The Struggles With Lesbian History

LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.  

Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced. 

While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.  

Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond.  Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history. 

So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.  

LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.  

Don’t Mention the Empire!

 

The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014.[1] Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit.[2] Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.

I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.

The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.

Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries.[3] 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families.[4] 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them.[5] At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War.[6] These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.

Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies.[7] This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.

The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism.[8] This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.[9]

The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.

It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.

Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.[10]

 

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/

[2] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/dont-mistake-nostalgia-about-british-empire-scholarship

[3] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/pdf/britain-and-the-trade.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S2EXN8JTwAEC&pg=PA132&dq=famine+british+empire+india&as_brr=3&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=famine%20british%20empire%20india&f=false

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml

[7] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20180412/281861529084026

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/british-empire-students-should-be-taught-colonialism-not-all-good-say-historians-a6828266.html

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413714/History_for_all.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true

 

Hamilton

A History of our time?

The forgotten founding father?

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Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see[1]

 

I honestly could not resist writing a piece about Hamilton. Hamilton is the 2015 musical phenomenon written by Lin Manuel Miranda and inspired by R. Chernow’s 2004 biography titled Alexander Hamilton that has since reached London’s West End as of December 2017.

I have been extremely lucky to have watched the performance twice! Now I feel it would be appropriate to examine the historical significance of the musical about the man who is on the $10 bill and how it resonates to a present-day audience on both sides of the Atlantic. I will focus more on social and political matters as opposed to the economic and military. If you wish to see the musical in the future, please note I will make mention to some elements in the plot.

 

The Backstory

 

Alexander Hamilton’s Early Years

My name is Alexander Hamilton and there’s a million things I haven’t done just you wait, just you wait…[2]

Let’s start with the backstory. Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman who fought numerous battles in the Revolutionary War against Britain and became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. The story narrates the life of Alexander Hamilton, an unlikely founding father who was born on the British island of Nevis (now St Kitts and Nevis) in January 1757/1755 as there is some debate amongst historians regarding this, although it is widely considered to be 1757. Born outside of wedlock, his father abandoning the family and his mother dying when he was still a child, his prospects on the face of it appeared dire.

Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Fawcett was married to Johann Michael Lavien before she met James Hamilton, the father of Alexander Hamilton. Lavien seized Fawcett’s estate in St Croix (now United States Virgin Islands) in probate court upon her death and sold off a sizeable portion of Fawcett’s items.

Hamilton later became a clerk at Beekman and Crugar, an import and export firm. The firm traded with the colonies of New England and New York. At 14/16, Hamilton was placed in charge of the firm when his employer was away at sea for five months. Hamilton’s cousin, Peter Lytton briefly looked after him and his brother, James Jr Hamilton before he committed suicide. From this point henceforth, the brothers were separated though remained on Nevis.

Hamilton (Alexander) was taken in the custody of Thomas Stevens, a local merchant and the older Hamilton (James Jr) became a Carpenter’s Apprentice. By this point Alexander Hamilton was well read and enjoyed writing in his spare time. In 1772 a devasting Hurricane hit St Croix, in response Hamilton (Alexander) wrote a letter to his father pertaining to the Hurricane in enormous detail and his thoughts on the destruction. The letter gained popularity after it was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette by Journalist, Hugh Knox. This popularity garnished the attention of community leaders. This was a real turning point for Hamilton, as the news of his letter impressed the leaders so much they collected funds to send Hamilton to study in New York. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Hamilton, which no doubt paved the way to his military and to a higher extent, his political pursuits.  Much of these accounts from Hamilton’s early life are touched upon during the musical’s opening number, Alexander Hamilton.[3]

 

The musical synopsis

 

The story develops and looks at how he overcame these difficulties in early life looking at how he established himself in New York City; at King’s College (now Columbia University), his personal life, military /political exploits, his relationships with other founding fathers; John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and not forgetting his relationship with political rival, Aaron Burr, which ended in Hamilton’s death on 12th July 1804 as a result of the famous Burr-Hamilton duel on the day before.

This is all set at a time of revolution and increased animosity towards the British in the colonies, chiefly regarding taxation. This animosity occurred since 1765 and arguably more so after the Boston Massacre of 1770 when a group of American colonists were shot by soldiers who were stationed in Boston to control heighted colonial unrest, the capital of the Provence of Massachusetts Bay.

What Hamilton (the musical) does so well is create a visually stunning performance, amalgamating the history of a nation with the contemporary, a retelling of history, predominately in the form of hip-hop and casting actors from ethnic minority backgrounds in major roles within the production. This invariably is told as a history of our time, in other words to reflect the society of the US and the UK today.

 

The historical legacy

Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States

Let’s start with the casting. A conscious decision was made regarding the casting. The story is told by a diverse group of actors from different backgrounds. This is true in both the US and UK productions. Notably, the roles of the founding fathers; Hamilton, Burr, Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Mulligan/Madison, Lafayette/Jefferson and Washington were played by actors from an ethnic minority. This is also true of the Schuyler sister roles in the musical; Angelica, Elizabeth “Eliza” and Margarita “Peggy”. For reference, the Schuyler family were influential Dutch landowners that held much prominence in New York, Elizabeth Schuyler was a fourth generation American and the wife of Alexander Hamilton. They married in December 1780 and their courtship was acknowledged during the song Helpless.[4]

 

Immigrants we get the job done[5]

 

Essentially what the musical does is it tells the story about an immigrant trying to establish a place for themselves through hard work, grit and determination. These are traits not so different in people today. What Hamilton was doing back in the 1700s, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants since then have aspired to work hard for their livelihoods and prosper in their endeavours. Looking at the United States today many people can trace their ancestry back to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This applies to the original Broadway cast. For instance; the Musical’s creator, Miranda who played Hamilton has Hispanic heritage from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Not to dissimilar from the character he was playing in that respect that they both had a personal connection to the Caribbean as Hamilton was born there. However, he was of Scottish and French Huguenot descent, although there is speculation that Hamilton’s mother was of mixed racial descent there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. Philippa Soo who originated the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza is of White European and Chinese descent and lastly another example would be Daveed Diggs who originated the role of Lafayette/ Jefferson whose mother was Jewish and his father, African-American.

