Empire & Decolonisation

Terence Ranger: Life as Historiography

This is the transcript of four and a half hours of interview with Terence Ranger, across two sessions, carried out by Diana Jeater for History Workshop Journal in late 2009. Terence Ranger is best known as the co-editor, with Eric Hobsbawm, of the 1983 text, The Invention of Tradition. However, he has spent most of his career researching and publishing on the history of Zimbabwe (previously Southern Rhodesia and, in the 1960s and 1970s, simply called Rhodesia). In 1957, following doctoral work at Oxford on Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork, Ranger went to Southern Rhodesia, to the University College of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, to teach Early Modern and Late Mediaeval British and European history. In Rhodesia, Ranger and his wife Shelagh became very active campaigners opposing the institutionalised discrimination against black Africans. Consequently, in January 1963, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia. He went on to the University of Dar es Salaam in newly-independent Tanzania, to establish its History Department. There, he gathered around him a stellar coterie of researchers, including Walter Rodney, the Guyanese radical and outstanding scholar of African-American history. There was quickly talk of a ‘Dar es Salaam school’ of African nationalist history, defined by a commitment, firstly, to African agency in its historical analysis and, secondly, to the production of ‘useable’ history for the newly independent nations of Africa. From Tanzania, Ranger went on Professorships at UCLA (African History, 1969-74), Manchester (Modern History, 1974-87) and Oxford (Rhodes Professor of Race Relations (1987-97). It was during his time at Manchester that he worked on The Invention of Tradition: he continued to worry away at questions about the construction of identity and the invention of tradition through much of the 1990s in Oxford. On his retirement in 1997, he returned to Zimbabwe to bolster the postgraduate provision in the History Department at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. During this time, it became clear that the nationalist government in independent Zimbabwe had carried out systematic atrocities against the citizens of western Zimbabwe. Once again, Ranger found himself aligned with the victims of the state.
An article based on this interview, focusing on the theory and methodology in Ranger’s work, and asking what we can learn from his career about how to produce ‘relevant’ history, will appear in HWJ 73.

Professor Diana Jeater is the author of Law, Language & Science (Heinemann Social History of Africa series, 2007), and is currently Visiting Fellow at St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Thank you very much Terry for responding to this request for an inteview. I’d like to start with where you started, as a professional historian with a doctoral research project. What were the influences were on you then?

I wanted to be a research historian and I was offered a subject by my tutor at Queen’s, John Prestwich and a supervisor, Hugh Trevor-Roper who later on of course became notorious amongst Africanists…[1]

And that was all done through British intelligence.  John Prestwich had been a Bletchley de-coder during the war or, at least, he had received the de-coded messages and had interpreted them.  And Hugh Trevor-Roper had been in Army intelligence during the war, so they knew each other in that way. Prestwich thought that Trevor-Roper would be a good supervisor for a 16th/17th century subject and at that stage, that’s the period I wanted to work on.  I was interested in the 16th and 17th century more for literary and emotional reasons than for theoretical, historiographical reasons. And so I was guided by these two – although you can hardly call Trevor-Roper’s hand a ‘guiding’ one, as I saw him three times altogether in my doctoral research.

At that point everybody, not only Trevor-Roper but also Lawrence Stone, his great adversary, was into problems of patronage; much of the ideology at that point had been leached out of English history.  The assumption was that the House of Lords was really more important than the House of Commons and that great aristocrats like the Russells and the Bedfords controlled in effect large numbers of MP clients. Following on from that assumption, was the assumption that the richer you were, the more influence you had.

So I was offered, as a subject, the richest man in the United Kingdom: Richard Boyle the 1st Earl of Cork. It was assumed by all of us when I began that he would turn out to be the most influential man in the United Kingdom.  Well he did turn out to be the richest man, but he didn’t turn out to be the most influential man; because the poor fellow was a colonial in the sense that he made his money in Ireland and, of course, his aristocratic title, the Earl of Cork, was an Irish title, although he wasn’t himself Irish.  And although he’d married his daughters into the English aristocracy and his sons got additional Irish titles, the only thing he actually controlled with his influence was the Irish Parliament. As far as the Long Parliament was concerned, he had virtually no influence whatsoever.  There’s a touching entry in his diary, where he first goes to London and goes to court, and although by that time he’s already an Earl, he records “I ate with all the great Lords and Ladies”.  So he didn’t feel as though he was of their calibre.  He was of service to the Long Parliament in that he brought charges against Stafford when Stafford was under attainder and many of the charges were inequities that Stafford was supposed to have carried out on the Protestant landlords of Ireland.  But apart from that, the organising assumption on which I began the thesis didn’t really work.

So what I did in the thesis was to show how he made and kept his fortune.  It was the kind of thesis that could have been much better written now, with a computer and so on, because it involved searches, meticulous searches through the patent rolls.  What happened was that he would never possess his land under his own name: he would buy a bit of a grant of land that had been given by the King to one of his favourites, and so the land would be in that favourites’ name but it was really my chap’s land. He made his money by getting land very cheaply in the midst of revolution and war, on a short lease of years and then gradually he’d pass it on longer leases of years and eventually in effect in freehold. And unless you were as dogged as a doctoral student, you’d never find out.  The Earl of Stafford tried very hard to find out, but he wasn’t as dogged as a doctoral student and he didn’t find out!

It was interesting, because the Earl of Cork had come to be regarded as an absolutely model Protestant developer: he was a great landlord and he worked and he was an industrialist in iron works.  Eventually – although I didn’t enter this research in a debunking kind of frame of mind, because I wanted him to be the richest man and I would have been perfectly happy had he been a progressive Protestant – I found out where his own activities were aimed. This was first of all aimed at securing this land (and the more secure it was, the more profitable it became, so he didn’t directly farm or anything like that). Secondly, as far as the iron work was concerned, oddly enough that was really a banking device, to get money safely in various places where he needed money, in Amsterdam, in London and so on.  All he had in Ireland was masses of wood; he didn’t have iron ore even.  He shipped the iron ore over from Devonshire, cut the trees down and had tremendously cheap fuel. Cutting the trees down, he thought, was a service to the state, because these were the woods in which the “wild Irish” lived: he actually boasted of the destruction of the forest.  But obviously he wasn’t setting up a sustainable iron industry because, by the time he died, the wood had been cut out for so many miles around the iron furnaces that iron making more or less completely came to an end.  He was bringing in the iron ore and then he was shipping out the iron to Amsterdam or to London and receiving payment for it there, so that he had resources in those places. That was how it worked.

Anyway, I’ve had a contract with the Clarendon Press to publish that thesis, which indeed was very industrious and scholarly, ever since it was finished. Possibly I still have a contract with the Clarendon Press: they used to write to me every five years with infinite patience saying “we’re still waiting for your manuscript” and they didn’t want many changes.  Those were the days when you could publish a doctoral thesis; indeed, for an Oxford doctoral thesis, you had to write something that was publishable.  But I needed to prune the footnotes, because I couldn’t bear to let all this lovely stuff go, so I told one story in the text and another, supplementary, story in the footnotes. And that would have had to go.

That’s a fine Marxist tradition actually

Yes. I didn’t do it for various reasons: one was that, by the time I finished the thesis, I’d already become very engrossed in Africa; the other was that I’d become increasingly persuaded that this whole patronage problematic was an extraordinarily narrow one.  Cork’s papers are absolutely fascinating, extraordinarily abundant letters and diaries and so on. There was material in those papers for writing about all kinds of interesting things, such as the education of his extraordinary family; the Protestant grand tour on the continent; and religion.  For example, I didn’t tackle in my thesis the question of how he could believe himself to be such a virtuous man, when he was up to such scurrilous activities. He was a very, very self righteous Protestant and so I could have considered the question of his own religion and that of his family. And finally there’s the question of his relationships with the “mere Irish”, who don’t come into my thesis at all.  They’re there in his diary and his letters, scurrying around in the undergrowth, while the important ones, the old Irish aristocrats, are being brought in to his patronage network.

So I realised, when I began to write African history, that I had made no use at all of exactly the sort of material that I was now coming on to use. Last year I was asked to write a little piece for History Ireland, a journal which was having a special issue on Africa, on ‘From Ireland to Africa’, to explain how I’d begun to work on Ireland and gone on to work on Africa.[2] I said there that I didn’t publish on the Earl of Cork, because, now that I was writing about African insurrections and so on, I didn’t think that I could reasonably publish a book in which the only thing I said about the 1641 uprising in Ireland was that it inconvenienced the Earl of Cork!

Anyway that’s how I began. Now the question is, “how did that carry over in any way?,” which was the question I was looking at in that History in Ireland article.  John McCracken, in his nice piece in the Journal of Southern African Studies special issue for me, argued that it was a better training for becoming an African historian than having done imperial history or colonial history or the other ways in which people got into being African historians.[3] And I suppose it was.

It was a good training for archival work, although I use the word “training” very much in inverted commas.  Obviously there wasn’t an African seminar in Oxford in those days, but it’s hard to believe there wasn’t even an Early Modern seminar. During the whole time that I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I never met and talked with anybody else who was working on the 17th century. My research almost floundered at the very beginning.  I went to the British Museum where they had, for some reason, manuscripts about my chap’s early misdemeanours, when he was on trial for having behaved falsely as a royal official. I just couldn’t read these manuscripts.  They were in Elizabethan shorthand, and I was in despair. There was no class in Oxford, or anywhere that I knew of, that trained you in how to read Elizabethan shorthand. You just had to plug away until you read it. And when I did discover how to read it, I discovered that the great 19th century edition of Boyles’ letters and diaries was fantastically defective![4] Because the Reverend Grosart, who did the edition, couldn’t read this secretarial hand.  And so, if you go in to Queen’s College Library and you take out – probably for the first time since I put them back – the Grosart volumes of Boyle, you’ll find, wickedly, that they’re all annotated in my handwriting, with the correct versions.  So it’s a question of what you think “training” is.  Trevor-Roper said to me, the first time I met him, “if you don’t know more about this subject than I do at the end of the first term, you’ve chosen the wrong subject”.

Now, with my own doctoral students, particularly those working on Zimbabwe, they’d certainly need to spend longer than the first term to get to know more than I did.  But it’s more than that: it’s a whole ethos.  A sink-or-swim ethos was prevalent in those days, when you did a doctoral thesis.  It was something you had to do for yourself. And so I wouldn’t say I was “trained” as an archival historian; I just got an awful lot of practice at being an archival historian. I had to work out for myself how I was going to do it, in every sort of way: how was I going to note it and refer to it, and in how much detail did one do it, and all those kinds of things.  And I have continued to do it in that way, only using a computer rather than a pen and pencil.

I’m grateful to Trevor-Roper for having read my first shot at a chapter, because my handwriting was then more impenetrable than it is now.  He made some very reasonable criticisms of it. It was my own ego, more than anything else, that kept me from going back to talk to him about it.  I was wounded by these very reasonable criticisms and I thought, “I won’t show him anything again until it’s ready,” which was a bit silly but that’s what happened: he finally read my thesis when it was completed.  Other than that, he taught me about Oxonian things like how to recognise a Jesuit at 100 yards and so forth.  He took me to Christchurch high table and we sat opposite Frank Packenham and he said, “Now just watch him when The Grace is said, watch his trigger finger, he’ll want to cross himself”.  So he gave me invaluable advice of that sort. And he wasn’t beastly…although Lawrence Stone, who knew that Trevor-Roper was my supervisor and who was at that time being crucified by Trevor-Roper, when I was talking to him about the iron works, said to me, “Wait until he takes off his glasses and look at his eyes. They are the eyes of a toad”.

So you clearly didn’t spend enough time looking into his eyes?

No I didn’t, no, although as I say, our relationships were perfectly amiable and he didn’t mind.  I would have minded, of course, if one of my beloved doctoral students had just buggered off and not shown me anything until the final thesis.  But he didn’t mind really, because that was, from his point of view, the point of it.  Leave them to get on with it. If a student could do that, so much the better.

So here I was, working on what was in effect a colonial subject, but not doing it in a way that made it so.  The first academic talk that I gave was in Dublin, to the Irish Historical Society, while I was teaching at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. It was published in the journal as ‘The making of an Irish Fortune’.[5] It was a characteristically Irish experience: they invited me and said how keen they were to hear this, but then they wrote and said “Well, we’re sorry, but the Treasurer is getting married and I’m afraid the President and Secretary and so on…the best man and you know…  We’re not quite sure who’s going to be there, but you just go to that room in Trinity College, there will be some whiskey and a fire.” And so I went along and I got there at the right time and there was absolutely nobody there, but there was some whiskey and a fire.  I don’t like whiskey normally; but under those circumstances I drank some. People began to trickle in. Half of them had come because they thought I was talking about his son Robert, the ‘Father of Chemistry’.  But then finally the Treasurer and the Secretary and the President all turned up (I don’t know what happened to the wedding), and so I talked about how Boyle achieved his fortune by swindles.

