Studying Colonialism in Complementary Archives: Nineteenth Century Collections Online and Decolonization

│By Louis Venter, Gale Ambassador at the University of the Free State│

If you ask any seasoned historian what makes historical research unique, they will emphasise the crucial role of primary sources, which define and distinguish history from other forms of academic writing. In an ever-digitising world, historians can now access digital scans of genuine archival material from anywhere, eliminating the need to travel to distant archives, and making research more efficient.

Bringing together primary sources from multiple archives can enhance one’s research, and Gale Primary Sources offers two key complementary digital archives that can be used in tandem to study colonialism – Nineteenth Century Collections Online: Europe and Africa, Colonialism and Culture and Decolonization: Politics and Independence in Former Colonial and Commonwealth Territories.

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Refugees, Relief and Resettlement: The Early Cold War and Decolonization – The Building Blocks of a Digital Archive

│By Lindsay Whitaker-Guest, Associate Editor, Gale Primary Sources

This year, the global population of forcibly displaced and stateless people has grown to 130.8 million according to figures released by UNHCR. Existing global conflicts such as the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza conflict, as well as environmental and climate disasters, are all contributing to the increasing numbers of people without homes to call their own.

Sadly, these journeys of displacement are not new. Population displacement is a fact of human history, and scholars and researchers can explore episodes in the twentieth century of refugee crises through primary sources in the latest module of Refugees, Relief and Resettlement. This post explores the primary source collections included in this new module and how editors at Gale Primary Sources approach turning poorly catalogued collections into fully searchable digital archive products.

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New Environmental History Archive: Colonial Policy and Global Development, 1896-1993

│By Clem Delany, Acquisitions Editor, Gale Primary Sources│

What does Environmental History mean to you?

On sitting down to write a brief explanation of what environmental history is, I have spent the last twenty minutes staring into space thinking about Pando. Pando is, as I’m sure the sophisticated and well-travelled audience of this blog will know, the largest and heaviest living organism on earth. Pando covers 100 acres and is around 10,000 years old. That means that when Pando first began its long, slow life, there were woolly mammoth and sabre-toothed cats still living, although increasingly finding their parties a little light on company.

Pando is a tree. It is a quaking aspen in Utah; in appearance it is over 45,000 individual quaking aspens, but below ground it has a single root system. Each ‘tree’ is a clone of its neighbours, a stem of one single organism. And it is on my mind because I am trying to think of a pithy way to describe environmental history, an area of study where many different disciplines and topics meet, connected at their roots as different expressions of one phenomenon: human interaction with the natural world.

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Researching the History of Shanghai Between the 1830s and 1950s

|By Liping Yang, Senior Manager, Academic Publishing, Gale|

November 2023 marks the 180th anniversary of Shanghai being opened to foreign trade in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Nanjing and the Treaty of the Bogue, which were signed after the First Opium War between China and Britain.

Coincidentally, in the same month, Gale Primary Sources rolled out a thematic digital archive that features the history of Shanghai. Titled China and the Modern World: Records of Shanghai and the International Settlement, 1836–1955, this new archive provides an extraordinary primary source collection vital to understanding and researching the social, political, and economic history of the Anglo-America-dominated yet highly globalised International Settlement in Shanghai, as well as the history of modern China.

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Uncovering the Betrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer with Gale Primary Sources

│By Nicolas Turner, Gale Ambassador at Leiden University│

The release this year of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer biopic has focused attention on the ‘Red Scare’ of the early 1950s in the United States, a period of history filled with all the ingredients of a thriller: double agents, secret recordings, and dramatic revelations. As Nolan’s film reminds us, however, there was also a very real human cost to the persecutions, with – in the words of the historian Ellen Schrecker – an impact on “the lives of thousands of people”.1

I have always been fascinated by this McCarthyite moment, in which the tide of history seemed to suddenly go out, leaving people stranded with beliefs that had previously been acceptable but were now framed as treasonous or worse. I was therefore thrilled to discover in Gale’s Political Extremism and Radicalism archive a treasure trove of documents that offered direct access to the experiences of those living through that dramatic moment – including, most tantalisingly of all, J. Robert Oppenheimer himself.