These examples really do highlight and bring to prominence what America looks like today, by casting actors from an ethnic minority it really does bring life to the storytelling and above all accessibility. Yes, in real life the founding fathers were of White English, Scottish and Irish descent, yet despite that, the casting of Hamilton brings forth the idea of inclusiveness and allows for a more cathartic experience for audiences that resonate with them. This is a great way to promote history to more people that might otherwise feel alienated from this episode of history.

Looking beyond what race these characters were back then, now in the present day the United States is a melting pot of cultures from across the globe. In a traditional sense it is the primary and secondary source material found in archives, manuscripts and books to name but a few that provide us with the know-how. It is the power of theatre that allows us to look beyond the traditional historiography for a moment and build a bridge taking elements of the past and mixing it with the present to generate interest and come away thinking; it does not matter who you are or where you come from, we all have an opportunity to make a difference.

Consequently, looking at it in this sense, the story of Alexander Hamilton’s journey from orphan, to immigrant, to statesman serves as a timeless inspiration that immigrants past, present and future strive to better themselves and as a result shape society in enterprise, business, education, government, science, healthcare and as the musical reflects, the arts.

Much like analysing the first line in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” as being true to a society where it was acceptable in some states; particularly the south to keep Black African slaves. Looking at this declaration by todays standards, there would be a consensus refuting that declaration. It is how a particular place in time within society can interpret events.

 

But how is this argument historically significant for the UK?

Very much so. The UK very much like the US has been a magnet for settlement throughout history, going further back in time before the formation of the UK some of the earliest setters came from the Roman Empire, Germanic speaking tribes; the Angles, Saxons and Jutes known collectively as the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans and French Huguenots.

In more recent history since the 19th century immigration from outside of Europe started to take shape chiefly from British colonies. In the 20th century immigration started to become more pronounced after the decline of the British Empire and many people settled from former colonies and countries making up the Commonwealth from the East, Africa and the West Indes. The imagery used once more in the UK casting reflects the society of the UK today and at the same mirrors Hamilton’s own backstory. Strikingly, Jamael Westman who currently plays the title role of Alexander Hamilton has Irish roots from his maternal side of the family and Afro-Caribbean roots from Jamaica on the paternal side.

Other examples include; Rachel John who currently plays Angelica Schuyler, her mother immigrated to the UK from Trinidad, Michael Jibson who currently plays King George III hails from Yorkshire, Leslie Garcia Bowman who currently plays Charles Lee/Ensemble comes from New Zealand and Rachelle Ann Go who currently plays Eliza Hamilton was born in the Philippines to name but a few. In all essence the full cast does reflect modern British society, just as the Broadway cast does in the US. The subject content is largely on American history and that this episode in history is not as well known in the UK, the idea nonetheless remains the same. By bringing forth historical content to the stage it serves as a virtual source to appeal to those that would not necessarily read about the content. What’s more the diversity of the cast has more of an impact resonating with members of society that are not always included in retellings of history, much like the argument that was put forth previously under Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States.

Knowing Brixton is a short distance from Victoria, the London home for Hamilton, just shy of 37 years the Brixton Riot occurred in April 1981. This was at a time when recession hit, those of Afro-Caribbean descent living in the area were particularly affected by lower job prospects and public services. Hamilton justly serves as a history of our time told by society as it is today, all backgrounds coming together to tell the story of a struggling immigrant intent to shape the future and leave a legacy, two things that are not to dissimilar to the actual narrative.

 

The “forgotten” Hamilton

A wife’s tale

I put myself back in the narrative… I’ll live another fifty years, it’s not enough[6]

 

There is much mention about the roles of women in Hamilton. However, for the purposes of this piece I will examine the role of Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife of 21 years before his death. A fundamental conclusion to the musical details a wonderous segment, regarding Eliza Hamilton’s role in preserving the legacy of her husband, Alexander Hamilton. After Hamilton’s death Eliza along with the help of her son John Church Hamilton organised and arranged his political writings in view of publication. This was to ensure his legacy in American politics was not forgotten by the people. What the musical does so well is it attributes Chernow’s school of thought, that Eliza Hamilton’s role was significant in preserving Hamilton’s memory and conveys this with such vigour. This is considering she was left widowed, having to settle Hamilton’s debts and knowing that he had an affair with Maria Reynolds (this was publicly declared by Hamilton himself in the self-published, “The Reynolds Pamphlet” in 1797). The musical suggests Eliza Hamilton, upon hearing the news of Hamilton’s affair burns her correspondence with her husband in the song titled Burn.[7] Although it is not certain Eliza Hamilton burnt her letters, the musical nevertheless supports Chernow’s school of thought that she did destroy her letters but there was no evidence to suggest how.