Boyle was what was called an “escheater”, that is to say, the officer who administers the estates of those who die intestate, on behalf of the Crown. He found lots of land in Ireland that had been improperly withheld from the Crown and the Church and worked hand in hand with a surveyor who made a lot of land look like a little; he thereby got the grant for the land. He amassed plenty of land from the poor, conquered Irish and he got grants and grants and more grants; so this land became more or less impregnable.  He was forced to give up some of the Church land – until he fixed up that Bishop with a charge of homosexuality, which did for him!  Anyway I was talking about all this, and it was the first time I’d encountered what has subsequently come to be called ‘nationalist historiography’, because the Irish audience was all agog with this stuff.  I remember one of them saying, “It takes an Englishman to show us how vile these invaders were,” and so on. And so I was carried off in triumph and given Gaelic coffee, and I realised the nationalist potential of this stuff.

Did you take that with you to Zimbabwe?  Were you always thinking, ‘I’m going to write nationalist history’?

No, not at all, no.  As I began to read in the Zimbabwean archives, I saw the analogies of course, although there wasn’t really an Earl of Cork figure in Zimbabwe. There was in Kenya, though. He was Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere. I read the Elspeth Huxley biography of Delamere and could see those kinds of parallels.

I went to Southern Rhodesia in 1957, not, of course, to teach African history (which I hadn’t studied at all), but to teach Early Modern and Late Mediaeval British and European history. I turned myself into an Africanist in research terms by working in the National Archives, and in ideological terms by participating in the African national movement.

When I first got to Southern Rhodesia, I didn’t think that nationalism was at all a good idea.  You know, I had been brought up as a child during the Second World War, when one thought that Germans and Italians were nationalistic; it never occurred to me that the British were.  I remember an early discussion group at St Faiths Mission with Guy Clutton-Brock and leaders of the nationalist movement like James Chikerema and George Nyandoro. I was arguing that they ought to find some organising principle other than nationalism, because nationalism was a Bad Thing.  Now, that gave a very misleading impression to some of the other whites who were present there, who were South African Marxist emigrés. They thought, “This chap is one of us.  He’s looking for class instead of nationalism. This chap is being radical but not nationalist.”

Chikerema actually took it quite seriously and said to me “Well, what you say is very interesting and may be true, but what else is there?” And I didn’t say “Marxism,” because I wasn’t at all a Marxist.  I didn’t think I was a nationalist and I knew I wasn’t a Marxist. But I was on a flight to Northern Rhodesia [Zambia], sitting next to one of the whites who heard me say these things, and he began to talk to me, just on the assumption that I was a fellow Marxist.  He’d drawn that conclusion; but, in fact, I was being a smug English liberal, not thinking that nationalism was something that we needed to worry about.

So I certainly didn’t set off, when I got to Zimbabwe, to study African Nationalism, as one might study Irish nationalism.

So anyway, when I first got to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, I hadn’t yet finished writing this thesis. I was writing it during the first two years and my great friend at that time (and still now) was John Reed, who taught literature and was writing a book about Spencer. Well he didn’t finish it.  But he kept a daily diary, of which I have a complete transcript, which is a fascinating source for the history of African trade unionism, politics and so on.  In his diary, he shows that we were already beginning to go to African meetings and he would particularly be called on to talk to trade unionists.  He and I in the evenings discussed 16th and 17th century Ireland, because Spencer was part of the Earl of Cork circle. Spencer was the most articulate and explicit advocate of genocide, really, and so John and I would talk about that. It kept me very much in the 17th century, but I suppose also at that point, Spencer’s opinions began to resonate with those of the Sunday Mail and the Citizen and other Salisbury newspapers.  And so that was one way of relating the two experiences.

When I was writing my piece for History in Ireland, I came across, in my papers in Rhodes House, on the back of lecture notes, a sort of outline that I’d written then, about 1960 I suppose.  I wrote a sort of outline comparing and contrasting the Irish nationalist movement/ anti-colonial struggle with the African one.  So I was beginning to see that there were those connections.

And was that unusual at that time?  Because it’s standard fodder on modern history courses these days.

I think the idea that Irish history was colonial history was unusual at that time. But, of course, I came to writing about anti-colonial nationalism through beginning to participate in the African movements. And then I found them –how shall I put it? – not at all repulsive from a liberal point of view.  I suppose, had I enquired more closely, that I would not have been comfortable with the methods that were used to get so many people out on a Sunday morning: the intimidation of church congregations, and particularly what happened when two nationalist movements were competing with each other.  There were already signs of intimidation and so on.

But the explicit ideology of those movements in those days, the African National Congress and then the National Democratic Party and ZAPU, was ‘nationalist’ in the sense that it wanted a majority rule. But it wasn’t racist to start off with: I was myself a member of the party, after all.  It wasn’t racist and it wasn’t racist in its rhetoric; in fact, it was surprisingly not so.  It wasn’t violent. You must remember, that was the time when the African National Congress in South Africa was committed to non-violence and passive resistance. It was very democratic, in that it was saying there must be an extension and a realisation of human rights and democratic entitlements.  You’d get meeting after meeting, with dear old George Silundika lecturing a huge crowd of people on the history of democracy, from Athens to the present. And it seemed to me to be a totally justifiable series of claims.  Of course land was part of it, but certainly not absolutely central.  It seemed a perfectly justified series of claims that were, in a way, calling the bluff of the formal position of the federal government and of the British government. I suppose the only word one could use for it was inspiring.

The meetings grew and grew and grew; the size of the meetings grew and grew and grew; one felt it was like O’Connell and the Moral Force movement.  You felt as O’Connell would: “How can any anybody withstand this?”  Sixty thousand people he may have had, we had thirty thousand, all speaking with one voice, demonstrating that the leaders had their support.

Now of course, practically, it meant nothing, either in Ireland or in Rhodesia. The police were not even armed with cartridges, but with tear gas, initially. There were displays of force: one sat on the platform at these meetings surrounded by young white soldiers with bayonets and with rifles trained upon you. It made you slightly uneasy, but at that point I certainly didn’t draw comparisons with Mussolini or with Hitler. This seemed to me to be movement to which you ought to give your wholehearted adherence.

There was the question of what “wholehearted adherence” meant, for the handful of us who were whites. It was arguable that we ought to be more uncritical.  In other words, we were there to show the whites could live under African leadership. That was very much Peter Mackay’s view of it: that we were there to facilitate and to do what we were asked to do. He was asked to do much more exciting things than they ever asked me to do; but we were to do what they asked us to do and it wasn’t up to us to criticise or to suggest policy.

Now that second thing was very difficult to avoid because, at that point, there was a tremendous lack of self-confidence, even though the intellectuals were coming into the movement. Actually, even before I’d joined the movement, during the Congress period, it was I who wrote the Congress’s land policy, which was a demand for the repeal of [the] Land Apportionment [Act, 1930].  And so it was very difficult to avoid playing a more significant role than an ordinary supporter. John Reed used to lecture them on how to be a trade union, and how to run a strike, and so forth. In his diaries, he talks about how he’d read G.H. Cole one night and then tell the trade unions the next morning and so on.

The reason that I decided to apply myself to that as a historian was actually a visit from Dame Margery Perham. She had been up in [Northern Rhodesia] and she came down and went to a Nationalist meeting. She was interviewed in the press saying “I’ve seen all this before, these mushroom growths.  There’s nothing indigenous about this movement, it’s all whipped up by outside forces, Banda and Nasser and all these characters. These chaps I’ve seen talking here, Nyandoro and Chikerema and [Paul] Mushonga, they’re absolutely typical rootless urban spivs.” She didn’t quite use this language, but that’s what she was saying: “There’s no substance to it at all”.

I thought “How can this thing be?  What I’m seeing with my own eyes is a movement that seems to be strong, that seems to be drawing on a kind of double tradition: on the one hand, on the Imperial tradition of human rights for all civilised men; but on the other hand, being able to appeal in these rallies to deep running African memories, through marvellous African Christian hymns, through the prayer to Nehanda and all those kind of things. Maybe this is just manipulation but where does it come from?” And that really was the historical question that I asked myself after I’d finished my doctorate.  I began to work in the National Archives, and the question that I was asking was “where does it come from?”

So you already had the question, before you went into the archives?

Yes. And in the diary, it says that I talked to various people about whether it was a viable project. I didn’t know that I was going to write a good book about 1896, because I didn’t know I was going to go back as far as that.[6] I thought I was going to trace the origins of the Nationalist movement.  That was a project which John Conradie later took up, after my deportation and before his arrest.  So that was what I thought I would do, but, of course, everything depends on definition.

The [National Archives of Zimbabwe], as you know, are extraordinarily rich archives. I was very fortunate to be the first person really to try to make use of them for what you could call African history.  Lewis Gann had been making use of them for his extremely able books, but nobody had made use of them for writing African history and so I dug away.  And ironically enough, the very first file I called for in the archives was called ‘Military Drilling by African Miners’.  I thought, “My God, that sounds fascinating” and I called it up and it was about a dance society, the Beni dance society.  Well, later on I wrote a book about the Beni dance society, but I was so disgusted on this occasion that I sent the file straight back – and could never find it again! [7]

So I was perusing the index of course, the catalogue and cross-file references and so on, poking around, seeing what one could find and being taken further back.  Now you have to remember that there was a thirty year rule and, after all, I was doing it in 1960: I couldn’t get any archives beyond 1930. So that’s why my real nationalist historiography books don’t get beyond 1930.  The first one was Revolt in Southern Rhodesia and then The African Voice, which runs from 1898 to 1930.[8] When I began to teach my Special Subject in Manchester later on [1974-87], on ‘The African experience in Rhodesia’, I can remember we spent a lot of time trying to construct the 1930’s, which now obviously has masses of archives.

So 1930 was a real end point. Of course, although I did indeed write The African Voice book, there were plenty of other manifestations of African nationalism, of one kind or another.  They certainly were scattered and they weren’t of major significance at their time. The key question for Nationalist historiography was whether they were the same sort of thing, or whether they were a lot of extremely disparate manifestations.  I guess the way that people would be inclined to look at it now is that they were covering an enormous range of responses, from accommodation, manipulation, resistance, through to flight etc.etc.  I tended to focus on “mass movements,” which involved quite large numbers of people, and I tended to regard the existence of mass commitment and emotion as more important than formal organisation. So I tended then to see movements of religious enthusiasm, such as independent churches, as surrogate nationalism (which I certainly don’t now – and haven’t for decades).

And so I saw, first of all, the spear and then the hymn book and then the ballot box and then the gun, so to speak. I tended to see the religious movements of that intervening period as more important than the elite political movements.  Now I’ve repented that, in the review that I did of African religion and politics.[9] Because after independence, it became clear that there was a total divide between the world view of the independent churches and the world view of the new African nation states.  They weren’t nationalists; they were anti-state, which is a rather different matter.  But at the time that I wrote The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia, I tended to think that one could shape it in that way.  I had actually collected the material for The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia before I got as far back as 1896, although that was the second book.  The material I’d actually collected the other way round.

That’s interesting. So why did you sit on it for longer?

I think it was more a question of why did I decided to write the other one first, so to speak.  I should say that my intense periods of research in the archives in Salisbury were not unconnected from the moments when the Rhodesia Front were trying to stop me from doing anything. As I got these restriction orders, I wasn’t allowed, first of all, to enter any African area and then I wasn’t allowed to attend any meeting of more than ten people. But then finally I was restricted for three months to within a mile of my house – and the archives were within a mile of my house. That was lucky.

I had to report to the police every day in Avondale in the afternoon, so I would spend every day, every hour of the day, in the archives, and then go to the police; and that was the three months on which my academic career has rested!  I certainly didn’t do everything in that three months – I had worked in the archives before – but that was a really intensive period.  And then, having restricted me in that way at the end of 1962, the restriction came to an end, I went up to Barotseland to see some students at work, and when I got back they came and gave me a deportation order; which I thought was having their cake and eating it too, really, because I had thought the restriction was instead of a deportation order.

So I had to leave the country in March/April 1963, and by that time I hadn’t completed the research on 1896. This was the only time in my life I’ve ever used archival research assistants.  I’ve used oral research assistants, but I’ve never used – and would never use – an archival research assistant, because I think archives is something you have to do.  But nevertheless I had done enough, to the extent that I had identified what I needed, and so my students, Mary Lee Wiley and Rachel Thompson, sent me stuff after my deportation.  Now at that point both those books, both Revolt in Southern Rhodesia and The African Voice, were really entirely archival throughout, even though the second one is called The African Voice and it has a splendid African head on the front where the chap is shouting at the top of his lungs.  (The other irony, which no one had ever noticed, is that he’s actually a West African whom Heinemann Educational Books had in their photographic stock!)

But anyway, The African Voice depends on the citations, and they are all documentary citations. I missed there a tremendous opportunity.  For example, in Rhodesia, I used to go to prison and the camps to visit this wonderful old man Sergeant Masotsha Ndlovhu, who was the oldest detainee and he needed a new pair of false teeth and an overcoat and so on.  And I was actually reading about him, I was reading his speeches and the CID reports from the late 1920’s.  I knew exactly what he said in 1929 in Stanley Square and so on, but it never occurred to me when I was visiting him, taking him false teeth and things, to ask him about it. And actually, when Stephen Thornton years afterwards found him, now out of prison of course, and asked him. It turned out that perhaps he wouldn’t have been a very good informant, because he didn’t care two hoots about the 1920’s or the 1930’s; he wanted to talk about now.  But still, it was funny wasn’t it, really?  I look back with astonishment; I had this man in my hand, a captive audience if ever there was a captive audience!

