The Colonial Origins of Concentration: An Alternate Genealogy

When:8 Mar 2016, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 209 (map ref C20)
Who:Professor Christina Twomey (Monash)
Christina Twomey

History Seminar Series


Concentration camps became one of the most powerful symbols of totalitarianism in the twentieth century but their origins, particularly the emergence of such practices at different colonial sites almost simultaneously at the turn of the twentieth century, remain poorly understood. During the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), the US Army issued concentration orders and referred to centres of confinement as ‘zones of protection’. In the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the British routinely referred to their concentration camps as created for the purposes of ‘protection’. This paper explores the proposition that protection is an overlooked element in the historical genealogy of internment and concentration. Throughout the British Empire, in particular, there had been Protectorates and Protectors for everything from slaves, to Indigenous people, to immigrants – all groups considered to be so vulnerable that they needed a state representative to look after their interests. By considering both protection regimes and colonial concentration camps, two issues scholars have hitherto treated as disconnected from one other, the paper identifies how the idea of segregating and confining particular groups was refined and legitimated as a practice during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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