Her passion and devotion to keeping Hamilton’s memory alive really hits home when her contribution to Hamilton’s legacy is explored in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story[8], knowing that Eliza Hamilton lived in a male dominated society in commerce, politics and education, she was able to rise above her station and truly make a difference by getting Hamilton’s “story” out there for all to see and hear.

Eliza Hamilton did not stop there, not only did she ensure Hamilton’s writings were preserved, she also ensured to help orphans in New York city. Hamilton himself was an orphan, this in part must have played a large role in Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to help orphaned children. Together Alexander and Eliza Hamilton had eight children and one known foster daughter, having been caring for eight children and bringing in a foster daughter into the Hamilton household, it was apparent Eliza Hamilton cared deeply about children.

Eliza Hamilton helped to establish the first private orphanage in New York city in 1806 along with her friend Joanne Bethune. Eliza Hamilton was the Vice-President of the organisation and continued her support well into her nineties. It was called the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York, this organisation still exists to this very day by helping to care for children ensuring access to education, health care and support. Today it is named Graham Windham. This is where the whole idea of legacy intertwines, by preserving Hamilton’s legacy and crafting a legacy of her own.

Hamilton’s death must have been a horrible prospect for Eliza Hamilton to have dealt with but reviewing her contribution after his death, some goodness has come out of it by helping the next generation of orphans in a city where as a child orphan himself, Alexander Hamilton thrived. Though Hamilton could not live to see his legacy, Eliza Hamilton lived for another 50 years after her husband’s death in that time ensured others could see it.

 

My personal thoughts on Eliza Hamilton’s significance

Writing as a 21st century woman it is incredible to think that Eliza Hamilton achieved a great deal in her own right at a time, considering women’s suffrage was not on the agenda at the time of the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York’s creation and when she was organising Hamilton’s writings for preservation. As with the section on Ethnicity & Immigration, we see many women in professions doing what Eliza Hamilton did; women historians, women social workers and women carers to name but a few. That is another great legacy to add to mix, we see her character in many of the women of today, very much a living history of our time.

To end on, the musical really does highlight Eliza Hamilton’s prominence regarding Hamilton’s legacy. The staging was beautifully crafted, whereby during the first Act Hamilton was centre stage in the story. Eliza Hamilton, on the other hand was not standing on the main stage, she was staged with the characters; Maria Reynolds and Angelica Schuyler, seemingly fighting to declare their love for Hamilton during the musical’s opening number but for it to be bellowed by them at the same time, “I loved him”.[9] However, at the end of the second Act, Hamilton casts himself aside from the spotlight but close to his wife to reveal much of his legacy is owed to Eliza Hamilton, where she is the one standing in front of the legacy she preserved. Alexander Hamilton is often credited as America’s “forgotten” founding father, the end piece almost appears as if there was a forgotten behind the forgotten in the form of Eliza Hamilton.

 

 

 

[1] L. Manuel Miranda, “The World Was Wide Enough” as performed by L. Manuel Miranda & L. Odom Jr. in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[2] L. Manuel Miranda, “Alexander Hamilton” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[3] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

[4] L. Manuel Miranda, “Helpless” as performed The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[5] L. Manuel Miranda, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” as quoted by D Diggs and L. Manuel Miranda in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[6] L. Manuel Miranda, “Burn” as performed by P Soo in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[7] Ibid; “Burn”

[8] L. Manuel Miranda, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[9] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

 

The Road to Rebellion- Zanj Rebellion

To start off, I wish all a happy and prosperous new year to those who read and take an interest in our blog. My first post of 2018 will look at the enslaved Zanj peoples of East Africa and reasons as to how rebellion ensued from 869 to 883 AD. for this January’s African History month.

 

An African History in Mesopotamia

The term Zanj is a name of Arab origin which is loosely translated to “Land and Black” and was coined by Muslim geographers in the Medieval period. The area was in and around the region of the East African coast, now modern-day Kenya and Tanzania and settled by Black Africans of Bantu heritage. Trade was prominent in this region with the Arab world that involved lucrative goods such as ivory and gold.

The slave trade of the Zanj peoples also dominated. They were shipped and important to work on the marshlands in the surrounding area to Basra in Mesopotamia, now Iraq and sold to Wealthy Arabs to cultivate the land, primarily for sugarcane. Basra was an important port city in the region, so it was accessible to transport the produce from the land and to import slaves. These marshlands were left for some time due to flooding, wealthy Arabs saw an opportunity to implement a plantation based economy by converting the disused land for arable farming, using intensive labour. This was why the Zanj peoples were considered and that the East African coast was near the Arab world. Some Zanj peoples worked in Salt flats close to Basra. It was not just in the region of Basra that Zanj peoples were imported for slavery, some were shipped to other Arab speaking regions that bordered the Indian Ocean.

 

The struggle of the Zanj peoples

The lives of the Zanj peoples were harsh and miserable with many accounts indicating punitive treatment from their masters. The living and working conditions is a major factor that contributed to the Zanj rebellion, but it was not necessarily the only standing factor.

 

Anarchy of Samarra (861-870 AD.)

