The Elephant in the Strike

The memoirs of British employees in the timber industry and the archives of British-owned timber firms both document¬† some small-scale and seemingly-spontaneous strikes that occurred in the Burmese jungle during the 1920s. Elephant drivers—called oozies in Burmese—refused to work unless their conditions and pay improved. But striking in a jungle timber camp was not an…

Popular Natureculture

As well as attending the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia Conference, whilst I was in Siem Reap I did a little sightseeing. I visited some of the temples around Angkor Wat, including Ta Prohm. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it is best known today for its cameo in the Tomb Raider film….

The Health of the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia

I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in a short trip to Cambodia before the teaching term begins in earnest. I was attending the sixth History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA) conference, that this year was hosted in the tranquil surroundings of the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. This was my first time…

Foucauldians for Corbyn

This week I taught my class introducing students to the work of Michel Foucault. As I do every year, in preparation I went back to some of his writings to refresh my memory and to re-engage myself with the ideas. Every time I do this, something different stands out. This time around, I was more…

Decolonising Democracy

This week Myanmar has held its most important election in a generation. For all of the flaws in the process, this is a huge moment in the country’s history, as well as in the lives of many Burmese people. It means a lot. My Facebook feed has been inundated with pictures of the inky fingers…

Race and Empire on the 13.24 Train from Cleethorpes

[Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia] “Go on, drink up. Don’t be a faggot.” A can of lager was pushed in front of me. The gesture was a demand. I was being told to demonstrate whether I should be included or not—to show them that I wasn’t queer, to show them I belonged. “No”, cut in the…

Traffic Accidents and Structural Power

Re-reading the colonial judge Maurice Collis’ memoirs, Trials in Burma (1938), got me thinking about the history of traffic accidents. The final case that he discusses—the case that marked the beginning of the end to his career in the colony—hints at how traffic accidents could be understood as an expression of white privilege. The particular…

Marx’s Animal Other, Part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote a post exploring how animals appeared in Marx’s Capital, Volume 1. I drew attention to how Marx claimed that there was a fundamental difference between human and animal labour, and then suggested that other aspects of his argument could be used to historicise the division between humans and animals….

Marx’s Animal Other

As well as doing research during my research leave, I have been reading Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 alongside David Harvey’s free online course (which I strongly recommend) – because this is what I count as fun these days. I’m only up to chapter seven, but I am already finding new angles on my own work….

What’s Colonial in a Name?

In a blog post published a few months ago, Matt Houlbrook, the historian of twentieth-century Britain, wrote about the difficulties he had deciding what name to call the man that he has been studying for over a decade. This ‘trickster prince’ went by many aliases during his life. Matt (if I may?) also discussed the…

Condiments of Colonialism

A few days ago I read a blog post on Le Minh Khai’s great Southeast Asian history blog on Worcestershire Sauce adverts in 1930s Siam, and the Don Draper-esq mental acrobatics involved in selling this quintessentially English condiment to Thais by telling them that Americans liked it. Then today, thanks to Thant Myint-U’s facebook page,…

No, You’re Peripheral!

The Wa people of the borderlands of Northeast Burma and Southwest China have a foundational myth that claims that all of humanity emerged from a hole in the ground in Wa country. In this story, all human history is a tale of migration from the Wa lands, the centre of world. As with other stories…