Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Good Second Class (but Not Even C.3): Memories of a Generalist Overseas Administrator

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Good Second Class (but Not Even C.3): Memories of a Generalist Overseas Administrator

Article excerpt

Good Second Class (But Not Even C.3): Memories of a Generalist Overseas Administrator. By Trevor Clark. County Durham: The Memoir Club, 2004. Pp. xiv, 303; 24 illustrations £17.50.

This is an enigmatic book. I found it often enchanting, occasionally enraging, and difficult to review. In a stream-of-consciousness manner, Clark leads the reader through an often-contorted tour of his life, focusing on his time in the British army and in colonial service. For Africanists, the most interesting chapters are those that deal with his experiences as a mid-level functionary in Northern Nigeria during the 1950s, but much of the text reminisces about his work in Hong Kong and final official posting as governor of the Solomon Islands.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Clark's work as relatively unimportant. As a mid-level official who spent most of his time taking notes for higher-ups and serving as the district officer of remote regions of Nigeria, he was not particularly influential in charting the fate of the colony. Indeed, numerous memoirs of colonial officers much higher up the food chain (from Lugard to Sharwood-Smith) are available. Also, with chapter titles such as "Confirmed in an Imperialist Faith," dark's book has a decidedly anti-academic tone. He is at times openly hostile to what he sees as the anticolonial bias of most academics, and holds what just about any scholar would see as an artificially rosy picture of the colonial era. For example, he states "Decolonized Africa suffers famines that our empire never knew"(p. 78)-an assertion that flies in the face of well recorded famines in the imperial world writ large and Northern Nigeria in particular.

Nonetheless, dark's memoir is worth reading precisely because it offers so different a perspective than do the sorts of texts academics are wont to utilize. It is perhaps a difficult read in that as he rambles from topic to topic, Clark is more likely to discuss something like how hard it is to remove bat guano from your car than to offer insights into some critical aspect of colonial policy or decolonization. Indeed, the book is far more concerned with the minutia of colonial life than any sort of grand themes or schemes-and here lies its real charm. …

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