The ruling Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate was heavily marred and weakened by internal discord relating to the Caliphate’s succession and struggle inevitably ensued. This period was known as the Anarchy of Samarra, seeing as court was held at Samarra at this time. The succession of the Caliph’s was violent seeing as they were killed, disposed, exiled or overthrown. This anarchy allowed rebels to implement their own policies of governance that replaced the existing system. This greatly affected taxation from provinces, the central government would otherwise have had and in turn created a loss. With less revenue from taxation it meant there was less money to pay for resources should external or internal conflict ensue. This, in a way swayed attention from the Zanj slave trade as it meant there was no ruling stability in the Caliphate and it greatly affected the prestige of the central government. As a result, it perhaps allowed a chance for rebellion.

 

The role of Ali Ibn Muhammed   

So how did Ali Ibn Muhammed attract support from the Zanj peoples in Mesopotamia? As explored previously, the Zanj peoples clearly lived and worked in terrible conditions and that at the time of the Anarchy of Samarra it weakened the ruling system and as such it appears as if the last factor discussed in the form of Ali Ibn Muhammed ties together the previous two factors contributing to the rebellion.

Ali Ibn Muhammed did benefit from hearing the news concerning warring factions, particularly in Basra. Ali Ibn Muhammed eventually seized the opportunity to gain Zanj support in return for their liberation because of this, although initially he struggled to gain support. Some accounts note him as enquiring about their living and working conditions cultivating the land. To some Zanj, this appeared to be the opportunity for freedom, a life free from slavery. He managed to recruit a sizeable amount of Zanj slaves who were willing to rebel for the cause, along side other ethnic groups unhappy with the regime.

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

An overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa (extended version)

Original was posted on- 12/04/2015 by lauraljpotter

Original title- A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the nineteenth century after the abolition of slavery. , as the next form of cheapest labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India. The British adapted the Hindu caste system that was already in place in India since Ancient times and they continued to do so in the nineteenth century. The system was as follows; Brahmins (Priests) remained at the top of the caste system, Khsatriyas (Warriors) were next, Vaishyas (Merchants/Landowners) followed them, Shudras (Servants/labourers) were of a lower caste and lastly the Untouchables (those who killed cattle for a living/eating the flesh of cattle) were considered to be out of caste and subordinate to all. The Indian labourers that were employed to build the railway would have been a lower caste.

As well as Indians migrating to Kenya and Uganda, those countries are often studied when analysing the Indian diaspora, other Indians migrated to other surrounding countries such as; Tanzania and Mozambique. These Indian Diasporas have not been studied as much and in some cases until recently. As a result we have less information about them. However, with the limited information we have it is still informative nonetheless. We will start with Tanzania. As with Kenya and Uganda, many Indians settled in India, those who came were mainly from the Gujarat region and were traders. Many Indians who settled in Tanzania were mainly found in the large port city, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar in particular was home to many Parsis. Parsis were originally from Persia that migrated to Gujarat and Sindh (now in Pakistan) and practice the Zoroastrian faith. Many of them worked as merchants and for the colonial government as civil servants. The father of Freddie Mercury, Bomi Bulsara worked as a Cashier for the Colonial Office in Zanzibar and the family lived there. After decolonisation there was an anti-Indian sentiment in Tanzania and many left the country for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Some went back to India and Pakistan. The situation was no different in Zanzibar. After the 1964 revelation, which was to destabilise the power the Arab/Asian ruling class many Africans were unhappy by this inequality and felt they were unfairly represented politically. As a result many of the Indian diaspora, namely Parsis fled to other areas in the Commonwealth with many settling in the UK.

The countries that have been covered so far were in the British Empire. There was a sizable Indian diaspora in Mozambique. Mozambique was not part of the British Empire but it was part of the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer noted how he spotted Hindu traders off the East coast of Africa. Many Indians took advantage of the trade route between East Africa and India for centuries. Some from the Vaishya caste settled in Mozambique during the nineteenth century. Muslim traders were also present in Mozambique and were involved in trade that included; ivory and selling cashew nuts that proved to be lucrative. Beforehand some traders were involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until it was outlawed. Some of the Indian Diaspora from South Africa continued to move up north towards Mozambique. Mozambique must have been considered a good place for the Indian diaspora and for their trade to prosper. So what went wrong?

Firstly, in the late nineteenth century there was an outbreak of plague in Mozambique and the Indian community was blamed for it. As a result, Indian migration to Mozambique as well as Asian migration in general was heavily restricted. This restriction was imposed from 1899 until 1907. However, it was still financially difficult for Indians who wanted to settle in Mozambique, the restriction was still in “force” in all but name.

Later on in the twentieth century, things took a worse turn for Indians in Mozambique after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961. Prior to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese territory. The Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveria Salazar placed Indians in Mozambique in concentration camps and froze their bank accounts. The Portuguese claimed this was to protect them. However, another reason was that they had hoped for the Portuguese prisoners captured in Goa would be released. From the 1970s the decolonisation of Mozambique occurred. During this time many Indians left the country. Most of the Indians were of adherents of Ismailism, a branch of the Shia sect of Islam. However, unlike the Indian diaspora in other East African nations they were not forced out by those from inside the said countries they adopted as their new home. The Ismaili Indians were told to leave by an outside source, Aga Khan IV, an Imam. The case with East Africa being, they were told or made feel to leave from inside the country.

