The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources

By Robin W. Winks | Go to book overview

BRITISH CENTRAL AFRICA

George Shepperson

IT IS CONVENIENT to put together a historiographical essay in terms of the thesis that each generation or so writes its own history. In this way, one's thoughts on the changing fashions in historical perspective can be strung neatly on a chronological thread. But the writing of history is a literate skill; and where, as in the example of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, even a modest degree of literacy is little more than half a century old, there are few literate generations to give substance to a cogent chronological approach. It may be true that John Kirk, on Livingstone's Zambesi expedition in 1860, could write of the Shire Highlands that "Everyone here knows the name of Karata for paper and seems to have some idea of the object of writing."1 There is, however, a gulf between the appreciation of the power of literacy and its use in the writing of history. This, indeed, may be said not only of the Africans in the early days of British administration in Central Africa but also of many of the white settlers who, with the exception of the Scots in Nyasaland from a country with a distinctive tradition of popular education as old as the Knoxian Reformation, came from a land whose first important Education Act was passed as late as 1870 and whose symbols of popular literary culture were Tit Bits and Horatio Bottomley. The gap between literacy and Literature is marked in all pioneering territories, and where these are such relatively new settlements as the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, it complicates the use of the chronological approach in the consideration of their historiography.

Nevertheless, if employed with caution, this approach is justified. Caution is necessary, however, not only in appreciating that the vertical time-scale to be used is relatively short but that, if the historiographical

____________________
1
Sept. 12, 1860: from Kirk's journal in the possession of Reginald Foskett, who is editing it for publication by Oliver and Boyd ( Edinburgh) under the title The Zambesi Journal and Letters of Dr. John Kirk. "Karata" is probably a form of the Swahili word for "paper."

-237-

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The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors ix
  • Introduction 3
  • The American Continental Colonies in the Empire 23
  • The Empire Since 1783 46
  • Canada 69
  • Australia 137
  • New Zealand 174
  • The British Territories in the Pacific 197
  • South Africa 212
  • British Central Africa 237
  • British East Africa 248
  • British West Africa 261
  • Egypt and the Sudan 279
  • Great Britain and Inter­national Trusteeship: the Mandate System 296
  • Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus 312
  • Ireland's Commonwealth Years, 1922-1949 326
  • The British West Indies 344
  • India 357
  • Pakistan 396
  • Ceylon 421
  • Burma 448
  • Malaysia 460
  • Commonwealth Literature: Developments and Prospects 493
  • Appendix: An American Report 523
  • Index 529
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