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…

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…

Traps and Tangles

Last week I attended a brilliant conference on the topic of “Traps” over at the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge. The purpose of the discussion was to consider the utility of thinking with traps to understand the technological mediations of human-animal relations, across different places and times. The…

Javanese Piggy-Banks

I’ve just come back from a holiday to Amsterdam, which was great. But even though I was not supposed to be working, I couldn’t stop myself from seeking out animal histories. Visiting the Rijksmuseum I learned about early-modern Indonesian piggy-banks, having stumbled across this one. It would probably have been used to store Chinese cooper…

Learning Burmese, Colonial Style

I have recently begun working my way through a book designed to teach English speakers written Burmese. But unlike the textbooks that I have previously used, this one is a little dated. It was published in 1894 and was written by Richard Fleming St. Andrew St. John, an English Orientalist, colonial official and translator of…