King Thibaw’s Elephants

It’s been a nearly two months since my last post. Childcare, trade union activism, departmental admin and a lovely holiday have kept me away. To catch up with my research I spent today looking at a collection of fifty Anglo-Burmese paintings held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, who have digitized them and made them…

(Natural) Historical Haircuts

Research often takes historians into unexpected tangents. This week, I started off continuing to read the Burmese anti-colonial journalist, writer and activist Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing’s Myauk Tika [Monkey Commentary] (1923)—which I have written about a bit here and also here before—and I ended up trying to find out more about Burmese haircuts in the 1920s….

Costly Cats, Neglected Lepers

This week I read an interesting article by the historian of medicine, Projit Mukharji, about the use of cats in anti-plague measures across the British Empire. The idea was developed by an imperial medical official in British India called Andrew Buchanan and he expounded it widely from 1907. He was inspired by his experiences serving…

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…

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…

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…

Animal Actors in the “Burmese Tarzan”

Animal historians routinely describe animals as “actors”. This is to emphasize the way that nonhuman creatures can effect change through their own actions and behaviours. They’re not bystanders in history, but active participants. But what about when animals are literally actors. Like, in films. What can animals acting tell us about animals as “actors”? This…