When did you write your article, ‘Growing from the Roots’? Because in that, you make a strong case for doing oral history, although not for reasons that you might want to give for doing it now?[10]

Well, I increasingly became persuaded that one must do oral history, to such an extent that it actually aborted one of my projects in Tanzania.  I think you’ll find if you look at the very first edition of Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, it had a little puff by dear George Shepperson on the back, which actually went so far as to say that it had made good use of oral history; but that’s quite untrue really!  It didn’t make good use of oral history. Working in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, it would have been quite reasonable to imagine that one could interview people who had participated in 1896. But it just didn’t cross my mind. And that, if you like, is one of the legacies of my Oxford training as an historian. At that stage, History Workshop itself had not really started; the oral history movement really hadn’t started at that stage; and Jan Vansina, who is exactly the same age as myself, was just beginning his oral traditional work.[11] And Vansina’s was a different type of oral history, also.

But I thought more about oral history, after my own deportation and after I had gone to Dar es Salaam and become the Professor of History there [1963-69].  For one thing, the Dar es Salaam archives are nothing like as full as the Salisbury ones, so if one was going to work in Tanzania, it looked clear that you were certainly going to have to use oral history. And then, in those wonderful far off days, the University College of Dar es Salaam had funds for History honours students to do oral research in their vacations.  And so John [Iliffe] and I made use of lots of students, as one can see from the footnotes of A modern history of Tanganyika.[12] John McCracken made use of lots of students to work on African churches in Southern Tanzania.  I made use of African students; there was a lot of African student input into the Maji Maji research project. So one of the things that I learnt in my first years in Dar es Salaam was that you certainly could do oral history and it could be wonderfully illuminating.

And so having written the two ‘where did all that come from?’ Nationalist histories of Zimbabwe from 1896 and the period up to 1930, I moved to Tanzania. Probably no-one else has had this experience of being deported one day and being offered the Chair of History the next, as I was.  I was very relieved: I’d just been a lecturer in Salisbury, not even a senior lecturer, and here I was being made a Professor. And I was also very relieved when David Kimble, who was already Professor of politics, said, “Well, you’ve been such an active young fella.  You’ve done so many things in politics and so on, how do you manage to write so much?”  I thought “My God, he thinks I’ve written so much as well!,” because, of course, I hadn’t got a published book at that period.  Anyway, they offered me the chair there and then.

But Tanzania, of course, was completely different.  There was no political movement that one could make a contribution to, and no-one was impressed if you said “I’m in favour of African majority rule”, because you’d jolly well better be! So what one had to do in Tanzania was foster the University and the development of the history course and so forth.

Were you more dangerous as an historian or as an activist when you were thrown out of Rhodesia?  How significant do you think your historical work was?

I think that at the time that I was thrown out, it was my other work that was more dangerous, or more important, and certainly I wasn’t thrown out because of my history work. When I gave the academic freedom lecture in Cape Town, I maintained that my expulsion had nothing to do with academic freedom.[13] I think the main reason that I was thrown out was for something we haven’t talked about, namely the campaign against the colour bar.  That was very embarrassing to the federal government which in theory was doing away with discrimination and the campaign against the colour bar revealed how totally segregated Salisbury was.

But in the longer term, it’s undoubtedly my historical writing which has had more impact than these direct activities.  Not at that moment, not in 1963 when after all nothing of this had really been published, but in the longer term. Those direct activities have all gone into the box: they’re still remarkably vividly remembered by people who were then alive, but it’s the accumulation of history after history, so to speak, which has had a longer term impact.  But, when I look at my papers in Rhodes House, I’m fascinated to be reminded of how closely I was writing the seminar papers towards these books in communication with the people who were detained and imprisoned. I used to send seminar papers to the detainees at Lupani or Gonakudzingwa or whatever; I have a letter in my files there from Ndabaningi Sithole who read Revolt in Southern Rhodesia a year after it was published, while he was in prison.  How he managed to do that I don’t know, but he did. And he wrote to say, “This is one of the very few books that every schoolboy should read; if I were free I would arrange that you should be given a fat heifer for this book”! Naturally I was very pleased to get that letter at the time and at least I was writing to people in prison rather than the people in power.

So I was having these discussions with Chikerema and Nyandoro and Nyagumbo and they were saying, “We wish you’d write about this.”  They weren’t truckling to people who were powerful, which is one of the charges that can legitimately be brought against Nationalist history that is written after the nation has been formed, when you are writing for the people in power.  In those days, it didn’t really look like these people would be in power. I remember John Day’s title for his article “African Nationalism lastingly crippled”.  It looked more like that; and of course, poor old Ndabaningi Sithole never was in power. And, in fact, the other thing I think, when I read my correspondence, is the astonishing and awful death rate, at that stage, amongst the people I was writing to.  So the people who did know that I was writing that “where does Nationalism come from?” stuff were my students at the University, of course, and then the Nationalist leaders who were in restriction and in prison and so on. Not the government.

So it was a genuine partnership with them for a useable past?  It wasn’t a sort of sideline?

No it was a genuine partnership with them. George Shepperson, when he came to visit, encouraged me in the idea that this was a legitimate subject. He also said, “What’s going on here now, day by day, is history.  You must make a record of everything”.  But I didn’t do that, even though my papers now seem to be the best available record and one and a half thousand pages of them have been digitised for Aluka.[14] I felt that there was an incompatibility between being an active participant and being a recorder.  “There’s a child amongst us taking notes,” so to speak.  And not only was there an active incompatibility, but there was a danger as well, because my house was searched daytimes during this period. Had I taken really full notes of all the meetings that I went to, that could have been a serious intelligence breach.  Particularly, we had this legislation that penalised the continuation of a banned organisation, so the NDP was banned and within a week ZAPU had been formed.  Now obviously it was, in fact, the same organisation; but if you had had effective minutes of the decision to do that, that could have been brought to court.  So now, when I look at the shelves in Rhodes House covered with paper and so forth, it looks as though I kept a fairly full record; but it was nothing like as full as it could have been, had I really tried to.

John Reed’s diary, on the other hand, is actually a daily diary. But John Reed’s diaries are full of agonies. He and I did so many things together that it’s like a diary of my life as well as of his, but I think it’s like Henry V reading his life as written by Hamlet.  I was very much less reflective; John was agonised. But if the Rhodesian intelligence people had confiscated John’s diaries, they could have discovered a lot of stuff.  The remarkable thing is that I just shipped all my papers out at the time that I left the country, and they arrived without anyone interrupting them.  These secret documents have travelled around all the places that I’ve been to.  At that time I felt, “Well, this is going to be a pretty inadequate record,” but now, all these years later, obviously none of the African participants kept diaries; unfortunately there isn’t a voluminous Chitepo correspondence, and so forth. One of the embarrassments of the documentation project of early Nationalism is that so much of the material comes from white sympathisers in one way or another.

Writing African history was quite radical at the time wasn’t it?  Notwithstanding the political conflicts, but simply as historical canon, that was quite radical wasn’t it?

Yes I think you could say that it was. We’ve already talked about oral material, but also I think what it showed was that you could read against the grain of colonial records and construct an African narrative from inside a colonial narrative.

And was that picked up at the time?

Yes, I think it was. Roland Oliver’s review of Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, for example, said “This is one of those rare and precious books that give us an African side of the story”.  Now of course my problem with constructing an African narrative from within the colonial narrative relates to the most controversial issue, as far as Revolt is concerned: namely, the role of the religious leadership.  The whites said, “This whole rebellion is got up by Witch Doctors” and they would have revolted “even against angels,” they said.  Now I stood that on its head and saw these Witch Doctors as Spirit Mediums and Priests of the oracular shrines (as indeed they were).  Nonetheless, I accepted that they played an important role in the rising.  Now critics of the book, [Julian] Cobbing, for example, saw this as taking the process of re-reading the colonial narrative a step too far.[15] You know, every colonial government was saying the rebellions were due to Witch Doctors and there was no more reason to suppose that this one was, than the others.  And so the struggle over that particular thing has raged. I used to say “I know the Spirit Mediums were important in the Guerrilla war of the 1970’s; I’m still not quite sure whether they were important in 1896.”

And now the same criticisms are being made of David Lan.[16]

Yes. We’ve now seen that there’s been a continuity in Zimbabwe of the significant religious figures of this kind. I actually now believe, more than I did for a period, that they were significant in the 1890’s. The whole problem with using colonial records is how much of what they assume, you can assume and then interpret differently.  But all that was important for my career as a historian, because I was looking at African religion in Revolt and then I was looking at African Christianity in The African Voice. In both cases, I was seeing them as part of resistance, but I was finding them fascinating in themselves. That’s the reason, of course, that I’ve subsequently written so much about African religious history, including repenting some of those earlier propositions.

When I got to Dar es Salaam, a very different context, I decided that I wouldn’t repeat the sort of research that I’d done in Rhodesia and was now writing up.  I’d written about the risings of 1896, and in Tanzania you had the great Maji Maji rising of 1905; but I thought I wouldn’t do that, because other people would do that – and did do that.  Gilbert Gwassa wrote a thesis which became a book.[17] There was a big Maji Maji research project at the University and I thought I wouldn’t do the project of ‘Where did TANU come from?  Where did Nationalism come from in Tanzania?’  Although actually nobody has yet really done that. There are a number of books about it, of course: [Andrew] McGuire and Susan Geiger and so on.[18] It looked to me then as though that was a topic that many people were going to be working on and I didn’t want to do that again. So although the period of my Chair in Dar es Salaam is often spoken of as an era of nationalist historiography, it certainly wasn’t through the research that I myself was doing or of what I was teaching. Much of the time I was writing out this Zimbabwean material. I used to go down to Mbeya which is a wonderful place and in the long summer vac., write a book. I wrote Revolt like that and I wrote The African Voice like that and I wondered whether I would ever be able to write a book anywhere except Mbeya.

But what I decided to do for my Tanzanian or East African research was to look at different questions. Initially I wanted to look at things that by definition were not “national”, let alone “nationalist”, that is to say, movements which appear in more than one territory.  I’d been able to work in several archives and now I was able to work in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. So my attention was attracted to the famous dance societies about which we’ve already briefly talked and, in particular, to movements of witchcraft eradication.

Anthropologists had written about these and, indeed, anthropologists had written about dance societies, with Clyde Mitchell’s famous Kalela dance.[19] And so I suppose I wanted to write two books which were a historian’s riposte to anthropology.  Dance and Society is a riposte or a companion at any rate to the Kalela dance.  And I wanted to write a book about witchcraft and witchcraft eradication, which was to be called “The problem of evil in Eastern Africa” but would be a riposte to a Middleton and Winters’ old book of anthropological essays on witchcraft.[20] And for once there was a methodological theoretical point in my wanting to do that. The anthropology that I was aiming at was good old classic functionalist anthropology, which was the least historical kind of anthropology you could get. I wanted to show that things look very different if you see them in terms of a historical sequence. So I think that’s what Dance and Society does to Clyde Mitchell’s The Kalela Dance, and shows the Kalela dances as one situation in a multiple series of situations. The ‘problem of evil’ book would have done the same thing with, for example, Audrey Richards’ ‘A modern movement of witch finders’ piece, where she saw mchapi at one point whereas I had material which saw it over decades and everywhere.[21] And I wrote a long, long piece about mchapi which has never been published but which people have used in various ways.  Well the Dance and Society book got published; the problem of evil was not in the end solved.

The other thing that I did as a personal research project when I was in Tanzania was to look at the Anglican mission in Masasi. That was put in my way by Trevor Huddleston.  Trevor Huddleston was bishop of Masasi and I came to know him.  We went and gave a historical course at Masasi and he said, “We have all these diaries,” because the University Mission of Central Africa obliged all of its officers, not only its white priests and doctors but all the African teachers and evangelists and everybody, to keep a diary, a daily diary. And this went back to the days when the Bishop was on Zanzibar. The Bishop, the famous Frank Weston, would come every year to Masasi and take his elephant gun with him and shoot lions and elephants and so on. And he would go on itineration and he would sit outside a hut and read the diaries: that was the point, or part of the point.  These diaries are fascinating because clearly (01:16:37) sometimes people forget that the Bishop’s going to read this and use it just to say “God I’m lonely and bored” and so forth, or sometimes they remember he’s going to read it and they use it to argue a case.  But there are hundreds of the things, in Swahili and in English. Huddleston said “they’re in danger of being eaten by mice”, so he gathered all the diaries up from his half of the diocese, put them in the back of my Peugeot 404 and I deposited them in the East African collection in Dar es Salaam library, where they’ve recently been used by a Pennsylvania University student to write a thesis about Masasi.

The other half of the diaries (and it goes to show the great truth that documents are never so much in danger as when they’re being moved), were gathered together in Luwaita and burglars broke in, there was a fire and they were all destroyed. So there could have been twice as many. But even as they are, they’re an absolutely astonishing source.

