University of Toronto Press Blog

  • Hanni Woodbury on documenting an endangered language

    Guest post by Hanni Woodbury, author of A Reference Grammar of the Onondaga Language

    Onondaga is one of many extremely endangered Native American languages that survive now mainly because of the dedicated efforts by younger men and women who have memories of learning their ancestors' languages informally from their parents, grandparents, or elders in the community, and who, as English began to become the primary language spoken in their community, have dedicated themselves to keeping their language alive by developing extensive language programs for their communities.

    Why should we document an endangered language? There are many reasons, but here are the main ones:
    • because a language in many ways is a store of its speakers' knowledge;
    • because a language helps to express the cultural system of its speakers;
    • because speakers can use their language to express their identities;
    • and, finally, because teachers and students in language programs – in the absence, increasingly, of the older speakers – must depend on the secondhand record that thorough documentation provides to keep their language alive.

    The data used to document a language should, wherever possible, be a corpus of natural and spontaneous speech that is created by fluent speakers of the language. Because at this time, all speakers of Onondaga are also fluent speakers of English, it is especially important to use textual materials – stories, conversations, performances of speeches, etc. – for the purpose of documentation and to minimize the use of elicited data for fear that there might be interference from speakers' familiarity with English. The goal is to describe the language from data that represent the flow of language uninterrupted by suggestions from English.

    The Iroquoian family of languages divides into two branches, a northern and a
    southern one. The six surviving northern languages are Onondaga, Mohawk,
    Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. The single language representing the
    southern branch is Cherokee. Today's two dialects of Onondaga exist in two
    locations: at Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve, near Brantford
    Ontario, Canada and at Onondaga Nation, which is located just south of Syracuse,
    NY, in the United States.

    I have been involved in the task of documenting the Onondaga language ever
    since the early 1970s. Writing the reference grammar has been the final step in this
    effort. Earlier work consists of a dictionary (also published by the University of
    Toronto Press), and numerous published and unpublished texts with their
    translations.

    Linguists have various methods of creating a record that will help to describe a
    language fully. The classic method is the one I have used: it involves a great deal of
    fieldwork with as many speakers of the language as possible, recording and
    transcribing the field sessions, asking speakers to tell stories, speeches, and
    recording conversations among speakers, in addition to gathering detailed
    information that zeros in on those aspects that are especially distinctive of the
    language. Beyond fieldwork, it involves scouring libraries for all sorts of published
    and archived materials. Eventually these records are analyzed linguistically and
    organized in three major ways, as a group of texts with translations, as a dictionary
    and as a grammar.

    Numerous special features distinguish the Iroquoian languages from languages
    that are more familiar to speakers of English, and they impact the process of
    documentation. Perhaps the most noticeable feature is that the Iroquoian verb is
    astonishingly expandable with optional prefixes and suffixes that can be added
    singly or in combination to the verb root, affixes that are ordered in relation to one
    another. For example, the simple Onondaga verb héhsaks, given as 1 below,
    consists of three essential elements (morphemes) that are the minimal requirements
    of every well formed Onondaga verb: a pronominal prefix that references the agent
    (the performer of the action) and – if present – the patient (the under-goer of the
    action), an element that names the action itself (a verb root), and a final element
    that marks whether the activity is static or whether it changes through time (an
    inflectional element marking aspect). [Note that in the examples below morphemes
    are separated by hyphens]. As can be seen, this minimal verb form translates into
    an English sentence 'he is looking for it,' a sentence with a subject and an object:

    1. héhsaks
    h-ehsak-s
    he>it-look.for-aspect
    he is looking for it

    The second and third examples illustrate two of a multitude of possible ways to expanded this verb by adding prefixes and/or suffixes. In example 2 a noun root -nahd- 'comb' is inserted. It specifies the nature of the object referenced in the pronominal prefix that the agent of the verb is searching for:

    2. hanahdíhsaks
    ha-nahd-ihsak-s
    he>it-comb-look.for-aspect
    he's looking for a comb

    The verb with an inserted noun root shows a special feature of the Iroquoian languages, a robust process called noun incorporation.

