Testing the Frontiers of Empire: League of Nations Mandates in Africa and the Middle East

AHA Session 104
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Steven L. Hyland Jr., Wingate University
The Audience

Session Abstract

The League of Nations marshalled new resource networks to publicize and respond to diplomatic crises, imperial abuses, and humanitarian tragedies. This panel shifts the discussion of the League of Nations from the realm of European based diplomatic histories to on-the-ground case studies of those living in mandated territories.  The three papers show how Africans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, and Americans maneuvered within the new structures of the mandate system and attempted to leverage beneficial opportunities from this system. 

In her article, “The Meaning of the Mandates System,” Susan Pedersen challenged historians to explain the variation amongst mandates.  Through an examination of the diverse cases of South West Africa, Togo-Dahomey, and Syria the panelists contribute to this ongoing historiographical query. Each paper in this panel analyzes a different class of mandate:  Syria, a class A mandate in the Near East administered by France; Togoland, a class B mandate in West Africa also administered by France; and South West Africa, a class C mandate administered by the British Dominion of South Africa. The panel therefore broaches both the historiographical question regarding the nature of Mandate rule as an element of imperial rule, as well as drawing out the empirical variation between mandates.

This panel investigates how the League’s creation allowed for Africans, Middle Easterners, Americans, and Europeans to challenge the status quo of colonial rule with varied degrees of success.  All of these groups tested the imperial ‘frontiers’ of mandates. Sean Wempe examines the local and international debates of the 1920s concerning the citizenship status of Germans residing in South West Africa. Using diaries and official documents, Sean demonstrates how the question of citizenship at the personal and legal level created opportunities for ‘colonial Germans’ to use the League to their benefit.  Jessica Reuther focuses on the imperial borderland in West Africa where France governed both the mandate of Togoland and the colony of Dahomey.  She contrasts the different transnational mechanisms Togolese and Dahomeans engaged with in order to sway imperial debates about girl pawns.  Idir Ouahes looks at Near East Relief, an American charitable organization, which pressured French authorities to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria in the early 1920s. These panelists show how imperial citizens and non-League members interacted with the League’s Permanent Mandates Commission, Committee of Experts on Slavery, and the Nansen International Office for Refugees. These “outsider” perspectives provide new insights into how the invention of League of Nations mandates affected colonial rule in the twentieth century and transnational humanitarian activism.

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