Now this is where we come back to oral history. I didn’t write that book, that Masasi book.  Had I written it, it would have been at least twenty years before the Comaroffs or any other sort of central study of mission.[22] And the diaries of course meant that, on an archival level, it would have been astonishingly well sourced. But I couldn’t do any oral work.  The Masasi lay in a war zone because Tanzanian troops were operating in Northern Mozambique. The Bishop got me permission to go there for two weeks and he was going to call in all his Deacons and Elders and I was going to talk to people.  Then he wrote to me and said, “Can you come a bit earlier? It will be more convenient.” But he forgot to change the dates on the permit. I arrived, I was thinking, “My God, this is going to be great” and then a police officer with lovely leather leggings came in and said, “Come back in two weeks and I will embrace you like a brother but as for today, you must catch the bus this afternoon”.  It was terrible. I discovered that he had a sea of recent documents about Huddleston’s episcopacy which he was going to burn the next week and I couldn’t do any of the oral interviews.  And so I wrote a number of articles about this material, but I didn’t write the book. [23]

Rhodes House has taken all my notes on Masasi because it’s an unpublished book: they won’t take my notes on the books that I’ve published but they’ve taken my notes on Masasi. So I went there the other day with a young woman who’s written her doctorate and is going to turn it into a book and I gave her permission to use any of this material.  But when I saw it in front of me, there’s so much stuff, it was such a major research project, at least as major as any of the books that I’ve written and I thought, “My God, I was really foolish not to write this book.”  Important though oral history is, in a way the diaries represented of course only one perspective but nevertheless they would have been stronger even than most oral history-researched projects on the infractions of teachers and evangelists and clergy.  So I was almost tempted to knock her down and say, “I’ll write this book myself”!  There was, in fact, quite a lot of interview material there, because, as I was saying, the university had funds for students to do research and so I had used some of the students to do research in that area.  So that accounts for the fact that my six years in Dar es Salaam are only marked by the Dance and Society book. I was, of course, writing the Zimbabwean books, but that period could have been marked by a big Masasi book as well, which would have raised fundamental anthropological questions about mission. But anyway, that’s not now going to happen.

So, having not realised that oral history was important in the first two books, I then fetishized it too much. Consequently, to make this a kind of logical story, when I finally was able to get back into Zimbabwe in 1980, now considerably later, I was determined to do a project which would fully combine both oral interviews and the archives and that’s what I hope Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War is.[24] And so at long last I was able to do that; and the subsequent books that I’ve written have all done that.

It’s so striking how the British members of that faculty at Dar es Salaam then came back and did very well in the UK.  Do you think there’s something about researching African history and the Africanist experiences that really brought something very valuable to the English empirical tradition, and that explains why you’ve all done so well?

It’s an interesting question and of course not only the English ones –  John Iliffe, John Lonsdale and John McCracken and so on – but also Edward Alpers in the United States who is just beginning to retire at UCLA and has been the senior advisor on fifty or sixty doctoral theses there.  Walter Rodney, as you say, wasn’t allowed to have a career of that kind.

I think there are several things to be said. The first is that I was very, very lucky to be appointed as professor at a time when what Ali A. Mazrui called ‘Tanzaphilia’ was reigning.  The University College of Dar es Salaam had a grant for one of the foundations to give professors a year in the chair before teaching began. So we were able to construct a syllabus, to order books for the library and to recruit staff.  And so I had this extraordinary opportunity of constructing the whole syllabus myself without any staff to disagree to it, as they hadn’t yet been recruited! And for the six years that I was there, we taught that same syllabus: a course on industrialisation, which John Iliffe taught; a course on nationalism, which included both Ireland and India; a course on ‘historiography of revolution’ where the poor little dears had in one term to understand the historiography of both the English and the Russian revolutions, taught by me and Walter Rodney. And in the exams they said, “The Marxist paradigm is of no use to understanding the English revolution” and then they said, “The only way you can understand the Russian revolution is through the Marxist paradigm”!

So I was able to construct a syllabus but also one was able to recruit an embarrassing plenitude of really first rate people.  Iliffe in any case would have wanted to come to Tanzania because he’d done his research.  The first person appointed was in fact John Lonsdale and here they all were, these Cambridge firsts, an embarrassment of Cambridge firsts.  I tried very hard to variegate: I was bold enough to appoint Ed Alpers for example.  I tried very hard to get people from Eastern Europe and I wrote to Ivan Hrbek in Prague saying “do you have a good Africanist?” and he sent me a man called Zbigniek Marly, a lovely gangling man who’d written a thesis in Czech about Mau Mau, of all things.  But the first thing that Zbigniek said to me when he got into my sitting room in Dar es Salaam was “Oh how glad I am to be here, now I shall never have to think about those horrible people again” meaning Mau Mau.  He was very frank though: he’d taken African history because it was a career, something that he could write without the censors standing over his shoulder. And he came to Dar es Salaam to get out of Czechoslovakia.  I put him onto lecturing on the Russian revolution, just as the tanks were going in to Prague: it wasn’t very sensitive, and he broke down. He couldn’t talk about the Russians – and it was like that throughout the whole university.  The Eastern European people, nobody succeeded in finding a good solid Marxist scholar: they were all people who thought it would be a good idea to get out of Poland or whatever.  Anyway, so we had this history department and of course we began to have the Tanzanians coming back in, Isariah Kimambo, Arnold Tamu and so on.

One reason that they’ve all gone on to be so successful in their careers is that they were so good to start off with.  Another reason, though, is because a small university is absolutely marvellous, as long as it’s full of good people (and absolutely awful if it’s full of mediocre people).  Dar es Salaam was a small university that was full of very good people and it meant that you were in constant interaction.  We had tremendous morale in the department: we were all on the same beam; we all used to attend each other’s lectures so as to hand on the baton for the next course; and so on. John McCracken said to me, “I knew at the time that these lectures were pretty good but I didn’t realise they were the best I was ever going to hear.” It was absolutely remarkable.  Everybody worked very hard and I’d like to think even a solitary, monastic researcher like John Iliffe also gained from the collegiality which existed in Dar es Salaam. And it extended, of course, from the campus to the trips we made all around the country, to give Historical Association conferences in various places.  So it was very good people, inspired by an admiration (which was sometimes taxed) for Nyerere’s Tanzania; taxed, for example, by all the students being arrested and sent away, which was a bit of a blow. This interaction, and continued friendship, lasts to this day. And it is difficult, if you think of those people, even without Walter Rodney (and if you put him in, it becomes even more difficult) to think of that as a bastion of nationalist historiography.  It was enormously more varied than that.

What strikes me is that, in the same way that you were contributing to reading against the grain, all of these people are thinking differently, because the problematic they’re dealing with is different, because it’s in the African context.

I think the closest that any of us got to setting that out is John Lonsdale’s introduction in the special issue of the Journal of African Cultural Studies, which is dedicated to me.[25] Now those articles in there were meant to be part of a Festschrift but that didn’t work, because it lost its organising theme.  But John Lonsdale, in his introduction, is writing about what he calls “agency in tight corners”. He’s saying that if you want to know why African history is important, it’s not because of the great glories of the African states and those kinds of things. It’s the struggle over the millennia to make use of this environment, to survive epidemic and disease and colonial conquests and so on. In a way he’s reflecting some of the themes of John Iliffe’s history of Africa.[26] So it goes back to the so-called inaugural lecture I gave in Dar es Salaam (which in fact I gave more or less in the month that I was leaving, a recessional lecture) which is called something like ‘The recovery of African agency’.[27] John Lonsdale is reinterpreting African agency, you know, not as a glorious heroic swagger, but working it out on the ground. He actually says in that piece “the whole of history is in crisis, everywhere, the grand narratives are all in disarray and you have to start again. And this is where you start again”.  If in Africa the grand narratives of nationalism etc. are in disarray, what you start with is agency under stress.

You see, I think this is something that Africanists brought when we began to get the working-through of the Thompsonian Marxist traditions of class-as-agency. Maybe this wonderful input from Africanists into British History departments was precisely to say there are other forms of agency?

Well, one would like to think that, Diana, but the problem is whether anybody in British history knows there’s been an input from Africanists.  After all, none of these people then, including myself, went on to write anything but African history.  John Iliffe hasn’t and John Lonsdale hasn’t.  It depends how much other historians are aware of that work. There was a long resistance in British historiographical circles, to the extent that you could have a book written about British historical writing that just excluded people who were writing about African and India. Kenyon, for example, was determined to keep them down.[28] Even now you’ve got Linda Colley, David Cannadine’s wife. David Cannadine edited a collection on historiography and it is she who writes about imperial and colonial historiography – and from that perspective, very interestingly. But of course, that’s not at all a perspective that would reflect the Africanist approach that we’re now talking about.[29]

But you were a professor at Manchester and then Oxford; Lonsdale’s a professor at Cambridge; and, as you say, Ed Alpers has been doing great stuff in the States. Even if it’s not through the African history itself…

Well, it’s true that my period in Manchester was thirteen years long and I was not professor of African history but professor of Modern history. My African courses fitted into the overall shape of that Manchester degree. I gave most of the first year thematic lectures, one year on aristocracy and the next year on rural society and so on. The Manchester system at that moment enabled people to narrow down to their specialities. I had the special subject on the African experience in Zimbabwe.  But before I got there, I’d been doing a lot of more general teaching. That was true for everybody. Now, when the cuts came, then the department lost Judith Brown and we didn’t have anybody to teach India etc. etc.[30] But up until that point, I would like to think, it had been a model of how to integrate the perspectives of extra-European history.  I spent a lot of time, of course, working on a non Africanist journal, Past and Present, to try to ensure that they got some good African stuff in with the other material there.

And, perhaps, stuff from elsewhere that interacted with Africanist methodological approaches and theoretical approaches.

There are so many things for a historiographer to do; one of them was precisely to try to interact in this way. When I was trustee of the Wiles lectures in Belfast, for example, it wasn’t a matter of making sure there were lots of lecturers about Africa but of making sure that Africanists were participating in the discussions of those lectures.  But even now in Oxford, if you stray into high table, you can meet a kindly old Don and he says “what do you do?” and I say “African history,” and he says “Good heavens, African history?  That’s an interesting idea.”

“Unrewarding gyrations…”[31]

Yes absolutely

We’ve got you to Dar, we haven’t even got you to the US at this point. But can we leapfrog, because I think it follows quite nicely, to The Invention of Tradition? Because that is surely the moment at which an Africanist really becomes centre stage in thinking about History.[32] And I was wondering, where did it come from?  Did you see it as a Marxist work? And how did the collaboration come about?

I certainly don’t see it as a Marxist work and I don’t see how anybody could see it as a Marxist work.  The great name of Hobsbawm is prominently attached to it, of course.  In fact, we’re going right back to the beginning and Hugh Trevor-Roper.  Hugh Trevor-Roper wasn’t at the original conference out of which the book sprang, but Eric Hobsbawm was determined to get him – although Trevor-Roper used to hang Marxists from his saddle bar, Jesuits on one side and Marxists on the other. But Hobsbawm knew the publicity value of Hugh Trevor-Roper and he was determined to wait for publication until we got the Hugh Trevor-Roper piece.  It delayed the appearance of the book by a couple of years and I was fretting that its time would have passed.

In the end Trevor-Roper’s piece came in. But as it delayed publication by a couple of years, and partly because Africanists were cross with Trevor-Roper, I was rather censorious about Trevor-Roper’s piece.  It’s very different from any of the others in the book.  The others in the book actually take all these imaginative fraudsters quite seriously, while Trevor-Roper’s talking about rogues and swindlers and so forth.  It’s very entertaining and, of course, now, a whole book put together from Trevor-Roper’s writings about Scottish inventions has just been published.[33] But I managed to exert my puritanical influence sufficiently to ensure that the dust jacket of the first publication of the inventions should not have Highlanders in tartans on the front, but have a Welsh harpist.  However, every subsequent issue has had Highlanders in tartans on the front, so Trevor-Roper’s piece has made the splash.

But certainly it wasn’t received, I think, as a Marxist book. There were tetchy people who thought it was juvenile in its anti-imperialism.  They didn’t like me making fun of public schools and so on; but you couldn’t so describe Bernard Cohen, for example, who wrote the splendid Indian piece.  No, I don’t think it was a Marxist book.  I suppose it was before that time, but it might have been thought as a kind of post-modern book.

Well, yes, it was certainly perceived at the time as coming out of that milieu. So I’m wondering how the collaboration came about and what intellectual currents influenced the thinking behind it?

Well it was at a period when Past and Present was having a lot of conferences, a number of which ended up as volumes.  Another one that I was involved with was the conference that gave rise to the book Epidemics and Ideas, that Paul Slack and I edited, which is, even more than The Invention of Tradition I think, the ideal Past and Present book.[34] It’s got great chapters on everything from Athens to Aids, and has sold better than any of the others except The Invention of Tradition.  So The Invention of Tradition began its life as a modest annual conference and to tell you the truth I can’t remember who first enunciated that phrase: I won’t claim a patent on it.  I was mainly anxious, as I was all the time on Past and Present, to ensure that there should be an African presence in the book.  And in Epidemics and Ideas there’s Megan Vaughan’s piece and my own piece but in The Invention of Tradition there’s just the one, of course. And I probably re-wrote that chapter more times that I have ever re-written anything else, to take account of the other stuff as it was coming in and to some extent the passage of time. So it’s different from what it was when I gave it at the conference. I wrote it in the hope that it would interact with the other chapters; and I kept on re-writing it in the hope that it would interact with the other chapters.