    In example 3 a suffix -h-, a so-called dislocative, marks the fact that the actor is
    on his way to perform the action expressed by the verb:

    3. hehsákheʔ
    h-ehsak-h-eʔ
    he>it-look.for-dislocative-aspect
    he's on his way to look for a comb

    Other prefixes and suffixes can be added to a verb root to mark directionality of
    the action (whether the action takes place towards the speaker or away from the
    speaker); the speaker's certainty as to the reliability of his assertion (it's what he
    heard someone say, it's what he saw with his own eyes, etc.); whether or not the
    statement should be understood in the negative; whether the action is to be
    repetitive or not; whether the statement should be taken as a command; whether
    the meaning of the word entails a change of state or involves two people or objects;
    whether the action coincides temporally with another action; whether the action is
    on the self (reflexive); whether one of the parties to the action is benefitted by the
    action; and many more. All of this and more can be signaled within the boundaries of a
    single word.

    Another feature of the Iroquoian languages is their free word order. Unlike the
    affixes that expand verbs and nouns which must occur in rigid order in relation to
    one another, the words in an Onondaga sentence can be moved around fairly freely,
    depending on what it is the speaker wishes to emphasize. As a comparison, think
    English: the dog bites the man vs. the man bites the dog – English being a language in
    which word order changes the meaning of sentences. In Onondaga, who bites
    whom is made clear by the pronominal prefix within the verb, and the differences
    in the two cited sentences signal that the first option is a sentence about a dog, and
    the second is a sentence about a man; but in each it is the dog that bites the man.
    These features have a direct impact on how information is organized between
    dictionary and grammar.

    Another distinctively Iroquoian feature is the system of pronominal prefixes that
    form a part of every verb – recall that they keep straight who is the agent carrying
    out the action of the verb and who the patient in every sentence. English has
    sixteen pronouns, Onondaga has fifty-eight! The details of the system are two
    complex to describe here, but the pronominal include three series, one to
    reference agents, one to reference patients, and one to reference agent and patient
    pairs (for verbs with two animate participants, e.g., he's thinking about her). The
    distribution is in part the result of verbal semantics and in part grammatical. In
    each of the series pronominal prefixes distinguish person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd as well
    as inclusion, i.e., whether or not the addressee is included in the reference), number
    (singular, dual, plural), and gender of animate entities (one masculine gender and
    two (!) feminine genders).

    An English dictionary and grammar divide up fairly neatly into two functions.
    The dictionary lists the store of words and is heavy with meanings, and the
    grammar describes the rules that combine sounds into words and words into
    phrases and sentences. An Iroquoian dictionary as can be seen from the
    descriptions above, is heavy on grammar, i.e., information that deals with the
    construction of words – recall those multiply expandable verbs – in addition to
    word meanings.

    The many years of studying the Onondaga language in depth have been rich with
    the pleasure of gaining insights and making discoveries. My hope is that this book
    will convey to the reader the excitement, surprises, and joys that lie ahead with the
    study of a language as full of intricacies and puzzles as is Onondaga.

  • Can Japan lead the green growth movement? Author Carin Holroyd explores Japan's efforts to match its climate change commitments

    Guest post by Carin Holroyd

    Governments around the world are obsessed with the challenge of combining two essential public policy objectives: addressing global climate change and building wealth and national prosperity. The industrial growth of the past half century has caused widespread, perhaps irreparable, damage to the global ecology, ushering in an era of uncertainty and climate paranoia. But no societies have yet indicated that they are prepared to accept a sharp reduction in their standard of living in order to slow, if not reverse, the pace of environmental degradation.

    In this situation, it is not surprising that the pursuit of green growth—economic expansion focused on the production and distribution of climate-saving technologies, products and services—has become an international priority. In the ideal formulation, new industries and businesses, employing thousands of people, would emerge in the environmental technology and new energy sectors with the products contributing far more to the amelioration of climate change than they would consume in energy and other resources. This is obviously attractive to national and regional governments, which seek highly skilled, highly paid work in viable, internationally engaged businesses while also providing leadership on addressing the challenges of global climate change.

    In Green Japan. I explore Japan's efforts to match its climate change commitments, which were transformed by the triple disasters in March 2011 and the near collapse of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, with its desire for continued economic prosperity and employment opportunities for its citizens. Like most countries, Japan does not have an official "green growth" strategy; rather the country has made formidable investments in a variety of current and future technologies while using an array of public policy instruments to promote environmentally-sound energy and resource use within the country.

