Erik Linstrum–Covering Counter-Insurgency: Colonial Violence and the Media in Postwar Britain

February 12, 5pm-6:15pm
New Cabell Hall 236
(Refreshments start at 4:45)

Erik Linstrum
Associate Professor
Department of History
University of Virginia

Covering Counter-Insurgency: Colonial Violence and the Media in Postwar Britain1

A copy of the chapter is available here.

Britain’s wars of decolonization after 1945 — in Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus, and Kenya — are today notorious for their brutality, including the use of torture, summary executions, detention camps, and forced resettlement.  What did people in Britain know about these practices at the time?  Surprisingly, perhaps, British news organizations did not consistently suppress unsettling details about the violence committed in Britain’s name.  But the information they disseminated in print and on the airwaves was fragmented, ambiguous, and contradictory.  Paradoxically, it was not despite but because of their commitment to the pursuit of truth — embodied in professional ideals such as neutrality, factuality, and restraint — that reporters often failed to communicate the depth and breadth of violence in the colonies.  In an age when sights and sounds traveled rapidly across time and space, colonial violence was no secret.  But neither was it treated as a moral emergency.

Erik Linstrum is a historian of modern Britain in its imperial and global contexts.  His research explores the politics of knowledge and the circulation of information, with particular interests in science and technology, war and violence, and the long history of decolonization.  His first book, Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire, won the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association for the best book of the year in European international history.  He is now writing a history of knowledge about colonial violence in post-1945 Britain.  Tentatively titled Age of Emergency, it traces reports of atrocities in Malaya, Kenya, and Cyprus as they circulated through British society: from the anticolonial left to the unabashedly imperialist right, from Fleet Street to the Church of England, from veterans’ associations to the British Red Cross, from BBC teleplays to the West End theater scene.