Some of the papers that were given at the conference never made it into the book. There was one on regimental tradition, for example, which is an obvious subject and was a good paper, but which never got pulled together.  Trevor-Roper’s wasn’t, as I said before, actually given at the conference and there’s another one (I think Bernard Cohen’s) that was not given at the conference.  So it sprang out of the conference and it sprang out of commissioning: Eric commissioning Trevor-Roper and me commissioning Bernard Cohen.  Eric Hobsbawm wrote the introduction to The Invention of Tradition, with which I don’t now agree completely and I don’t think I ever did agree completely with it.

Looking at how ‘tradition’ is used in African discourses, can you remember what drove that shift in perspective and how far you might have been influenced at that point by post modernism or by anthropology or work on performance? Where did that come from?

To my surprise, it was that part of the chapter – on the invention of African traditions – that was the most influential.  What happened to the book took me very much by surprise.  If you take my own chapter, it could be said, just on the basis of computer hits, that that chapter has been the most influential in the book.  Had I been told that this chapter’s going to be the most influential in the book, I would have expected the first half or two thirds of the chapter, which is about the adaptation of European invented traditions, to be the most influential part. But hardly anybody has visited the first half of the thing.

There’s kind of not a lot to say about the first half once you’ve said it, I suppose.

I suppose that might be so. But anyway, the part of the Invention of Tradition chapter which dealt with the importation into Africa of invented European traditions – putting Africans into regiments and public schools and great houses and all the rest of it – that part, on the whole, was not tremendously followed up. It was followed up to some extent by Helen Callaway on the white women in Nigeria[35]. And, of course, it’s been followed up very much in Cannadine’s book, Ornamentalism, which is a kind of gloss on that argument.[36] I wouldn’t want to describe this book as just that, but it certainly follows through on those themes. And I preceded it myself, I suppose, by doing the work on the Beni dance societies, where you have dramatic African adaptations of the European military mode and so on.[37]

So the main body of the chapter has been developed, but not nearly as much as the turning point where I say “the Europeans were so pleased with the invention of their own traditions that they began to invent traditions for Africans” and I quote from John Iliffe, “Africans obligingly invented tribes to suit the Europeans”.[38] There was a reaction to that part of the chapter: it was both a stimulus to people and it was one of the things, albeit not the only thing certainly, which helped to break down the “closed society” view of anthropology.

However, this second part, on European invention of African tradition, which has been so influential, was fairly cursorily done. It is much more elaborately pursued in ‘The Invention of Tradition revisited’ which was more or less entirely about that.[39] It was only part of the original chapter, and it was done in a kind of shorthand really.  But it was that part of the chapter which came to be referred to in virtually every African thesis for a bit, anthropological ones and historical ones. Other work was published, for example on customary law, that was much more detailed and sophisticated than the things that I’d said about it in that chapter; and it was invoked in the general debate about ethnicity in particular.

But there was also a reaction against that part of the chapter, because of its setting I think, more than anything else.  I remember John Lonsdale saying to me about that chapter, “Oh, that’s the one where the Europeans do everything.” And of course I was cut to the quick by that remark, because up to that point and subsequent to it, my work had all been about Africans doing things, and I didn’t like the idea that I’d reverted to the notion of Europeans doing things.

And that comment could be taken much more widely or deeply.  Adrian Hastings, for example, in his book on nationalism, accuses me, on the basis of that chapter in the Invention of Tradition, of being half Marxist and half racist.[40] Now Adrian phoned me up when his book was published. It has a beautiful picture of Joan of Arc on the front and Adrian said to me, “Isn’t it beautiful?” and I said, “It is beautiful without and vile within!” He said, “Oh, I didn’t think you’d mind that.” But he was interpreting it in the sense that I was saying that Africans had no identities, which of course I would never have dreamt of saying.  How they can have thought that, I don’t know.

I gave a lecture about this at the University of Zambia and one of the historians there, as he went out, said “Well then, who are we?”  It seemed that by saying that many ethnicities were inventions, one was denying African identity. It just shows the grip that ethnicity has on people’s imagination: that if you said Africans didn’t have ethnic identities, it seemed as though you were saying they didn’t have identities at all. And so I needed to explain in subsequent re-visitations of the argument that I certainly wasn’t saying that Africans had no identities; just that they were not necessarily – and frequently were not – ethnic identities.

Consequently, the ‘invention of tradition’ has been a theme to which I’ve constantly returned. Obviously in Eric Hobsbawm’s life, the book’s been entertaining and that’s it.  For me, it’s been rather more a King Charles’s head: I’ve written three re-visitations altogether. In Eric’s case, it’s not something that he’s returned to at all. I did say to him, “What you’ve just written in The Age of Extremes shows that you never read my chapter in The Invention of Tradition!”  But Eric has gone serenely on his way with masterpiece after masterpiece and hasn’t returned time and time again to invented traditions.  I, however, gave a sketch of all the available alternative identities which existed in pre-colonial Africa and continued to exist.  More recently I wrote a conclusion to a Scandinavian collection on the ‘invention of tradition’ today, where I looked at what’s happened as a result of the heritage industry.[41]

In the first re-thinking, ‘The Invention of Tradition Revisited’, I suggest the word “imagining” rather than the word “inventing”.  That was a response to the stuff that was coming out on customary law and to some extent on gender. It was revisiting the forceful equations that I had put in the chapter in the book: this customary invention seemed to be very much in favour of men and patriarchs, very much against youth and women, and so forth. That turned out to be much too simple.  People were showing how women themselves could make use of the new customary law.

So ‘The Invention of Tradition Revisited’, in the volume dedicated to Tony Kirk-Green, was a review of that whole arena, suggesting much more complicated dynamics. Ironically in a way, because, in a volume dedicated to Tony, one might have wanted to put more place on the colonial institutions, it didn’t really look at that half of the initial chapter. It was exploring in much more detail the invention and imagination of identities in the colonial period.

Then I wrote a piece as a kind of appendix or conclusion to a book published by Aarhus, where I looked at the question, “Okay, so what identities did exist before all this?”[42] Because you had people – including highly intelligent people like Adrian Hastings – thinking that I was saying that Europeans invented African identities. Another of my re-visitations was a brief postscript to a book on ethnicity and nationalism edited by Paris Yeros.[43] In that brief postscript I also tried to set out the alternative identities that Africans had. To say that they were not necessarily ethnic didn’t mean they didn’t have the identity of belonging to a polity; or the identity of belonging to a city; or the identity of belonging to a cult or a guild. I racked up the alternative identities, and so there I was, reaching the position that under certain circumstances, even before colonialism, there might have been ethnic identities. But there were so many alternative and multiple identities that, by doing this exercise, one was not impoverishing but enriching the study of Africa.

The last time I returned to it was quite recently in a book edited by two Scandinavian/ Danish anthropologists who had gathered together a collection of work on the invention of tradition, but in a more contemporary period and in parts of the world that our book didn’t look at. So they looked at Eastern Europe and France and so on.  The stuff on France was fascinating, because this problematic hadn’t been pursued very much in French Africa even, let alone in France itself. I wrote a closing commentary on their material.  They tended in their introduction to say, “Well, you know, this shows that inventing tradition is a basic human activity.  Man is not only a ritual animal but that in itself implies constant re-inventions”.  And they had a wonderful chapter on the Northern League in Italy, where they keep copies of The Invention of Tradition in their office and when people come in and say, “Look, all your stuff is garbage, it’s all myth,” then they pick up The Invention of Tradition and say “But exactly, that’s what everybody does”!

Anyway, they tended to say in their introduction that this is a basic human activity; I wrote a historian’s conclusion saying that all these pieces were post the period that the original Invention of Tradition was about. The Invention of Tradition doesn’t actually say that all traditions are invented.  What it says is that this was a particular response to the problems of the long 19th century: it’s utilised by empire but it’s a response to mass politics. You have to re-invent traditions to re-imagine legitimacy and hegemony and so forth. The chapters in this very interesting recent collection are really set in another era of globalisation, but particularly the era of so-called ‘heritage’.  The French chapter, particularly, is on re-inventing French cultures so that you can market the regions.  Many of the chapters in the book are really about that, so it’s an invention of the sort that one can see going on in South Africa and everywhere else.

It’s moved beyond that 1980s post-modernist moment about identity, towards a concern with commodity?

Yes I think so. I think one can see this tremendously in the heritage industry.  I went to that Journal of Southern African Studies conference on heritage in Livingstone and was astounded to hear people whom I had always thought of as historians saying “I’m a heritage specialist”.[44] I realised that in South Africa particularly, this has become a profession. I suppose it’s connected with the sort of post-modernist/post colonialist emphasis upon the mobility of identity and myth: the fact that it doesn’t matter too much if you invent an event because all events are in one way or another invented, so to speak.

So I revisited first to meet laterally you might say, and then I revisited to ask what happened before, and finally I revisited to ask what’s happening now. But the debate won’t go away. People keep on trying to end it, like Tom Spears’ piece.[45]

Which is a very good piece

It’s a very good piece but it doesn’t end it; it opens up all kinds of things.

Indeed it does. I give it to my students to get them to start thinking, not to stop thinking.

One of the things that is striking about the whole debate, but particularly striking about his piece, is that it’s about Anglophone Africa. It doesn’t say anything about what processes might have been going on in Francophone African.  It’s about Christian Africa and it doesn’t say anything about what processes might be similar in Islamic Africa.  In a way, it points out where the great gaps still are, so it doesn’t really finish it. But I certainly don’t want to buckle on my armour and revisit it for yet another time.

No indeed. But it did hit the zeitgeist at the time and that was, as you’ve mentioned, partly because it was seen as part of that post-modernist movement, which we can link to the decline of Marxism with the rise of Thatcher.  Was that conscious at the time?  Were you reading post modernists?

No, I don’t think so. I remember reading Megan Vaughan’s piece, ‘Has post modernism passed us by?’.[46] Megan gave it to me and said “You’ll be glad to hear, Terry, that I think it largely has”!  I now have a very good friend, a brilliant Kenyan political scientist who’s a post colonialist and I’m never quite sure whether the “post” in post colonialist is the same as the “post” in post modern.

She devotes a great deal of her energy to telling me that I’ve always been a post colonialist and that I am now. When my pieces appear in journals with titles that I would never have imagined appearing in, like The Journal of Postcolonial Writing, which had a special issue on African urban discourse, she says “Well, what do you expect?  That’s where they’ve always belonged.  You’ve always been a post colonialist!”[47]

And do you agree with that?

I don’t mind that; she’s almost persuaded me, but not quite. I sat in on her classes when I went to give a master class at the University of Toronto. The class of hers that I most admired was after three weeks. The students were all familiar with all the terminology of post coloniality and she said to them, “Come out and write one of the key words on the board.” And they were all writing these great key words up, ‘hybridity’ and ‘creolisation’ and God knows what; she accumulated about twenty five of these key words on the board. And then she got up and just ran through the whole lot and said “Write me an essay for next week which doesn’t use any of these words”. They were absolutely flabbergasted and bereft. I think that was an excellent piece of pedagogy, and I think that’s where my post colonialism starts.

So you take the ideas and then you turn them back into English empiricism?

Yes. It’s very difficult, though. I pride myself on the fact that I don’t, in my historical writing, use jargon; but, once again, that’s a question of how you define “jargon”. During various phases of the dominant methodologies, I’m sure I’ve used without explanation words like “mode of production” and hegemony and so on. The closest I ever came to being – or trying to write like – a Marxist was in the ‘mode of production’ period.

Well that actually takes me on to my next set of questions.

I was attracted by the mode of production idea because it seemed to give an active role to ideology and belief and so forth, and to make it not just one of the ephemerals, but at the centre. I actually gave a piece to the African Studies Association about ‘mode of production’ theory in African religious systems.  But in the end it didn’t work because it was too static; you can’t make things move.  That was the period when I was most attracted by a kind of Marxism, although I don’t know whether that’s regarded as legitimate by Marxists or not.  But other than that, I certainly never have been a Marxist.  I’ve never read Das Kapital, for example. I’m the kind of Marxist who’s read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and not Das Kapital! And Jacques Depelchin, criticising my work, said that its relationship to Marxism was like a tourist sending postcards home, favourite beauty spots and saying “wish you were here.” And I think that’s exactly right.  Every so often I’ll send a postcard of ‘modes of production’ or whatever.

But you said it doesn’t move?  What then do you see as the motor of history?  What does make things move for you?

It’s a sort of long dureé/short dureé question, isn’t it?  I’m not really a long dureé man.  I suppose when I say, ‘it doesn’t move’, it only moves over very, very long periods of time, so if you thought that those were really the important changes, then that wouldn’t matter much.  But I like my movements a bit quicker than that. [laughs]. I suppose it goes back to John Lonsdale’s ‘agency in tight corners’.  Everything else is moving around you, against you, under your feet.  You certainly don’t have freedom of action, because much of what you can do has already been cancelled out or whatever.  But you are acting within those constraints and in terms of human society, that’s what produces change.  It can be repetitive change, of course.