Not only did Indians migrate to East Africa, many had migrated to South Africa. Before the abolishment of slavery and arrival of the British, Dutch traders had acquired Indian slaves from the Mughal Empire and settled them in the Cape. The Mughal Empire ruled most of India apart from the southern tips. These Indian slaves were from Bengal, today the territory is in the Republic of India and Bangladesh during the 1600s. Interestingly enough they were never classed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Asian’ by Dutch Traders. They were called, ‘Cape Malay’ or ‘Cape Coloured’. However, there was no substantial rise in the Indian Diaspora until the British arrived at the Cape. Many Indians were transported to Natal Colony, today part of South Africa to work as indentured labourers, like what has been discussed previously in the post about Indians migrating to East Africa. They came to work on sugar, tea and cotton plantations that were introduced in Natal colony as the land was deemed appropriate for this type of cultivation to flourish. Again, due to a lack of indigenous labour, labour had to be imported from another Colonial hold, India. Over five decades c. 150,000 indentured labourers were imported from Tamil speaking areas, Hindi speaking areas and Telugu speaking areas. In terms of religion many of them identified as Hindu or Christian. There was a smaller Muslim population too. Colonial officials felt indentured labourers were a better choice than African workers because many of them were economically self-sufficient or that the British felt their working practices were not suitable for a growing economy based on a large supply and demand.

As with the Indian diaspora in East Africa some decided to remain in South Africa after their service. Many established themselves rather quickly in industry. These included; agriculture, the railways, fishing and clerks. Others established themselves as traders, but these Indian traders arrived after the indentured labourers. The main difference here was these traders paid for themselves in search of a new life in South Africa, whereas those in indentured labour could not afford this. Their payment was considered to be labour. These traders were mainly Muslim or Hindu Indians from the Gujarat region and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of large numbers settling in Durban, not all of these migrants settled there. Some migrants moved inland towards Johannesburg, establishing trading posts. Much to the dismay of white and even African tradesmen there was some conflict because there were more Indian tradesmen than white and African tradesmen.

Many Indian migrants faced discrimination in South Africa throughout the years, but unlike Uganda they were not forced to leave and unlike Kenya they didn’t feel as if they had to choose between British citizenship and Kenyan citizenship in Post-Colonial times. However, Indian South Africans were far from being free citizens in their new home. Indian migrants suffered from early discrimination in the colonies of; Natal, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some colonies treated Indians more harshly than others. For example in the late 1800s in the Orange Free State, a Boer held territory, Indians were banned from living there. Generally Indians were restricted from certain areas and professions in the other states. For example in the Transvaal, Indians were banned from working in the mining industry and they were not allowed to walk on pavements. In Natal voting rights for Indians were restricted. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi stated he received racial discrimination when he resided in the country as a Lawyer. In Cape Colony although racial discrimination occurred, it was not as bad in other colonies where they were banned entirely or that there voting rights were restricted. In actual fact Cape Colony proved to be the most lenient towards Indian migrants as they were allowed to vote, own property and prosper in trade.

During Apartheid, effective from 1948 until 1991 the population of South Africa was segregated according to the colour of their skin. People who were not considered to be white were racially discriminated. Indians living in South Africa at the time were not considered to be white, they were often classed as coloured and in some cases black. They suffered racial segregation just as much as the native population. Discrimination occurred in everyday life in South Africa. This included public facilities, employment opportunities, education and events.

The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and although many have left African countries, some migrated back to Africa after the troubles of expulsion or discrimination. Today there are c. 40,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique, c.50,000 in Uganda, c.70,000 Tanzania, c.110,000 in Kenya and c.1,300,000 in South Africa.

Victims of Antisemitism: The Anne Frank Huis and Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind

Last summer I had the opportunity to travel around Europe stopping in a number of countries. Today I will be looking at two museums I visited, the first in Amsterdam and the second in Berlin. Both museums despite being 409 miles apart due to the horrors of the Holocaust bear a similar story. The first of these museums is the Anne Frank Huis, the site of the annexe that a teenage Anne Frank hid with her family and four others hoping to avoid being sent to concentration camps, which sadly as I’m sure everyone knows failed when they were discovered by the Gestapo. The second museum is far less known, Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. The museum is based where the German Otto Weidt had his workshop which specialised in hiring blind workers. Weidt himself was blind, and during the years that the Nazis ruled Germany Weidt hired and hid disabled Jews in an attempt to rescue them from deportation. Sadly the story ended similarly to those who hid in the annexe, with few surviving the war.

Other than the above similarities I decided to write about the two of these together for one simple reason: the story of Anne Frank is known across the world, especially in the West even by those who know little about history while Otto Weidt is not. This was true for me too. My first exposure to Anne Frank was via Anne Frank: The Whole Story, a 2001 TV adaptation, sometime around this time as I can’t find the British premiere date. I would’ve been about seven years old and despite being quite traumatized due to the depiction of the reality of the camps, I quickly became fascinated by Anne and her story. I attempted to read the diary at this age but unsurprisingly struggled and reattempted when I was about ten. I decided that one day I would visit the Anne Frank Museum, but this would not be possible until 2016. My decision to visit the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind however does not have the same lengthy history. Throughout both my education and own research I learnt of the millions of others like Anne Frank who suffered. During my GCSEs I was given the opportunity to visit Auchwitz concentration camp, Oskar Schnindler’s factory and the Krakow Ghetto with my school. I’ve spent many hours reading about the people who tried to escape the Holocaust and those who risked their lives to help them. Otto Weidt, however, I did not find out about in any of those ways; my sister found the museum as she trawled Trip Advisor reviews when she was looking for things to do in Berlin. Therefore prior to my visit my own knowledge was what I had been told by her, a far cry from what I knew about Anne Frank.