    That Japan would be at the cutting edge of environmental technologies is hardly a surprise. The country adapted well to the ecological excesses of the 1950s and 1960s, bringing in dramatic improvements in air and water quality, some of the world's most aggressive recycling and environmental signaling policies, and investing heavily in futurist energy systems from nuclear fusion to a proposed "lunar ring" that would transmit power from stations on the moon to receiving units on earth. Japan has one of the world's best commuter transit systems, with large percentages of the population using subways, buses and trains on a regular basis. Japan’s interest in energy efficient appliances and forms of transportation began after the oil shocks in the 1970s. The country’s lack of its own sources of energy and its resultant dependence on Middle Eastern oil made Japan painfully aware that it needed to diversify its sources of energy, limit energy use and develop new environmental technologies as much as possible. So, Japan has been pursuing strands of a green growth strategy for decades. It is the public policy lessons from this long term pursuit of green growth that I explore in Green Japan.

    Manufacturing standards and consumer awareness campaigns have encouraged and required companies to arrange for full product recycling and major improvements in energy consumption, with the country becoming a world-leader in net positive house construction (homes that produce excess power for the grid) and urban environmental design. Even municipal authorities are active on the green growth file, developing local smart energy grids and encouraging innovations in urban design that they are then marketing internationally through eco-city initiatives.

    In many ways, green growth symbolizes Japan’s attempt to reconcile two often competing elements of its national culture. The country’s penchant for industrial and manufacturing innovation is well-known as is its deep cultural affinity for nature, serenity and living in harmony with the natural world, value systems that were on international display during the 2005 Aichi World Fair. The government of Japan has called for active citizen engagement, through such initiatives as the old Team Minus 6% movement which encouraged/required offices to reduce heating and air conditioning usage, and other public displays of commitment to energy conservations. Japan’s development of its new energy and environmental technology sectors has employed a range of public policy initiatives and investments. There are lessons from these public policies that are useful for other governments, like Canada’s, that are interested in pursuing green growth.

    But the path forward is difficult. Japan is serious about responding to climate change and has made a concerted effort to cut CO2 emissions. But the nation’s plans took a real hit in 3/11 when it was forced to close, temporarily, its entire nuclear power system. While the Japanese public hopes that the plants will remain shut, the government feels it may have no choice but to reopen many of the nuclear facilities to keep up with consumer and industrial demand. Japan’s forward-looking investments are wildly speculative and, at times, breath-taking, but few countries in the world are looking as seriously and systematically at long-term power supplies that could wean the industrial economy away from fossil fuels.

    Japan is one of the world’s leading countries in the field of green growth. They lost an early lead in solar power production to Germany and, more recently, China, but continue to produce new products like energy-saving LED lights, hybrid, electric and hydrogen-fueled cars and trucks, creative large building designs (including the world’s largest wooden skyscraper which they hope will be the foundation for an “urban forest” inside Japan’s cities), and other market-based innovations that will keep Japan’s businesses strong, create international markets for their products and generate sustained national prosperity.

    The world has a great deal at stake in the comparative success of the green growth movement in Japan and other countries. If effective and viable models of industrial and employment growth emerge, producing personal and collective prosperity while improving environmental outcomes and preventing further climate change, the global impact could be significant. Failure to combine environmental sustainability and economic growth would lead to an acceleration of climate change with all of the negative and unpredictable consequences of ecological transformation.

    However, all countries cannot implement full green growth strategies without sparking a competitive industrial flurry that will increase consumption and the international environmental footprint. Japan, however, being one of the first and best in the field could reap sizeable economic and employment benefits, allowing it to dominate the field of environmental technologies as it has done in such sectors as automobiles and consumer electronics. If anything, Japan’s pursuit of green growth reveals the fundamental conundrum in environmental industrial policy, in which the desire for economic prosperity and opportunity continues to clash against the reality of a planet that is approaching its ecological limits.

    Carin Holroyd is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan.

  • In Conversation with Jim Freedman, Author of 'A Conviction in Question'

    A lively narrative account of the first case to appear at the International Criminal Court, A Conviction in Question documents the trial of Union of Congolese Patriots leader and warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Although Dyilo’s crimes, including murder, rape, and the forcible conscription of child soldiers, were indisputable, legal wrangling and a clash of personalities caused the trial to be prolonged for an unprecedented six years. This book offers an accessible account of the rapid evolution of international law and the controversial trial at the foundation of the International Criminal Court.

    The first book to thoroughly examine Dyilo’s trial, A Conviction in Question looks at the legal issues behind each of the trial’s critical moments, including the participation of Dyilo’s victims at the trial and the impact of witness protection. Through eye-witness observation and analysis, Jim Freedman shows that the trial suffered from all the problems associated with ordinary criminal law trials, and uses Dyilo’s case to further comment on the role of international courts in a contemporary global context.

    We spoke with author Jim Freedman about the inspiration, process, and research behind his latest project.