Which is quite a Marxist way to think?

Oh you can be a Marxist in so many different ways

It’s one of those postcards that say ‘the past hangs like a nightmare on the brains of the living’ and ‘Men make their own history, but not under circumstances of their own choosing’.[48]

Yes, I suppose that’s true.  I suppose, as an historian, I’ve always assumed that what we’re studying is change and for me, changes are good.  So, for example, if I wrote (as I have done) about Aboriginal history in Australia, I know they don’t want change.[49] They have a strategic essentialism, because they want to say “We’ve been here for ever and we didn’t come from anywhere else.  We’ve been here all the time and we go on doing what we did do and we hold our title to land. We’ve been here hundreds of thousands of years.” And you can show that’s not true, that none of those propositions are true.  And if you show they’re not true, then a great anger rises – and I entered that situation as an innocent, thinking it was nice to have change and to be responsible for change and not sit there static, moulding into the rocks for millions of years.

So I’m predisposed towards change. This is a tension that runs through the nice little course that Ben Knighton and I offer on religious change in Africa, at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.  Ben’s book on the vitality of Karamojong religion is a no-changing book within the recognition of change.[50] He starts off by using linguistic evidence and so on, and if all that’s reliable, then the area where the Karamojong now are has changed fantastically over the last centuries. But, according to Ben, it hasn’t changed since it became Karamojong.  So he would see that change as a series of dots on the mind: there is change from one dot to another, but you’re in one dot. I like to see changes almost built into a religious system or into an African social system, where challenges and crises sometimes repetitively produce responses.

This is very interesting actually, this idea that there are stories that deny change and there are institutions that deny change, while necessarily being in the process of change.  In a way, that runs through a lot of your work doesn’t it?  Right down to the challenge to patriotic history, a lot of what you’re doing is revealing what, in post-modernist terms, the discourse is denying.  You’re finding tradition or dance or patriotic history or the story of the settlers and you’re showing that there’s actually much more dynamism in it than the discourse would allow.

Certainly what I like to do goes with change. For example, I like narrative: one of the reasons why I wrote Revolt in Southern Rhodesia before I wrote The African Voice is that Revolt in Southern Rhodesia is a narrative, a cracking good story. And in English 17th century history, all the great narratives had been taken.  Yvonne Vera used to say that all the best – from book titles to husbands – had been taken already; well, narrative goes into that category.[51] Yvonne manages to do without narrative more or less, but I can’t: I need narratives and narrative needs movement.  A narrative is essential to understanding: hence the indignation with which I greeted the Comaroffs and their denial of narrative to African society.

But I haven’t thought about this philosophically, I must say. And if one did, I suppose this whole question of change would have to be linked with questions of time and scale and rates of change and so on.

One of the things that’s very un-Marxist about your work is the causative role given to religion and charismatic change.  How far, then, did Weber influence your work? Of course, this interest in religion is one of the things that Africanists have in common with the 16th and 17th century, the Early Modernists, which you don’t get in the same way with the post-industrial histories.

Well, that ought to be true, but you’d be hard-put to it to find any religion within my doctoral thesis. That’s what I meant by saying that it was very much a product of its time. Had I expiated more about religion, it would have been about hypocrisy, I guess.

But nonetheless, being immersed in that period may have made you more attuned to those things in African history?

Well being immersed in it prior to my doctoral work, yes. That’s true.

It’s something that’s very distinctive about Africanist history. It’s interesting to consider whether that’s the result of the historians – the influence of people like yourself – setting the tone of the discipline; or whether it’s something that’s inherent. I argue to my students that it’s inherent in studying African history; in other words, we do it because we have to, not because people before us had done it and set the trend, as it were.

This Kenyan woman who says that I’m a post colonialist, I first met her when I went as historian for the day to Philadelphia and final year students were all divided up and asking questions about various sections of my work. She came on to the last panel which was talking about Voices from the Rock.[52] I didn’t know who she was, but I remember her saying “I expect you are all waiting for me to be devastating aren’t you?  But I’m not going to be devastating because it’s a wonderful book and I’ve told you all along that cultural imperialism is really the worst kind of imperialism.  That’s what this book is about.

In so far as there was a zeitgeist from the late seventies through to the nineties, you always seemed to hit it.  You always very modestly deny this, and say you were just looking at the evidence and thinking of ideas. Nonetheless, just as women’s studies were beginning to emerge, you came out in 1981 with the piece on women in Makoni district, which was the only piece that had done that. It was really ground breaking.[53] Then with The Invention of Tradition and then again with question of ethnic identity, you were very much hitting the zeitgeist of the post class-based, post Marxist, identities debates.

Were you consciously following those trajectories or do you think you were just picking up on the background noise?  In other words, what made you start thinking in those ways?

Well it’s interesting. I suppose I’ve always read a lot and read recent material. One of the temptations one has to struggle against, as you know, is to take the most recent material more seriously than even the best of the old material, which is something to be avoided.  But as one reads the recent material, so in a sense, that familiarises you with the way that questions are going. And then I was policed by enthusiastic gender people who looked in my indices for mentions of women and so on.

Was that your students? It was back at Manchester when you did the Makoni District.

Yes that’s true, but it wasn’t really my students. My students on the whole rather tended not to want to do gender studies just because they’re female. No, I was thinking of other people, who would say they’d picked up my biography of Thompson Samkange and were looking for references to women and then they found there was actually a whole chapter about a woman![54]

Well indeed, but that was a lot later than the Makoni piece.

This was a lot later, yes.  I’m sorry: I’m going to give you a situational rather than a theoretical answer.  ‘Women in Makoni District’ arose because there was a day meeting in London on ‘Women in African politics’. I had a lot of material from my Makoni research which related to that, which I hadn’t used to any great extent in writing Peasant Consciousness & Guerrilla War. It was a good opportunity to bring that material together.  It did appear early in the development of that kind of stuff and it was never published.  I think if I were to re-read it again now, I would find it a bit disturbing, because what it essentially says, as I remember, is that women are in the politics of Makoni district as victims and objects and so on.

No, you said much more than that.

Did I?  Good

Yes, you said that they could be powerful in certain contexts; at least, that’s what I remember. Maybe time changes what we remember of things.

Well probably I did say that, too; and I probably talked about the women’s uniformed organisations in the churches and so forth.  But the fact of the matter is that I had a lot of material available: we’d interviewed a lot of women, for example. And in that Makoni and Mutasa area, they’d had, in pre-colonial times, interesting and strange female roles, with sisters of the chief, and the princesses who had been revived in Makoni since then.  There was a lot of stuff, in other words.

So in a way it’s partly that when I research a project, I over-research it. Most people do, no doubt; but I over-research a project and I always have a tremendous amount of material left over, which I don’t make use of in the first putting together and to which one can return. For example, I’m still writing my Bulawayo book[55] but there’s a topic that I hadn’t known I was paying attention to, namely the question of burials and funerals in urban areas. My attention was drawn to that topic by reading work on West African cities, where you have cemetery politics and mausoleum politics and so on. So I just asked the question whether one could write about that in the context of the totally different Southern African colonial town, and I found when I went back over the material that I had on Bulawayo that I had masses of stuff on that.[56] That piece is now going to appear in an anthology on funerals and death in Africa.[57] So, in a way, one collects tremendous amounts of material and then one’s attention is diverted to questions which are interesting

So you pitch your material to catch any wave that’s passing?

Yes quite, in a way, yes

Could we return to the Samkange book? Because I’d like to talk about biography. Certainly, one of the things that made that book, to me, an outstanding book was its treatment of women and the very serious way in which you treated the Samkange women as part of the story. Again, until Terri Barnes and Michael West published their material, the Samkange book was the only text on the experience of the respectable middle class African woman, and the huge strains that they were put under.[58]

I think it’s a very moving book as well. I cried through parts of it, and felt it was just a very human, very moving book.

But I wondered why, apart from the opportunistic situation of having access to all this wonderful material, why biography?  Was it because you felt this was a genre you hadn’t tried yet and you were particularly interested in some of the theoretical issues around biography; or was it just that this was the best thing to do with that material?

It was partly both.  I can remember that when I came to St Antony’s as Professor of Race Relations, Theodore Zeldin had insisted that we discuss something intellectual before governing body meetings. So we had a habit of Fellows in turn explaining briefly why they were doing what they were doing. When it came to my turn, I actually cited Theodore Zeldin himself, because he had said to me, when I got to St Antony’s, “How sorry you must be that you abandoned 17th century history, so rich and glorious, and had to fall back on African history”.  Now he meant it for the best, but I heard him with incredulity. And so I explained to the St Antony’s governing body that, although indeed great stuff has been done in 17th century history since then, at the time that I left it all those years ago, it had got itself into rather a static and stuck position: so much had been done already. You couldn’t write a grand narrative and you couldn’t write a narrative of a war, for example, as I did in my very first book on the Chimurenga.  You couldn’t write a significant biography because all the significant people had had their lives ‘done’, so to speak.

But in African studies there was everything to do, I explained.  You could write narratives and you could write biographies. In that sense, there was everything to do.  Now of course, since then, very large numbers of people have been writing African history, and so that fluidity and flexibility doesn’t any longer exist. But I realised then that I was interested in the idea of exploring a biography.

Moreover, there were these wonderful papers in the Samkange Castle, to which I was given astonishingly complete access.  Although, to come back to the question of the treatment of the women: that did require a sort of imaginative lead, because they weren’t there in the documents. You know, it gradually dawned on me that there wasn’t a single letter to or from a woman in that whole huge collection. You have Stanlake Samkange’s heart-breaking letters about his girlfriend in South Africa and I think perhaps he quotes from, or maybe there actually is, a letter from her to Stanlake. There’s this very touching letter where she says how unworthy she is of him.  But Grace Samkange, the major figure in the story, there’s not a single letter to her or a letter from her.

So one had to reconstruct her significance: partly through oral interview and partly through the press. I was looking at some of the Samkange material the other day, in relation to the work I’m doing at the moment, and I realised that I didn’t actually quote in the book the jovial and very off-putting way in which Thompson refers to Grace.  He always calls her “my heifer” and so he writes to somebody saying, “My heifer is at the farm and expects me to go and help her work” and so forth.  It’s obviously an affectionate description and he’ll generalise it so that he will say “I hope that we shall have as many possible people as we can get for the congress meeting, so please do bring everyone including heifers”. I don’t think I quote that in the book.

And it struck me again, when I was looking at the material, that, had I quoted it, would that have modified people’s attitudes towards him?  There’s not as much oral interview in that book as there might have been: partly because the written sources were so abundant but partly because I was focusing on what one might call the core of the Samkange family. There was a possible resentment or a problem with the extended family and the degree of emphasis that was being given to Stanlake, who wasn’t the eldest son. And then there was the ambiguity of his wife Tommie, a most remarkable woman: an American Negress who had inherited the family farm after Stanlake’s death.

It was a native purchase area farm, but the family thought it was a family farm. Although she inherited and had the title deeds, they would go and collect wood and run cattle there. You can imagine the tensions there: it had become, like so many of those native purchase farms, really more the family “Hero’s Acre”, as Stanlake used to call it, than anything else. Certainly, by contrast with their other assets, it was no longer at all important in the economy. But precisely because it had come to take on that memorial feeling, it was really contested ground. Stanlake himself was buried there and Sketchley was buried there and Thompson of course was buried there and Grace, but the eldest son is buried in the communal area. Now, I didn’t elaborate that in the book either but it was certainly very much a tension of which I was aware.

What were the theoretical challenges that biography, as a new genre, raised for you? (Although actually what I hadn’t realised is that your doctoral thesis was to some extent biographical as well wasn’t it?)

Well it was about a man, yes. But it wasn’t biographical in a rich and human way, I’m afraid, because it was caught up in the Oxford paradigm of patronage politics and the idea that the wealthiest man in Britain must be the most influential. So in fact it is almost entirely on his management of wealth.

Indeed, whereas this was actually a family biography. Was there anything about that moment, after you’d finished your Peasant Consciousness book, which attracted you to biography?

And do you feel you contributed anything to biography as a genre through writing a biography?

Well it’s an interesting thing to think about at this moment, because I’m currently writing my book on Bulawayo. It’s called “Bulawayo Burning” as a tribute to Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning.[59] The chapter that I’ve just finished is in fact a biography; it’s not a book but it’s a chapter. I have a new reason for writing this biography, which didn’t exist when I was writing the Samkange book. What I’ve been trying to do in this “Bulawayo Burning” book is to provide a historian’s response to a novel: not a riposte to a novel but a response to a novel, to see whether, by looking at the kind of sources that are available for constructing history, one can explore other dimensions or deepen the dimensions that the novelist is exploring.

