Lived Decolonizations: Local Experiences of Colonial Transition

AHA Session 24
National History Center of the American Historical Association 1
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
John Willis, University of Colorado at Boulder
Jason C. Parker, Texas A&M University

Session Abstract

Following the Second World War, a large wave of decolonization began. Millions of people found themselves in newly-created and recently independent states. Independence brought new borders, profound changes in government structures (and some disappointingly less profound), and promises for a brighter future, including democratization and development. In addition to the material obstacles facing the new entities, for so many, independence brought new challenges: physical divisions and partitions, reconfigured nationalisms and identities, and renewed and heightened exclusion. Research on this period has focused on the larger questions of state formation and political change.

This panel revisits the significance of decolonization through an in-depth examination of the lived experience of decolonization in various parts of the world. By presenting social, economic and political histories of the decolonized populations in these early years after the end of colonial rule, we explore theoretical aspects about “decolonization,” as well as think through the possibilities and challenges, change and continuity, accommodation and resistance acted and experienced in this transition. Together, the papers push the analysis beyond conventional frameworks, as they each transcend national and temporal limits to explore communities across state boundaries and temporal “ruptures” of colonial transition. Amber Abbas (Saint Joseph’s University) looks at Muslim survivors of Indian partition in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. By tracing their history back to the 1940s, she shows how their exclusion transcends the formal decolonization moment: they felt alienated from public spaces in India before 1947. The newly created state of Pakistan could not accommodate all of India’s Muslims and disappointed many who migrated there, while the Indian state has continued to struggle to incorporate Muslims fully into its secular identity.  Leena Dallasheh (Humboldt State University) explores how people of Nazareth coped with their incorporation in Israel, a self-defined Jewish state. She highlights how, using a range of strategies they began developing under the British mandate, they affirm their identity and protect some rights, but are unable to overcome the exclusions inherent to a political system created after the end of the colonial rule. Alma Heckman (UC Santa Cruz) examines the early years of Moroccan independence. Focusing on the Jewish community’s place within the new state, she explores both early nationalist inclusion and the effects of regional politics in drawing the national lines. Yet, rejecting the assumed strict boundaries, she shows how the Jews of the Moroccan Communist Party continued to advocate for an inclusive identity within their independent state. Finally, Molly McCullers (University of West Georgia) brings our attention to a much later decolonization, that of Namibia. She presents how South West Africans dealt with the insecurities of colonial transition-- from a colony, to a South African trusteeship until it reached its independence in 1990. She shows how this delayed decolonization shaped the memories and imaginaries of the post-colonial life of the citizens and the state.

Jason Parker (Texas A&M) will offer comments. John M. Willis (Department of History) will chair.

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