    How did you become involved in your area of research?

    I‘ve always recognized the potential of international law to protect vulnerable populations and promote peace but for years the practice of international law was ineffective, the cases at The Hague were boring and national leaders were afraid of law’s potential. Then came the international criminal tribunals for (previous) Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as the international treaty that gave birth to the Rome Statute. It was then that the prospects of a truly international court with prospects for international jurisdiction emerged as an exciting reality. I could not resist.

    What inspired you to write this book?

    I had the good fortune to serve on the UN Panel investigating the roots of the 1996-2002 war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the course of serving on this panel, I happened to find myself caught in a very unpleasant cross-fire involving child soldiers conscripted by the warlord rebel leader Thomas Lubanga. When the new International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him and brought him for trial as its first defendant, I felt compelled, personally, to follow the trial.

    How did you become interested in the subject?

    The rapid increase in civil wars and conflict following the end of the cold war has been hard to ignore. It has stymied efforts to address the critical issues of poverty and human rights violations. As an academic and an international consultant, the increasing presence of conflict and its profound impact on efforts to reduce poverty required me to think about remedies to conflict in developing nations.

    How long did it take you to write A Conviction in Question?

    Approximately seven years. I had followed the trial of Thomas Lubanga from its beginning in 2006 but was finishing another book at the time. I began to commit myself fully in 2010. The trial concluded in 2013 and I worked as steadily as possible on the writing until early 2017.

    What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    Bringing about justice for international crimes of war and crimes against humanity poses very unique challenges that are different from those faced by trials in domestic courts. The Rome Statute and the ICC trials have made a real effort to draw selectively from existing law conventions of various legal traditions and to find legal frameworks that are capable of addressing these very special and very serious international crimes. It is fascinating to follow how principles and practices at the ICC have struggled to find ways of bringing justice to victims of these crimes.

    What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    I have realized that it is not just the difficulty of drafting laws and trial procedures for an international court that poses major challenges for the ICC; it is also the lawyers themselves. Some lawyers who come before the court are very committed to justice. But some are just as much interested in showing their prowess in winning cases by manipulating evidence. There might be room for this in domestic law where high profile lawyers can also be celebrities, but it has little place in high stakes international criminal trials.

    Did you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of this book?

    The crimes have taken place in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan authorities have also been implicated in the perpetuation of these crimes. The trial itself has been held in The Hague, Netherlands. Extensive and repeated travel has been unavoidable.

    What was the hardest part of writing your book?

    I very much wanted the book to be an exciting read. At the same time, it had to present relatively complex legal issues clearly. Ensuring that the book was both eminently readable and, at the same time, represented the critical legal and academic issues accurately was perhaps the most difficult challenge.

    What are your current/future projects?

    I am currently in the middle of a book on the rise of Moise Katumbi, his unusual parentage and the role he is sure to play in opposing President Kabila and supporting free elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

    I very much like to read non-fiction, especially books that present new ideas. This includes Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, Spacex and the Quest for a Fantastic Future and Jennifer Doudna’s A Crack in Creation, Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.

    What is your favourite book?

    Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet

     

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • Rogue Lawyers or Rights Lawyers? Strategies of Legal Activism during Africa’s Decolonization

    Written by guest blogger Meredith Terretta.

    In November 1959, Ernest Ouandié, the Vice-President of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon (UPC), wrote from exile in Cairo to Ralph Millner, British Queen’s Counsel and activist lawyer who had defended Kwame Nkrumah (later Ghana’s first president) against allegations of inciting labour riots in late 1940s Accra. Ouandié asked for Millner’s assistance in an upcoming trial in British Cameroons of two UPC organizers and labour activists from French Cameroon who had been detained in the British territory for overstaying their transit visas by a mere 24 hours. Based on the outcome of previous trials of UPC activists in British territory, Ouandié believed that if Mayoa Beck and Louis-Fernand Yopa were found guilty of the charges against them, they would be declared “prohibited immigrants” and escorted into the custody of Franco-Cameroonian security forces across the Anglo-French boundary. Here they would certainly be arrested again for posing a threat to state security. Convictions for crimes such as these in the politically charged atmosphere of French Cameroon’s decolonization resulted in the severest of punishments including life imprisonment with hard labour, and execution. Ouandié asked Millner to defend Beck and Yopa on the charges against them, but also to prepare a request for their political asylum in British territory, or their deportation to independent Ghana — rather than to French Cameroon — in case they were convicted.

