Beasts of Rebellion

On Monday I had a couple of hours spare in London, either side of a meeting, so I did some lightning research in the British Library. I’d ordered some of the Public and Judicial Records on the Hsaya San rebellion of 1930-2. For those unfamiliar with the rebellion, it was the biggest one to hit…

The 1941 Yangon Sawmill Workers’ Strike: Part 4

How are strikes won or lost? And how do we—either as historians or as trade unionists—make this judgement? When we left the striking sawmill workers three weeks ago, they had the momentum. The strike had spread from the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation’s Dunneedaw sawmill, to the Corporation’s nearby sawmill at Dallah. In the following week,…

The 1941 Yangon Sawmill Workers’ Strike: Part 3

In my last post, we left the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation’s Dunneedaw Sawmill after a week of strike action. By this time the mill was under the control of the newly formed trade union, with red flags flying from the entrance. By 22 March, a week later, the mill’s manager still had no positive news…

The 1941 Yangon Sawmill Workers’ Strike: Part 2

Management were caught out. They were confident that they could break the strike on its first day. An Indian student activist called B.K. Dey, who had drafted the newly-formed union’s resolution outlining the workers’ demands, was arrested as an “agitator” on the day that the strike had begun, 8 March. Soldiers and police were sent…

The 1941 Yangon Sawmill Workers’ Strike: Part 1

In early March, 1941, a Tamil labourer called Madaya was told by the European manager of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation’s Sawmill at Dunneedaw on the Yangon docks, that he had to change his job to a more physically demanding role. Madaya, with a confidence that had grown among workers in the city since the…

Safe Spaces for Colonial Apologists

I’ve just returned to university following a period of parental leave. Although I was careful not to get drawn into work during my time off, I could not help but notice the controversy around Oxford Professor Nigel Biggar’s “Ethics and Empire” project. I also read about Universities Minister Jo Johnson’s attack on “safe space culture”….

The Nation and its Threats

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted here, a longer gap than usual. Events on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border have created a fraught context for writing on the country’s past; it has become imperative for historical work to address the bleak humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya. Returning to my research with the escalating exodus…

The Limits to History

Public discussions around Rohingya people currently fleeing violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar, have often involved arguments about history. While critical historical analysis is useful in offering insights into conflicts, History—if treated as a single, knowable past—is not. This is especially true when dealing with ethnicity. Whatever the past was, no amount of historical research can…

A Diarist on the Edge

At the start of the summer I visited the British Library to take a look at some Japanese propaganda leaflets that had been dropped over British Burma during Second World War. They accompanied the diary of John Biggs-Davison, who served as a Forward Liaison Officer on the Arakan front in 1943 (India Office Records Mss…

Seeing, Shooting, Saving, Seeing…

The preambles to colonial legislation designed to protect wildlife managed to be at once condemnatory and fatalistic. The blame was placed on the Burmese people for failing to recognize the value of wild animals. At the same time, the retreat of wildlife was presented as an inevitable consequence of modernity. So, as well as being…

Podcast

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Luke Corbin for his “Myanmar Musings” podcast. We talked about some of my recent work on the history of animals, particularly elephants and cattle. Luke is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the history and anthropology of beer in Myanmar. During his trip…

What’s the Difference?

I’ve recently been thinking about “difference”. While animal historians often write about the changing understandings of the difference between humans and animals over time, I don’t think that they have fully unpacked what they mean by “difference” itself. Was the difference between human and nonhuman animal species and same as the difference between colonizer and…