For such a famous museum it is surprising to learn that the Anne Frank Huis only has around a million visitors a year; however once you’ve been inside it isn’t so surprising simply because how small the annexe is. Since its opening to the public in 1960 the museum has been expanded into the neighboring building and extensive works have taken place to allow footfall, but the annexe has been carefully preserved to give visitors a full appreciation of the cramped conditions the eight lived in. I’ve read the diary, I’ve seen numerous adaptations of the story and I’ve read extensively about the annexe but there is nothing quite like being in there to realise how small it was. Anne’s frustration becomes so understandable.

Otto Frank insisted that there be no furniture in the annexe and therefore each room contains a photo of each room reconstructed as how it was alongside the plaques and videos. I felt this was enough to gain an understanding of what it would have been like, although I understand some may disagree. Otto Frank’s reasoning for the lack of furniture was he wished it to symbolize ‘the void left behind by the millions of people who were deported and never returned’.  Personally I felt this did exactly as he intended, especially so in the room that Anne shared with Fritz Pfeffer which retains the original wallpaper with Anne’s postcards and pictures. For me this was one of the most moving aspects of the visit; I think possibly more than any other moment the fact that Anne was a teenager strikes you. She has been elevated to almost a mythical figure that sometimes it is very easy to forget that she was a normal teenage girl, living in horrendous circumstances. There were millions of girls just like her, whose lives were taken and destroyed, but the reason we remember her is her diary and that it was saved.  She was a young girl who never got to live.

The Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind is almost as hidden as its story. Hidden down an alley in central Berlin, the museum is easy to miss even if you’re trying to find it. Like the Anne Frank Huis, it is a minimalist museum tells the story of the relatively unknown Otto Weidt. His story has only become somewhat known because of the efforts of students to open the workshop as a museum in 1999, and the help of Inge Deutschkron, a Jewish woman who was helped by Weidt. He has sometimes been referred to as the ‘German Oskar Schindler’; however I would dispute this as unlike Schindler, Weidt never supported the Nazis or worked for them. Weidt had gradually gone blind and learned brush making and broom binding to provide for himself. He opened the workshop in 1936 and began to hire disabled Jews to protect them from deportation. By this time Jews who remained in Berlin found it easier to stave off deportation if they were in work. Weidt’s workers however were not invulnerable, and Weidt spent a great deal of money bribing the Gestapo to stop them from taking his workers. In one case, despite his protests, the Gestapo came and rounded up his disabled workers to be taken for deportation. Weidt followed and via bribes and arguing he could not produce the items required by the war effort, he managed to rescue his workers. However by the end of February 1943, with the exception of those in hiding and Jewish workers married to non-Jews, his workers were deported. Weidt did not just hire disabled Jews and financially protect them from deportation. Along with a circle of helpers he helped many Jews find hiding and provided false documents to help them avoid detection. Within the workshop itself Weidt hid a family whose daughter Alice he was in love with, and employed. When the family was discovered and deported, Alice managed to contact Weidt to let him know she had been sent to Auschwitz by throwing a postcard from the window of the train she was taken in. By sheer luck the postcard reached Weidt who immediately went in search of her, organising with a local Pole who had access to her to provide a hiding place for her when she could escape. Alice managed to escape and survived the war. Weidt survived the war but died of heart failure in 1947. In his final years he helped fund a home for orphans and elderly survivors of the Holocaust.

The two museums in their set up are similarities. Like the Anne Frank Huis, the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind lacks furniture focusing instead on information plaques and interactive materials. However as I mentioned previously I was struck by how similar their stories were. They show how far the Nazis reach was and how many lives were destroyed, in these cases specifically those of Jews. How despite their best efforts these attempts failed to protect most of those in hiding, leaving few survivors. The sheer despair and destruction is horrendously apparent. The only comfort that both these museums provide is they show, despite when the very worst of humanity gains power, that there were many who stood up to such hatred by risking their lives to help those who were targeted.

A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the 19th century after the abolition of slavery, as the next cheapest form of labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan Railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in the various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India due to being considered on the lowest rung, racially.

Despite not being equal to white colonialists, upon independence for some of the former African colonies, some Asian communities were treated similarly. The case for Indians in Kenya and Uganda were particularly difficult, with many in these countries forced to leave. Upon independence in 1963, the Kenyan government gave non-Kenyans two years to take up Kenyan citizenship. However this meant giving up British citizenship which many were reluctant to do. Therefore many did not take up citizenship within the deadline leading to tensions with Kenyans who felt that Kenyan Indians were not loyal to Kenya. This in turn led to discrimination against those without Kenyan citizenship, restricting their economic activity. As a result at the end of the 1960s, many left for Britain feeling they could no longer live in Kenya. Kenyan Indians continued to leave Kenya until the early 1970s. While tensions existed in Uganda from independence due to Asian dominance of the economy, it was not until the 1971 coup that Indians were forced out of Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin. The majority fled to the UK, however some also went to other Western countries such as the US and Canada.

The Indian diaspora still exists in Africa although it is smaller than it was in its heyday. Many remained in areas where there was less tension. In countries such as Uganda, Indians have begun to return to their former homes. This shows the constant fluctuating migrating patterns which have always existed, but in modern society has increased, as did the various empires of modern history.

The Bulldagger of the Harlem Renaissance, The Gay Emperor, The Bisexual Pirate and the Blonde Bombshell

This month in the UK is LGBT history month and in its honour I have decided to look at a figure from each group in the acronym.

