and Middle Eastern contexts. In the region stretching from Lake Tanganyika to the Punjab to Istanbul, millions of men took up arms and became soldiers in a world war whose purported center was the Western Front. What stake did East Africans, Indians, and Ottomans have in the war? Where and how did they fight, and what factors determined whether they died in battle or of disease, or returned to their loved ones, physically, though rarely mentally, unharmed? What were the zones of contact, if any, between these groups as the Indians fought in both Mesopotamia and East Africa? How did those left behind fare in the home front, which itself often turned into its own battlefield in a war of hunger, famine, and disease. The papers connect the war of 1914-1918 to prevailing local and regional environments, and they thereby both widen and deepen our understanding of the First World War. In East Africa the world war in some ways continued earlier wars of colonial conquest. In the Ottoman theater, the war appeared as a Third Balkan War. It was triggered in Sarajevo by an assassin born in a former Ottoman province, and followed the wars of 1911 in Ottoman North Africa (Libya) and the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. In India, the war coincided with a burgeoning sense of nationalism and the strengthening of the Indian National Congress even as soldiers, largely from Northern India, travelled to theaters as far-flung as Gallipoli and East Africa and France to fight for the British Raj. The three papers collectively will highlight the contiguities and differences in the national contexts and war experiences between East Africans, Ottomans and Indians, and will thus contribute to a more international frame of reference for understanding the world war of 1914-1918. The papers are based on archival material, contemporary publications, newspapers, and sound recordings, and memoirs.