    I discovered Ouandié’s letter in 2016 at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies Library among Millner’s personal papers and was excited that it backed up what I already knew: lawyers who defended Africans in colonial courtrooms throughout Africa during the age of decolonization worked together across national and imperial borders. Looking at these activities from a cross-border perspective entirely reshaped my historical understanding of Africa’s decolonization.

    Since 2010 I had been interested in how anticolonial activism across the African continent linked to networks elsewhere, as well as how it brought together internationalists who had adopted the then-novel concept of universal human rights. As I started this project, I knew I wanted to prioritize sources other than the usual official colonial records in order to gain access to the views of those who stood apart from imperial authorities. I began with the case files and correspondence of activists such as African political agitators, anticolonialist lawyers, and leaders of the first transnational NGOs such as International League of the Rights of Man, the Movement for Colonial Freedom, or the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. I learned which lawyers had devoted the height of their careers to the anticolonial cause, and read their trial records and memoirs.

    The most exciting letters I found were the ones that revealed that French and British activist lawyers corresponded with each other, and that African inhabitants of French-controlled territories engaged British citizens as defense lawyers; that Indian lawyers represented Africans in colonial Kenya and Tanganyika; and that Caribbean-born lawyers with British or French citizenship were among those who took up the anticolonial cause through law. I also found plenty of evidence that showed how British and French officials saw coordinated, international legal activism as a threat. This is starkly clear in the recently discovered and released Migrated Archive of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Great Britain — the colonial records that the British took with them as the empire decolonized.

    My array of sources presented Africa’s decolonization as reaching beyond the imperially-bordered stories historians have gathered from research in state and colonial records. I realized that if I reconceived of Africa’s decolonization as an international legal strategy, I could demonstrate that activist lawyers and their African clients implemented this strategy to transform the law — upon which colonial administrators had, until now, relied to govern — into an instrument of contestation and ultimately liberation.

    African political leaders and their anticolonialist defense lawyers contributed to three internationally transformative projects gathering momentum after the Second World War: decolonization, the Cold War, and human rights. Because of my new perspective on the transregional legal activism in Africa at this time, I reached three ground-breaking conclusions about the way that anticolonial legal activism worked with these factors.

    First, revolutionary African anticolonialism was expressed in a practice of legal activism that sought to make the law accessible not only to elites, but to the colonial subjects who, until this moment, the law had subjugated, controlled, and guaranteed fewer rights. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers articulated this strategy most clearly in using the phrase “human rights,” in 1947, to orient its vision of the law’s potential to dismantle imperial power.

    Second, the Cold War front in 1940s and 1950s Africa was much smaller — although no less potent — than the armed struggles and proxy wars that characterized it in the 1960s and 1970s. In the earlier period, the Cold War took root in the lawyers who represented the interests of Africans seeking to shape how the law would look once territories decolonized. Here, the figure of Dudley Thompson, the British-Jamaican lawyer who seems to have served as unwilling informant for the British colonial government, depicts poignantly how the Cold War front fissured personal relationships and subverted loyalties.

    Finally, though in 1940s and 1950s Africa the international legal strategy that most successfully invoked human rights operated in the service of a revolutionary, socialist and Pan-Africanist agenda, in the late 1950s the formation (with CIA funds) of the International Commission of Jurists gave rise to a new international legal strategy to neutralize that of activists. In the ICJ’s international legal strategy, human rights and the rule of law — rather than its democratization — were the primary objectives. It was a strategy that preserved the law’s power to uphold the status quo rather than undo it. Its emphasis on individual rights weakened the ability of collective projects — like those explored in my article — to transform the structural inequalities that colonialism had established.

    The exciting possibility that arises from these findings is that decolonizing Africa may be where human rights were first transformed from a project for economic, social, and racial equality into the liberal project of individual rights protections that emerged in the late 1970s. My article only gestures toward this possibility, but the empirical evidence I’ve mustered here is sufficient, I hope, to encourage further investigation.

    Meredith Terretta
    Meredith Terretta holds the Gordon F. Henderson Research Chair in Human Rights and is an associate professor of history at the University of Ottawa. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Activism at the Fringes of Empire: Rogue Lawyers and Rights Activists In and Out of Twentieth Century Africa. She is Vice-President of the Canadian Association of African Studies. Her latest article, “Anti-Colonial Lawyering, Postwar Human Rights, and Decolonization across Imperial Boundaries in Africa,” appears in issue 52.3 of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire and is available here for FREE for a limited time: https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.ach.52.3.03.

Items 1 to 5 of 646 total