Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926), controversial English liberal reformer, internationalist and long-term resident of South Africa is remembered now in South Africa for her expose of conditions in the concentration camps of the South African War (1899-1902). Yet her liberal internationalism, and that of her extensive transnational epistolary network of activists and writers, has played little part in public memories of the war, and Hobhouse and her circle’s ongoing involvement in South African affairs and contribution to the ideals and workings of new international organisations following the First World War has been side-lined. The project has four main objectives:
1. A re-internationalisation of imperial and South African history and a reconsideration of the politics of public memory in South Africa. This will involve:
– evaluating the newly-available Hobhouse letters as strategic tools of women’s politicking within a cosmopolitan circle of activists, thereby problematising imperial histories which prioritise official colonial connections over wider international and informal ones.
– examining afresh the complex relationships between transnational activism, visions of a new international order, and the intersecting politics of race, labour, class and gender in ways that move beyond accusations of hypocrisy and a simple binary of oppression without acting as an apologia.
– challenging the tendency to purely biographical approaches, thereby making possible a wider analysis of why South Africa became a crucible of early twentieth-century liberal imperialism and liberal internationalism and of how this involvement in South African affairs influenced the ideals and the workings of new international order following the First World War.
– new archival research into the transnational history of international organisations, humanitarian groups and political campaigning in order to explore continuities of ideas and practice between Hobhouse and her circle’s work in South Africa and their ongoing involvement in the politics of peace, relief and imperial reconstruction.
– providing new historiographical co-ordinates to challenge the parochialism, blind spots and binaries that have distorted South African history and to question the marginalisation of South Africa in recent accounts of interwar internationalism.
2. To raise the profile of Hobhouse and key members of her circle as instrumental in the development of early twentieth- century reformism, humanitarianism and internationalism, by producing a landmark touring exhibition (and accompanying public lectures and schools day) on the project’s key research findings (showing at the War Museum; Smuts House Museum; Bodleian Library; Hull History Centre; Liskeard Museum). The exhibition will particularly showcase the Bodleian Library’s new acquisition of Hobhouse’s papers.
3. To extend this public interest and engagement, including from secondary school pupils and heritage users, with the history of South Africa and internationalism by producing ‘Gateways to Learning’ with teaching materials and downloadable museum audio-guides on our website.
4. To assemble a network of international researchers, archivists and museum professionals in order to develop fresh interpretations of the individuals, networks and activities associated with South Africa and internationalism between 1899 and 1926, in ways that grapple with the politics of memory in South Africa and explore the best means of disseminating these findings to a wider audience. This collaboration will be further developed through the team’s oversight of the cataloguing and selective digitisation of the new Hobhouse papers, and will form the basis for a cross-sector international conference at the University of the Free State.