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Ruth First


On behalf of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London) Commonwealth Advisory Bureau, you are cordially invited to attend our upcoming conference ‘A revolutionary life: Ruth First 1925 – 1982’ which celebrates the life of anti-apartheid activist, investigative journalist and scholar Ruth First.

The conference will take place on the 7th June 2012, 10:00 – 19:00 at Senate House in Bloomsbury, London, and will include, among others, Justice Albie Sachs, Gillian Slovo, Shula Marks, and Bridget O’Laughlin.

Registration fee: £10 (standard); £5 (students/unwaged/retired) – includes lunch and wine reception.


We hope that you are able to attend. Please feel free to circulate this message to any colleagues or students who may be interested in attending.


Chloe Pieters
Events Assistant
Institute for the Study of the Americas / Institute of Commonwealth 
School of Advanced Study
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU


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The Commonwealth in the world: governance, resistance and change

Occasional Seminar Series
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Commonwealth Advisory Bureau (CA/B) and Université Paris Diderot

Pascal Bianchini:    Anti-colonial scholarship: (re) discovering Jean Suret-Canale

Tuesday, 1 November, 12:30-14:30
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Senate House – Room ST275

How it is possible to lead two extraordinary careers in a same life? Jean Suret-Canale was a politically commited intellectual and a pathfinder in African history (though he was in fact a geographer). He could be compared to Basil Davidson with whom he had epistolary exchange. As Davidson, Suret-Canale was involved in the Resistance during the Second World War and tried to disentangle African history from its colonial bias.

Suret-Canale published some major volumes read by generations of African intellectuals and militants in the 1960’s and the 1970’s and many of them were translated into several languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian, Japanese and even Chinese…) His correspondence reveals that he was in contact with some major intellectual and political figures from Africa (Ruben Um Nyobe, Sekou Toure, Mongo Beti, Mario de Andrade…) or with major academic figures working on Africa (Melville Herskovits, Walter Markov, Henri Brunschvig…).

Though Suret-Canale played a major role as a founding father in African studies, he was only appointed by a French university at the age of 57 and ended his academic career in the relatively junior position of assistant professor. This paradox is a major clue to a non-French audience about the reality of French African studies. Suret-Canale, in the interview he gave to Pascal Bianchini, (Suret-Canale.  De la résistance à l”anticolonialisme) explained his setbacks in the French academe by his membership of the Communist Party (he was a member of the Central Committee and assistant director of Centre for Marxist Studies and Research in the 1960’s) and his official status of geographer while his main work was in African history.

In addition, his personal story reveals that his consistent anti-colonial commitment had prevented him from making a career matching his international influence. Unfortunately, since the 1980’s, he has been rejected and/or forgotten by contemporary French Africanists. He has also been criticized by African militants for his alleged support to Sekou Toure, the leader of independence in Guinea where Suret-Canale worked and lived from 1959 to 1963.

However, whatever criticism can be levelled at his political positions, his intellectual contribution to the decolonisation process is important and echoes through to the ‘postcolonial debate’ that occurred in the recent years in France. Suret-Canale’s name remains completely unknown to a new generation.

Attendance is free but contact Dr Leo Zeilig ( and Dr Mélanie Torrent ( if you would like to attend.


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Please attend this excellent event and spread the word!

Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

Workshop Series: ‘Imperialism, Empire and Genocide’ 14th March 2pm-4pm

Venue: Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London

The British Empire seems to be making a come back. Historians, politicians and journalists now speak about the positive aspects of colonialism and empire. During a state visit to East Africa in 2005 the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, commented that Britain must stop apologising for its colonial past and, instead, celebrate its achievements. He said, ‘I’ve talked to many people on my visit to Africa and the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it.’ Some scholarly work has followed the fashion suggesting that empire is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before. The new approach to the British Empire insists that we must undertake a balance view of the positive contributions made to instilling democratic values, development and political institutions. 

This series of workshops will take a different approach. Speakers will shed light, empirically and conceptually, on the tortured relationship between empire and modernity, colonialism and progress, disclosing the story and contemporary legacy of colonial genocide, imperial conquest and environmental destruction.

Speakers: Professor John Newsinger, Richard Gott and Dr Tom Lawson.

Professor John Newsinger (Professor of Modern History at Bath Spa University), Author of The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Orwell’s Politics, United Irishman, Rebel City, Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture, British Counterinsurgency (new edition 2012). John Newsinger will examine histories of the British Empire, the uses to which they have been put and the crimes they neglect and leave out.

Richard Gott (former Latin America correspondent and features editor for The Guardian, currently an honorary research fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London). Author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution (2005),Cuba: A New History (2004). Richard Gott will be talking about his most recent book, to be published in the autumn, entitled “Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt”. The book is conceived as a revisionist history of Empire, written from the perspective of the subject peoples.

Dr Tom Lawson (Reader in History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Winchester). Author of The Church of England and the Holocaust: Christianity, Memory and Nazism (2006) and Debates on the Holocaust (2010). Tom Lawson will be talking about his latest research into the colonisation of Tasmania where the British government is often portrayed as the benign protector of the Aborigines, unable to curb the destructive urges of the settler population. However Tom will argue this paper argues that what amounted to a genocidal policy was both formally approved in Downing Street, and emerged from an imperial culture that began at home.

This is a free event, however, to confirm attendance please email Ms Olga Jimenez, Events Manager

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