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Colonial Encounters during the First World War: The Experience of Troops from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis offers a sustained comparative analysis of colonial encounters during the First World War by examining the experience of troops from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. While the war is usually understood as a military clash of empires, the thesis argues that it also created fresh spaces for a range of encounters as diverse groups were thrown together. These encounters varied from fleeting interactions to more sustained relationships in changing contact-zones dependent on military mobilisation. While race remains the primary focus in the thesis, the analysis is also nuanced to other categories, such as class, gender, and combatant/civilian status.

In the recent ‘global’ turn in First World War studies, more has been learnt about colonial participation and the impact of empire. If much of the work has focussed on particular national or ethnic groups, this thesis adopts a comparative and at times transnational approach to make lateral connections between the colonial groups and their represented experiences. The thesis investigates how the structures and hierarchies of colonialism operated once dislocated by the movements of war, disclosing the complex lived realities of colonial cultures in times of war.

The thesis draws upon document and photograph collections at the Imperial War Museum, alongside other archival collections, as well as memoirs, oral testimonies, newspapers, magazines and literary works, and often reads them together in order to recover and analyse this complex history. Many of the non-white troops were non-literate and the subsequent paucity of written material necessitates this broader interdisciplinary approach.

Encounters represent a central element of the represented war service of the colonial troops in the source material. The concentration on encounters in this thesis, through the perspective of cultural history, reveals how war challenged and changed identity beyond the space of the battlefield.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2017

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