Lesbian – Gladys Bentley

Born in 1907, Bentley left home at 16 for New York where she soon ended up in Harlem. Harlem had become known as the capital of ‘The New Negro’. Here she became a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance as a performer. Bentley was always open about her sexuality, including in her act where she would flirt with female audience members. She also had a series of girlfriends and also claimed to have married a white woman, something that would have outraged not only homophobes but also racists. It was also illegal in many areas of the US due to anti-miscegenation laws. Bentley was hugely successful on the gay circuit in Harlem but after the repeal of Prohibition, work opportunities began to dry up. She moved to South California, where she was increasingly harassed, especially for wearing men’s clothes. She managed to maintain her career somewhat and also recorded 5 discs there. However, during the McCarthy era, Bentley was forced to sanitise her act and act more outwardly ‘straight’ to avoid persecution. She also married two men, in succession as an attempt to cover up her lesbianism. She also wrote an article in Ebony magazine claiming to have been ‘cured’ in a further attempt to protect herself. Bentley went on to appear on Groucho Marx’s television show and continued to perform when she could. Near the end of her life, Bentley became devoted to The Temple of Love in Christ and even moved towards becoming ordained as a priest with the church. However she was struck by a flu epidemic in 1960 and she died of pneumonia at the age of 52.

Despite the denial of her sexuality in the later years of her life, Bentley has been a prominent figure in LGBT history, along with African American history. Her early success has been seen as positive and her later desperate attempts to survive in a deeply homophobic climate have been seen in LGBT history as indicative of the times.

Gay – Emperor Hadrian

Hadrian is mostly known in the UK for building Hadrian’s Wall but he ruled the Roman Empire for 21 years. He is also thought to be gay by some historians. Hadrian was married to a woman Sabina, however their marriage produced no children and was unhappy, perhaps further supporting that he was gay. His relationship with Antinous, a young Greek man, was well documented.

Born in 76 AD, he gained the throne of emperor via his father’s cousin, Trajan, the previous emperor in 117 AD. He travelled extensively, visiting nearly every province in his Empire which he considered a fundamental part of governing. Along with building Hadrian’s Wall, he rebuilt the Pantheon in Rome which had been destroyed twice since it had been initially built.

Hadrian is thought to have met Antinous in 123 AD and he became his favourite in 128 AD when he joined his retinue. Hadrian is known to have described Antinous as intelligent and the pair shared a love of hunting. From early sources there is evidence that their relationship was sexual as is the fact that Hadrian was attracted to men, which was accepted in Roman society. In comparison there is no evidence about Hadrian being attracted to women.

Their romance however was cut short in late 130 AD when Antinous drowned in Egypt. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, with many conspiracies debated by contemporaries and historians. Hadrian was devastated at his death, publicly mourning him. He was deified and Hadrian ordered that a city called Antinopolis be built in his honour near where he died.

Hadrian died in 138 AD, probably from heart failure.

Bisexual – Anne Bonny

Born in Ireland around 1700, Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a lawyer and his servant. The family moved to America shortly before Anne’s teens. Even as a teen she had a temper, allegedly stabbing a servant girl. She married James Bonny whose name she took even after she abandoned him in favour of Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham, whose activities she joined in with. It was through Rackham she met Mary Read, a fellow female pirate who also apparently became her lover. The threesome stole a ship, the Revenge. With this better ship they recruited a crew and began attacking a number of small vessels, amassing a large amount of bounty. The ship, however, was attacked by the authorities and the group were sentenced to death, despite fierce fighting from both women even when their male crew gave up easily. Both Anne and Mary had their sentences delayed due to both being pregnant.

What happened after this is not entirely clear: it seems likely that Anne was probably released thanks to her father’s efforts and forced to return home. She is thought to have married a local man and later died, not partaking in any further criminal activities.

Trans – Christine Jorgensen

Born George William Jorgensen, Jr., in the Bronx of New York in 1930 she never fitted the expectations of being male. Drafted as a soldier during World War two, Jorgensen also attended several colleges and briefly worked for Pathé before deciding to go to Sweden for gender reassignment. However on the way she visited relatives in Copenhagen where upon meeting Dr Christian Hamburger, she elected to stay in Denmark. Hamburger was an endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy, and as well as supervising Jorgensen’s hormone therapy, he began to help her organise her first operations. In fourteen months she had surgery that removed both her testicles and penis, before returning to the US. However shortly before her return, the New York Daily News found out her story which led to mass public interest in Jorgensen; she could no longer keep her life private. Jorgensen returned looking and feeling remarkably different than she had when she had last been in the US; she had also changed her name to Christine in honour of Dr Hamburger. In an attempt to get her version out to the world rather than the lurid and fictitious claims of the press, Jorgensen sold her exclusive rights to American Weekly. Faced with limited opportunities due to the publicity, Jorgensen found herself working in the entertainment business as well as becoming an advocate and speaker supporting trans issues.

While by no means the first person to have a sex change (Jorgensen would have more operations such as vaginoplasty) Jorgensen was one of the first to survive her operations and be known to the public. In later life she continued to work with those in the medical profession who were exploring sex-reassignment change and trans issues, as well as helping trans people socially. In 1989, not long before her death that year of cancer, she said she believed that she had given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants”.