Yvonne’s book looks at Bulawayo in 1946, intensely through a series of lives, and I’ve just finished writing a chapter about Bulawayo in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I decided to see if I could tell the story of those years through a life, so the chapter is called ‘A hero for Black Bulawayo’ and it’s about an extraordinary character, [Manyoba Khumalo] Sipambaniso, who did absolutely everything from being a dandy; a ladies’ man; a football star; the runner for a dance band; choreographer for the Matabele Home Society’s great pilgrimages to Mzilikazi’s grave; and, finally, the key trade union leader in the late 1940’s. It seemed to me that by doing a biography of him, one could narrate through him the most important things which had happened in the township in those days.

The work made me very conscious of the difference (apart from the question of the genius that Yvonne had) between being a historian and being a novelist.  My chapter took quite a long time to write, because it’s like a mosaic of thousands of little bits: little bits from the archives; little bits from CID reports; little bits from oral interviews and so on. If it reads at all fluently, then that’s a great surprise, because in fact it’s a mosaic rather than a marvellous free hand painting. It made me realise more and more, as I was writing the chapter, the advantages of this painstaking approach. By treating his life as a whole, it puts each of the activities in a different perspective. But the disadvantages are that I can only imagine an atypical ‘typical’ person, so to speak. He’s ‘typical’ because he represents all the things that were significant in Makokoba [township] at that time, but he’s atypical because he’s left so much evidential trace.

I argue that Yvonne’s hero, Fumbatha (meaning ‘the clenched fist’), had he existed, would have known my man and been part of the trade union and so on. But in particular it’s interesting about her heroine Phephelaphi. Extraordinarily, in all the oral interviews I did and all the African press that I’ve read, I’ve come across the significance of Sipambaniso’s wife – she was clearly elegant, cultivated, a good singer and great hostess and so on – but I don’t know what her name was. They’d always referred to her in the African press just as “Mrs Manyoba”, so I’ve no idea what either her Christian name or her family name was. And I’ve been writing to people in Bulawayo saying, “Please find me her name”.  But anyway, I still don’t know what her name is, and that makes one realise, again, this issue of gender. Mrs Sipambaniso had clearly broken through the glass ceilings that Yvonne’s heroine was battering her head against, but we still don’t know what her name was. So you have this great inequality.

Anyway, in this chapter which I’ve just finished, I’ve followed his career, which is a way of coming at issues that have been discussed sometimes almost ad nauseam, like the 1948 strike.[60] I hope the result of that will be a fresh perspective and certainly a fresh perspective on these questions of categorisation.  You know, a lot has been written about Bulawayo and South African towns more generally from a political economy perspective: very much a question of seeking to define class.  Someone like Sipambaniso would undoubtedly, in the early literature, have been called petit bourgeois or, at best, part of the labour aristocracy and not a real proletarian.

Well, I just haven’t raised that categorisation question at all. The only great distinction that is obviously there is between the long term residents and the incomers. He was actually born in the township and lived there all his life and got married there. He was the longest term resident of all.  Ian Phimister and Brian Raftopoulos have written a very interesting piece about the 1948 strike where they conclude that it wasn’t proletarian, it wasn’t taken over by the migrants, and the leadership remained in the hands of the long term residents.[61] So there was a distinction between long term residents on the one hand and labour migrants on the other.  And my man, whose life I’m writing, is the quintessential long term resident. Of course, one wouldn’t be able put together the mosaic of little bits and pieces for any migrant worker, coming and going. So that is the kind of biography that one can do.

Moreover, because it’s a response to a novel, and partly because it’s a self-indulgence, this book is feeding me to experiment. And because it’s a response to a novel, not only have I written Sipambaniso’s biography but also in other chapters, I’ve focused on the individual dramas. I’ve always felt in the past, no doubt ridiculously, that the various books I wrote were necessary books, necessary for Zimbabweans.  I’ve written, I think, so many necessary books that I can write an unnecessary book (although no doubt in Bulawayo it will be regarded as a necessary book). There’s the story that I’ve told, that has been published as an article, of the feud between Godfrey Huggins and the mayor of Bulawayo Donald Macintyre.[62] That’s a kind of duelling chapter, because the scale of white politics in Zimbabwe was so small; the number of people sitting in the council chamber was so few; and the number of people sitting in parliament was so few, that these things could be absolutely dominated by one or two men. And so I’ve told the story of the state’s relationships with Bulawayo very much in terms of the dramatic confrontation between these characters. As Government Phiri said when I gave it as a seminar in UZ [University of Zimbabwe], “I came expecting to find a bit of parochial politics and in fact I got a novel by Charles Dickens.” [63] A comment which I was delighted by!

So, for you, biography is actually a very enabling and freeing sort of genre? In a sense, your new book is a biography of a city as well isn’t it? It frees you to roam across a variety of issues and, as you say, you don’t have to pin things down and categorise them, in quite the same way as when you’re writing a more theoretically driven work.

Well, yes, that’s true. Because clearly individuals move across categories all the time. But that doesn’t mean to say that the categories are not useful. Nonetheless, if you’re approaching the past through individuals, you’re constantly crossing categories.  Another example in the case of Sipambaniso was that his career began as a policeman. He was nine years in the CID. At first sight that seems incredible: how could the man be an important trade union leader? Then I was just looking this morning at the first – and probably the only– issue of the war veterans’ de-mob magazine, where they’re talking about Joshua Nkomo’s funeral and how he was processed through the streets of the townships. His body was carried through Makokoba and Mzilikazi [townships], so the ghosts of the struggle were hovering around the cortege they say and then they say “Nkomo came to continue the work of Sipambaniso.” So that’s going to be a good quote!

Now this chap had been a CID man for nine years and wasn’t ashamed of it. When he was giving evidence to the Labour Board after the general strike, he told them that he’d been in the CID for nine years. And so one has to imagine a moment when to be a clerk wasn’t regarded as a sell-out thing to do. After all, Masotsha Ndlovhu worked in the Native Offices. But eventually it became unacceptable: I quote from that lovely book by Chaza, on being a black policeman, the Black Watch book, where he was proud of being a policeman until he went to a nationalist meeting in Salisbury and George Nyandoro mocked the police uniforms, and after that he felt he couldn’t be a policeman anymore.[64] Well that hadn’t happened by the 1940’s, you see. So there are all kinds of categories: that’s a sort of patriot/sell-out category which doesn’t work in the earlier periods.  Therefore, of course the narrative quality of a life is important.

But, in addition to that, for this Bulawayo book, I have large numbers of interviews with continuing residents in the townships, who’d been there for forty/fifty years and consequently are defined as long term residents.  Those interviews were done by a clutch of very able students from UZ. So that means that I use these interviews in the book as a kind of chorus, that’s true; but not as an undifferentiated mass.

That leads me on very nicely actually to my questions, which are about your conversion to oral history. It starts with Voices from the Rocks, which is full of oral history; and, of course, oral history also underpinned Violence and Memory.[65]

But I remember reading, when I started my own doctoral research, your 1978 essay, ‘Growing from the Roots’, where you argued, in effect, that we must do oral history because it adds local colour. It seems to me you’ve moved a long way from that, in the way that you use oral history now. As someone who strikes me as temperamentally an archival historian, yet you have moved towards a massive engagement with oral history in your more recent work.

So I wondered what you learned from that shift towards oral history and in particular what interests you in it?  You’ve got people like Terri Barnes, for example, who use oral history very effectively to find stuff out; and you’ve got people like Luise White who study oral history to see how people construct their narratives: the way they tell the story, rather than the story itself. I wondered where you situate yourself within those.

Well to answer the last thing, I think the use that I’ve made of the Bulawayo oral material is both a Terri Barnes kind of use and a Luise White kind of use.  I have found things out from it; but at the same time I’ve written about, and am very well aware that, the way that people say what they do is patterned. I find that fascinating, when it’s influenced by the rise of a very different kind of urban history which focuses on the creation of urban slang and urban music and so on.  The sort of wonderful work that Joyce Nyairo is doing in Nairobi for example: it’s a very, very different sort of work on urban culture.[66]

You’re right; I am by temperament an archival historian. In fact, unlike other people who really enjoy oral interviewing, I find it a very intimidating process. I find it exhausting: I can’t do more than three interviews a day, because interviews obviously involve establishing a rapport, interacting with the person.  Archives can betray you but they can’t answer back.  And so when I was doing the oral interviews in Northern Matabeleland, with Jocelyn Alexander,  or doing them by myself or sometimes with Mark Ncube in Southern Matabeleland, I always had to gear myself up to do it.[67] Sometimes they were wonderful: you did manage to engage with people and they were very ready to talk and the interview was hilarious and moving and so on. But I do find it much, much more exhausting than anything else.

And one’s aware of the provisionality: that somebody will come next month and they’ll say something quite different. On the other hand, though, it would have been impossible to write Voices from the Rocks without a great deal of oral history material. I’m very grateful to Mark for the interviews that we did: the interviews with the custodians of the shrines and so on.  Obviously the whole discourse of the shrines, and the competitive claims that they make, are bound up with myth; but nevertheless, all the material that I have in the book about Nkomo’s relationship to the shrines and so on, really depends very heavily on oral material.

So it’s a question of finding out things, though at the same time also discovering what the idioms of discussion and the idioms of discourse are. Because, as you’re talking to people connected with the shrines, the claims they are making about Nkomo, or the claims that they’re making for themselves, are cast in a particular language, a particular symbolic language. But then, that itself is ‘finding out things’, because the Matopos is a sacral landscape, so you have to be able to see it.

One of the things that I remember best for the Matopos: it is a great rocky wilderness and I remember interviewing a young man who was a sort of spirit medium and he had a rock. Now, it wasn’t much of a rock – you could clamber up on top of it – but it had an under-hang underneath. He got on to his rock and he told me how I should ‘read’ this rock. (You know, I remember having dinner with Doris Lessing – the only time I’ve ever met her – and explaining how you ‘read’ rocks.)  And this rock was a kind of miniature of the great rocks in which the Oracular Caves are. He showed you how the slope at the back drew you on, up to the top; and how the under-hang at the front prohibited your entry; and how this rock was saying innumerable things to him; and how all the rocks in the Matopos said innumerable things to you, so that he was teaching me how to read that landscape.  I won’t say that I really know how to read the landscape, but that was a revelation in itself. You don’t get that in the Archives…

Funnily enough, while I was engaged in researching on the Violence and Memory book with Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor, I had my heart attack in the Matopos.  We were walking up in the Matopos on the day before Jocelyn and JoAnn were due to arrive to do oral research in northern Matabeleland.  The doctor made me come down the great hill very, very slowly: sliding down on my bottom, lie clutching the rock and then coming down a bit more until we got back to the road. And that night, drugged in the hospital with morphine, I had a tremendous dream. It was in August and it was time for the rain ceremonies. In my dream in the hospital I felt that the rocks and the hills and the valleys were resettling themselves ready for the rainy season, and that I was part of that process (presumably because I’d just been in such close contact with the rock). And when I woke up in the morning I said to the nurse, “That was very well done,” meaning that everything was ready for the rain now, a sort of metaphysical experience.  But doing research in the Matopos was rather good for metaphysical experiences.

So the oral side of that was certainly very important, even though there is a very copious archival side.  Now in Violence and Memory, most of the oral interviews were done by Jocelyn and JoAnn: they spent months in Inkayi and Lupane.  I went and worked with Jocelyn in Inkayi and I was about to set off to work with JoAnn when I had my heart attack; so I never did actually work with JoAnn in Lupane. They are both wonderful, inexhaustible, unflagging oral interviewers, so most of the oral interviews there were done by them. That book is jointly written by all of us, but in effect I wrote the first two thirds and they wrote the last third. So it was they who wrote on the guerrilla war and Gukurahundi and made use of all that extraordinary oral material and the material that Jocelyn got from the ex-dissidents and so on. [68] There is some oral material in my two thirds of it as well and I’m proud of the book because I don’t think it’s easy to tell the join between when I stop writing and they start writing.

Shula Marks asked me whether it was different from a book that I would have written myself.[69] I suppose I did accentuate nasty violence in the early chapters, because it was leading to memories of nasty violence, more than I might otherwise have done.  But it was a wonderful experience: it’s very good to have colleagues, because you know that at least two other people are interested in the material! It’s always a problem that one has with research: it becomes fascinating to you, but is it going to become fascinating to anybody else?

So yes, I’ve certainly changed my attitude towards oral material. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t publish my work on the Anglican missions in southern Tanzania because I couldn’t do any oral interviewing. At that point, I probably overestimated the importance of oral evidence.  But you can see from some of the urban histories that have been published recently the difference between those who can get at the oral material and those that can’t. For example, Andrew Burton’s very interesting book about crime in Dar Es Salaam is almost entirely based on archival record material; and yet you feel the whole time that he knows and wants to make use of a very popular cultural side of things.[70]

I suppose also it reflects the Africanisation of a European discipline: because Africa is so orally based, perhaps it’s forced those of us who come through the archival background to have to engage with methodologies that we wouldn’t otherwise have to engage with?

Sure, sure and that’s one of the other fascinations of being an Africanist. Clearly it’s inexhaustible, the challenges that one’s constantly offered.

