Editor’s Note: This piece is second in a series of two posts on collaborative historical research. The first post can be found at blog.historians.org/2017/08/when-historians-collaborate-scholarship-benefits/
By Catherine Cymone Fourshey and Christine Saidi
Between 1880 and the early 1960s, all of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, was under colonial occupation by European powers. Colonial rule came with political and economic domination and contentious struggles between the colonized and colonizers over cultural and social values. Gender relations, in particular, were strikingly impacted by colonial norms and needs.
Ross Dunn is a professor emeritus of history at San Diego State University. He lives in Marina del Rey, California, and has been a member since 1982.
Since launching in 2015, the AHA Today Summer Blog Contest has focused on one thing: to give graduate students an opportunity to hone their communication skills by giving them access to a public platform. This year, our winners, Bridget Keown (Northeastern Univ.) and Bernard C. Moore (SOAS, Univ. of London), in four posts each, shared their research with AHA Today readers, and in the process enlightened us about subjects as diverse as women and trauma during World War I and the relationships between animals and humans under colonialism in Namibia.
Driving down south from Keetmanshoop toward Grünau on southern Namibia’s B1 trunk road, it’s common to spot small mammals hustling across the highway from one stony outcropping to another as the road weaves through the Karasberge (Karas Mountains). These are rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis)—known in Southern Africa as dassies—and despite being completely herbivorous, they were classified as vermin in Namibia under apartheid.
“Ongediertes is soos onkruid in jou tuin. Elke jaar moet jy weer van nuuts af begin skoonmaak.”[Vermin are like weeds in your garden. Each year you must start cleaning from scratch.] —Malcolm Allison, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1961
If the 1920s in southern Namibia featured violent colonial interventions to facilitate the transfer of black pastoralists’ land and labor to white ranchers, the 1930s–60s were a time of consolidation of white capitalist agriculture—to make it stable, profitable, and “modern.” In Namibia, and southern Africa broadly, “modern” agriculture was often conceived of as technologically innovative, leading to increased outputs.
“Dogs were our defenders! For black men who didn’t have guns . . .”
A. Christiaan (interview, January 18, 2016)
In May 1922, the Bondelswarts (a Nama nation in southern Namibia) took up arms against the South African colonial administration. The short-lived and poorly organized uprising was put down with ground troops, machine guns, and airplane bombing of the reserve. Prior to the uprising, the Nama constantly complained over a tax on dog ownership that was introduced into the rural areas in 1917.
Over the course of my research into sheep farming in Namibia during the colonial and apartheid periods (emphasis on 1915–82), I’ve grown to realize that I’m writing less and less about sheep and more about all sorts of other animals, from jackals to hares and rock hyrax. Sheep farming involved a lot of killing, not just of ewes for mutton or newborn karakul lambs for pelts, but also of mammals that interfered with production. Throughout the 20th century, these other animals—carnivores and herbivores alike—were classified as “vermin,” or ongedierte in Afrikaans, which translates literally to a “non-animal” or a “de-animaled” entity.
Ellen R. Feingold is the curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. She lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2013.