Wuthering Heights review- Understanding the origins of Heathcliff

Wuthering Heights. A classic gothic novel that many would remember studying at secondary school (I included). What’s more I revisited the novel this summer after coming across it whilst clearing out of halls! Within minutes I found myself flicking through a few pages to completing chapter after chapter on the long journey home. What struck me after reading this novel other than the love triangle and gothic imagery was the heritage of the central character, Heathcliff and how the other characters of the novel help shape the many possibilities of where he originated from. It is a topic that I believe fits very well for a WU History review and that sparks much lively debate.

Firstly it is important to establish the evidence from the novel and what certain characters have guessed about Heathcliff’s past. This is conveyed through the narrator of the story Nelly and suggested by Heathcliff’s guardian Mr Earnshaw. Nelly mentions about the ‘gibberish’ that Heathcliff spoke on arrival at Wuthering Heights, her speech suggested Heathcliff possibly came from as far afield as India and Mr Earnshaw himself stated that he ‘found’ Heathcliff wandering the streets of Liverpool.

Looking back at what the narrator, Nelly mentions, the ‘gibberish’ is sound evidence to provide an explanation about the possibility of Heathcliff being a Roma gypsy. A valid reason for this claim could be to do with how he attempted to communicate upon he’s arrival to Wuthering Heights. He’s speech was described as ‘gibberish’ and somewhat ‘foreign’. The Romani language itself deviates from the English language. The English language is from the Germanic groups of languages that include; German and Norwegian, whilst the Romani language comes from the Indo-Aryan language groups that include Hindi and Gujarati. This provides readers with some evidence about Heathcliff’s supposed Roma upbringing because it indicates why Nelly and the Earnshaws could not understand what he was saying.

Throughout the novel there is more evidence to suggest that Heathcliff was descended from Roma gypsies and this reason allows readers to make a connection to the later piece of evidence. It is clear that because of his foreign language the characters at Wuthering Heights shunned him, including Cathy initially. Gypsies faced much persecution throughout history and this occurred during the late Eighteenth century when the novel was set. In Western Europe the Romani people faced much persecution. For instance in 1749 Roma gypsies were rounded up in Spain and forced to remain in labour camps. Further persecution of the Romani community occurred in the English-speaking world too, where they were often distrusted and despised, including in England. This makes a valid argument, as in the novel many of the characters loathed him. In particular Heathcliff’s foster brother Hindley often abused him and referred to him as a ‘dirty, rotten gypsy’ frequently. This provides an adequate explanation as to why certain characters did not take too kindly to Heathcliff as many people in England at the time were distrusting of gypsies, indicating that Heathcliff himself was one as only a few characters accepted him into their society.

However, there are some flaws to this more common assertion, regarding Heathcliff as a Roma gypsy. Firstly the ‘gibberish’ that Nelly described did not directly state that Heathcliff was of Roma origin. It can be argued that readers should treat Nelly’s comment as a potentially flippant remark as Heathcliff could have spoken any unrecognisable language, not merely Romani. What’s more Nelly later in the novel provides further flippant comments about Heathcliff’s origins and suggests he could have been an ‘Indian prince’. It is comments similar to that which appeared to make Nelly’s account of Heathcliff unfeasible to readers. Nevertheless there was some truth in how he could have come from India, yet it was not probable to suggest he was a Roma gypsy who travelled to England from India. This is because recent genetic evidence suggests the Roma peoples of India travelled to Europe across the Middle East years before the Eighteenth century. However, Heathcliff could have travelled to England as a Lascar Indian. There is a valid argument for this point of view as Mrs Linton makes a reference that Heathcliff might have been a ‘Lascar stowaway’. This point of view seems likely as Lascars were seamen that came from India and were employed on British ships from the sixteenth century. The time frame of Wuthering Heights fits in nicely with this explanation as many Lascars entered Britain in the Eighteenth century and many remained in the county, circa 10, 000. Also, the significance of Mr Earnshaw finding Heathcliff on the streets of Liverpool indicated that there was a high probability that he was a Lascar Indian as Lascars sailed to ports and Liverpool was and still is a port city.

Having said that in spite of using this evidence to suggest Heathcliff was a Lascar Indian, some readers could interpret the evidence differently and I myself because of the city of Liverpool. Liverpool was a place synonymous with the slave trade and the slave trade was not abolished in Britain and its empire at the time when the novel was set, allowing some readers to make the connection that Heathcliff could have been a freed or an escaped slave that arrived in Liverpool. This is a probable alternative to other explanations in regards to Heathcliff’s origins. Likewise, Mrs Linton exclaims that Heathcliff could have been an ‘American castaway’. From Mrs Linton’s account it is likely he could have been an African-American or perhaps mixed race as it would indicate again reasons as to why many characters ill-treated him and perhaps more so then the other explanations to his origin.

To conclude in spite Emily Bronte neglecting Heathcliff’s exact origins of he’s past, she had only given readers hints about the possibilities of where he had come from. After reading the novel I came to the conclusion that he was likely to have either been a Romani gypsy, a Lascar or an African-American and wanted to explore the three possibilities. Although after careful reading the most likely of the three, (a Romani gypsy) was Heathcliff’s likely upbringing as unlike much of evidence suggesting he was black or a Lascar it only seemed to be from a snapshot in time within the novel. The evidence suggesting Heathcliff was a Roma gypsy was consistent as there was frequent references to him being a gypsy, a term in Eighteenth century England for Romani peoples. I hope this review was an enjoyable read and that it will inspire you to come to your own conclusions based on what Emily Bronte had written and for you all- to delve through a classic of English Literature again and again…