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Exploring the State Papers Online Colonial module about Singapore, East Malaysia, and Brunei

|By Julia de Mowbray, Publisher at Gale |

September 2023 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lee Kuan Yew (1923—2015), the founder of the People’s Action Party, Prime Minister of Singapore between 1959 and 1990, and a Member of the Singapore Parliament until his death in 2015. This month also sees the launch of State Papers Online Colonial: Asia, Part II: Singapore, East Malaysia and Brunei, the digitisation of the British Colonial Office files documenting the Colonial Office’s activities in these territories until independence. The coincidence is poignant as Lee Kuan Yew founded the People’s Action Party to fight for independence from colonial rule, and led Singapore first to independence from the British, then from Malaysia, and on to an envied economic and social success story.

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The First Module in Gale’s Environmental History Series – Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980

│By Lindsay Whitaker-Guest, Associate Editor│

In the summer of 2023, four alarming global climate records were broken: the hottest day on record globally; the hottest June on record; the warmest global ocean temperatures in May, June, and July; and the lowest recorded level of Antarctic sea-ice. One could not turn on the television or look at a news website without seeing images of harrowing wildfires in Europe, Hawaii and Canada or the devastating typhoon in East Asia. As I sat sweltering on a Sardinian beach during heatwave Charon in late July, my thoughts echoed those from all over the globe, is the Earth now in a climate crisis? And how did we get here?  

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Decolonisation in the British Empire in Asia: The Malayan Emergency and Singapore

│By Dr Lucy Dow, Gale Content Researcher│

The recently published State Papers Online Colonial: Asia, Part I: Far East, Hong Kong, and Wei-Hai-Wei spans over four hundred years of British Colonial Office files, from the 1550s to 1970s. Britain’s colonial rule in Asia took various forms through the period and within different territories, with varying degrees of control, from local autonomy apart from defence and foreign relations, to full British administration. While some local people benefited from their involvement with the British, many colonised peoples suffered and resented colonial rule. This resentment led to resistance to British colonial authority, in various ways and to differing extents from territory to territory.

In the twentieth century, and particularly following the complete failure of the British to protect the local communities from Japanese invasion during the Second World War, the cumulative effect of this resistance, combined with other geopolitical factors, led to the rapid reduction in the size of British Empire, as former colonies secured their independence in what is now referred to as the period of decolonisation. The primary sources in this online archive document this change in the political landscape of Asia and Britain, as explored in the examples below.

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Uncovering the History of Twentieth-Century Hong Kong, China, and the World

Hong Kong header

|By Liping Yang, Senior Manager, Academic Publishing, Gale|

Gale released China and the Modern World: Hong Kong, Britain, and China Part 1, 1841–1951 in August 2019. During that summer and subsequent months, Hong Kong made the headlines of international media due to a series of large-scale mass protests launched against the government’s introduction of a bill to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance with regard to extradition. The protests turned into riots and plunged the city into political conflict, which did not end until after the outbreak of COVID in 2020. Such protests or riots are nothing new in the history of Hong Kong. Actually, in 1967, a series of riots of comparable scale swept across the city, leading to violent confrontation between the rioters and police, and causing mass arrests and injuries. Such riots constitute just one of the many topics covered by the just released Hong Kong, Britain, and China Part 2, 1965–1993, the seventh module in Gale’s China and the Modern World series of digital archives.

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Writing Sensitive Personal Histories

Sensitive documents

│By Jade Burnett, Gale Ambassador at the University of Sheffield│

Throughout this academic year I have been working on an MA dissertation on the marriages of members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In working on this dissertation, I have tried to piece together the personal lives of people who existed largely in the political sphere. While this work is hugely interesting and deeply fulfilling academically, it can also be very tricky, with the writing of personal histories bringing up a range of difficulties surrounding how academics can seek to sensitively piece together the intimate lives of individuals. I hope that this blog post can offer readers some tips and tricks on how to approach writing these histories. 

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