And there’s a debate as to which you start off with, if you have a new research project. Should you start off by working in the archives and then go to the field – and if you do that, it’s said that your mindset has already been fixed by the colonial archive and that the questions you ask in the field are determined by that? Or should you start in the field and only then go to the archives to pursue in the archives the questions that struck people in the field as being important?  In practice, I’ve always done the archival work first and the oral work second.  Anthropologists characteristically tend to do it the other way round; but many of them don’t give themselves long enough in the archives for it to be a useful interaction between the two sets of sources.

And I would also say – and I would imagine you would say as well – we have learnt how to be anthropologists in the archives.  We have learnt how to use the archives in a way that doesn’t simply involve buying into the colonial reading.

Sure, yes. I’m not as much an archival historian as John Iliffe is, but nevertheless I love spending hour after hour after hour in the archive. I am firmly of the belief that you get compound, rather than simple, interest from doing that: that you get to understand how the archives work and why what is there is there, and so on.  And if you come in with your photocopying machine or your ‘sucker-up’, whatever it’s called, then you will drive away with great piles of archives but they’re out of context. So I think you really have to work in the archive hour after hour.

Well I would agree with you there.  Of course it’s fortunate that the archives we have to use, like Rhodes House and the Zimbabwean archives are such nice places to be. It might not be so much fun in some other archives.

Can I move on to the next set of things I wanted to ask you about, regarding the moment at which you got the Oxford Chair in 1987?  I think that was probably the most challenging moment to get that particular Chair, because it was, of course, the Rhodes Chair of Race Relations, just at a time when the whole discourse of race in Britain was being completely redefined by Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy in The Empire Strikes Back and so on.[71] So you had a completely different type of challenge from anybody who had previously, or would subsequently, hold that Chair.  I wondered how far having that Chair at that moment led you to reflect upon your own role, if it did at all, as a white British researcher?

I don’t know that it led me directly to think about that. But by the time I got that Chair, the whole notion of race relations was discredited, quite apart from the oddity of having a Cecil Rhodes Chair of Race Relations. It was much a part of the time when Kenneth Kirkwood first became professor. He was professor for thirty five years.  I think when he first became professor, he might have established a Centre or Institute for the Study of Race Relations in Oxford: that would have been the moment to do it.  There was still the Centre of Race Relations at Warwick and I was on their advisory board and used to go there. Jan Smuts had urged that Rhodes House become such an institute, even in the 1930’s.  The money for the Chair was very Southern African oriented and Smuts had also been Southern African oriented. He thought that if Oxford did that, then it could become as important to Bantu Studies as it was to the classics.  Smuts was interested in this for governance and administrative purposes.  But that didn’t happen. Rhodes House actually has never discovered what it’s about; and Kenneth Kirkwood didn’t set up a centre, although he certainly did supervise students who were working in that field.

So when I was appointed 35 years later, I was already very much an Africanist and didn’t intend in my own research and publication to be anything else.  But I did try, for the ten years that I was in the Chair, to run the two things side by side.  I had a weekly seminar – I think we called it the ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnic relations’ seminar – and we had an annual conference. At one point, we appointed Peter Alexander to be the research fellow attached to the Chair, who ran a great conference on race and class here.[72] Peter Alexander was very much more interested in the classical questions of class analysis but also the interaction of that with race. And I supervised a number of doctoral students: of the forty doctoral students whom I supervised during my ten years in the Chair, something like eight were working, not on Africa but on issues of race and ethnicity. Elizabeth Vibert, a brilliant woman, was working for her doctorate on fur traders and images of Indians in Canada.[73] Melanie Chait was working on Hawaiian nationalism and Clare Alexander was working on her “Art of being black” book.[74] I was supervising those people and they all came together in the weekly seminar.  I felt that one ought to take seriously that side of the Chair.  And I think it was helpful to Elizabeth Vibert to become familiar with the African literature when she began to look at the Canadian stuff.

I used to have two African studies graduate seminars a week and one ethnic relations and one religious studies seminar, so I was doing four graduate seminars a week, which to a steel worker wouldn’t sound very impressive, but it actually is pretty demanding. The reason that I was interested enough to do that, and able to do that, was my interest in ethnicity. And one book did come out of this, edited by myself and Yunus Samad and Ossie Stuart.[75] Yunus is a very good historian of Pakistan who’s been teaching ethnic relations in Bradford now for a long time. Ossie Stuart, as you recall, had done research in Bulawayo.

Anyway, the three of us edited a collection, in which there’s a piece by Stuart Hall and a piece by Clare Alexander, among others. The point of that collection, as I said in the introduction, was that there’s a great deal of work on ethnicity and identity in the old empire; conclusions are being reached in this work for Asia and Africa; so it seems to make sense to ask whether the sort of conclusions that are being reached in Asia and Africa can be applied to minority politics in Britain.

I won’t say it made a tremendous splash in the field of British race relations and ethnic studies. Whether it should have done is another question, but I don’t think it did because it was coming at the subject from an unexpected angle.  And, of course, the conference that Peter Alexander organised from within the Chair resulted in important publications for Southern Africa. So that side of it wasn’t completely sterile. It was stimulating, but I certainly wouldn’t make any great claims for what I managed to achieve.

It’s perhaps improper to say this, but I felt that the scholarship as a whole, in the study of ethnic minorities in Britain, was at that time not very inspiring.  John Rex was regarded as a major theorist for example.  I like John Rex, but he’s not a major theorist![76] Now things have greatly improved with Pnina Werbner’s work, which is great, and Clare Alexander’s book and so on.[77] But there was a period where it was pretty unconvincing and humdrum I think.

Maybe two worlds just weren’t meeting. I was reading Homi Bhabha rather than John Rex at the time, and finding that work incredibly exciting and inspirational. But I remember my interventionist piece on white identities got rather a bemused reception at your ethnicities seminar. Although I published it in New Formations and it still gets cited now.[78]

Well, had I become professor much earlier and with more youthful imaging and so on, I might have tried to throw myself into race relations and ethnic studies as a major research interest.  JoAnn McGregor, for example, is not doing quite the same thing, but having done her wonderful African work, she is now working with the Zimbabwean diaspora in this country. It raises some of the questions that were being discussed at that time.

Now William Beinart, my successor to the Chair, has decided not to try to run the two things together and hasn’t had seminars on ethnicity and race. In fact the Chair, I understand, has now been officially allocated to African studies.  Whether they’ll change its title or not, I don’t know. Oxford is the kind of place where they try to get two for the price of one: they wanted me to do African studies and they wanted me to do ethnicity and race. With one blow!

Alongside that redefinition of race in the UK, at the same time, of course, there were big changes going on in Zimbabwe.  I remember very clearly your wonderful inaugural lecture for your professorship where you made the missionary parallel.[79] I wonder, as you moved towards retirement from the Chair in 1997 and decided to go back to the University of Zimbabwe as a Visiting Professor, how far that parallel still seemed to work?

You were always at the forefront of the sort of anti-Eurocentrism that looked for the African perspective. But the academy, even in African studies, was still privileging what came from the European tradition. So did you feel differently situated, as an Oxford professor, when you went back to Zimbabwe, given the subaltern studies’ discrediting of the privileged Oxford voice? Both you and Zimbabwe were differently situated from your last period of employment there. Had the experience of the race relations research assisted you in adjusting to that change?

I certainly was differently situated. Of course, I had been in Zimbabwe every year for longer or shorter periods between 1980 and 1998 when I went back to teach at the university, so that it didn’t come as a total shock, so to speak.

Certainly, Zimbabwe had changed very much and they were very nice to me in the History department because they gave me Zimbabwean history to teach, which was extremely generous wasn’t it?  And I tried to teach it in a question-provoking way, because I think the problem for Zimbabwean students is that they’ve ‘done’ Zimbabwean history at every level of their education, in primary school and in secondary school and now here you are at university. And if you have the outline of it very clearly in your mind, it can be terribly boring to do it again. It’s important, therefore, in teaching it, to try to ask different questions or challenge old orthodoxies and so forth – even if they were old orthodoxies which I’d established myself!  And so I very much did that in teaching the Zimbabwean history. Some of them loved that and others resented it.

One of the odd results of my recent work and going back to Zimbabwe has been that, for the first time, whites have figured in my writing, much more than they ever did before.  This Bulawayo book is almost as much about the whites of Bulawayo as it is about the blacks. And one of the things that I have felt about Zimbabwean historiography for quite a long time is that, whereas it all used to be about whites, now you’re in danger of much too little being about whites. Of course, your own books are very, very usefully about the assumptions of white administrations and missionaries and so on; but there’s an awful lot of attitude in Zimbabwe, even at a scholarly level, that to write about whites is to write about something which is not really important or central.[80] Just as, of course, all those years ago it was assumed that to write about blacks wasn’t important or central. For example, Ennie Chipembere wrote what I thought was an excellent doctoral thesis draft on government policy towards African housing in Salisbury.[81] Most of her material came from white records, of course, and the reaction tended to be, “Well you know, this is all old stuff, you’re writing about all these whites and that’s not an important thing to do”.  Now of course, it is an important thing to do, obviously, because the colonial state created the structures which were inherited. Independent Zimbabwe can’t be understood outside the context of those structures.

I suppose I would say that when I began to write ‘corrective history’ (or what the students in the historiography class in Harare call ‘reactionary history’, meaning that it’s a reaction to the established canon), I began to write the history of Africans because Rhodesian history was so white.  I wasn’t actually saying that what I was writing about was the only thing to write about, or that one could arrive at a satisfactory history by moving totally from one perspective totally to another perspective.  So I reacted against that move. This is why I’ve been so critical of so-called ‘patriotic history’, as a narrowing down of the total set of questions you need to ask.[82] For example, there’s the book that I edited with Professor Ngwabi Bhebe while I was there, on the historical foundations of democracy and human rights. The first volume is about pre-colonial and colonial heritages and then the second volume is on nationalism and democracy and human rights.[83] The first volume actually goes so far as to say that, in the history of the development of ideas of democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe, certain white figures are very important, particularly missionaries like John White.  It’s they who entrust the Samkanges of this world with the prophetic mission: they say to them, “Well, we’re afraid that the missionaries are not going any longer to live up to their prophetic mission, but we entrust you to be the prophets,” you see.  Funnily enough, Aeneas Chigwedere, the minister of education, who’s written some very nationalist history, has also written a book (not I think yet published) about the good white men in Zimbabwe’s history.[84] This includes John White, Arthur Shearley Cripps and Garfield Todd, with Grace Todd as a good white woman. And when Grace died, Chigwedere came down and spoke at her funeral and said she was a hero of African education and so on.  So that was interesting; but I’m not suggesting that one should only write about good white men. There wouldn’t be enough to go around!

Could we move on to discuss your shift towards urban history? This obviously is partly led by the wonderful work that your students in Zimbabwe have been doing on urban history. But I wondered how you saw your work on Zimbabwean urban history sitting alongside European urban history: its methodologies, its questions and so on.  Do you see African urban history as part of a universal urban history genre, or do you think there are differences between European and African urban history?

A lot of urban studies in Zimbabwe had been done since 1980, but very few of them were published for one reason or another; whereas the rural co-studies were being published. So the impression was given that everything was being written about the countryside. But there were theses on Salisbury and Bulawayo: Parry’s thesis for example, and Ossie Stuart’s thesis, and Steven Thornton, who never completed his doctorate, important though it was.[85]

My shift to urban history was once again a very practical thing.  I went back to teach in Zimbabwe after I retired from the Chair here and not so long after I had had my heart attack. I realised that it would be impossible for me to do another rural district case study.  In fact there was a moment, after I went back to Zimbabwe in 1998, when Jocelyn and JoAnn and I wanted to do another book together, moving to look at a region further north. They were applying for finance to do that, while I began to work in the National Archives on some of the district material for the north.  But then they didn’t get the funding and so the joint exercise broke up. Well, JoAnn’s now done the Zambezi Valley single handedly and Jocelyn continued with her own project.[86] So I then began to think, “Well, what shall I do, then?” and I gradually moved into Bulawayo. It wasn’t immediately because of Yvonne Vera’s work; I’d found some materials in the archives which seemed to throw new light on the 1940’s. I gave a series of seminars to the Economic History department and they urged me on with this work.

But then it became, in a way, just possible. Bulawayo is a small city: one can stay in the suburbs with Judy Todd or in the extraordinary Bulawayo Club and in 20 minutes you’re in Makokoba, in the township. It doesn’t involve a tremendous amount of trekking around in the bush.  And there’s a tremendous amount of material. Indeed, that is what has taken me such a long time to write the book. Compared to any rural area, Bulawayo, even the African location in Bulawayo, is extraordinarily documented.  For a long, long time, that location Makokoba was a very small place; then it became absolutely stuffed and heaving. In the late 1920’s there’s a detailed official breakdown of every inhabitant of Makokoba, because the council was trying to buy out African property holders. So you have a record of who owned every property, what rents they got paid or what rents they paid and so on. Extraordinary stuff!  And, of course, the location was wonderful for the oral history, because you just go to the market and the old men are there at the barber’s shop and everything is within striking distance.  The reason that I’m now stopping the book at 1960, rather than carrying it through to the present, as ordinarily I would like to have done, is that it’s just so dense, there’s so much material.

For me, writing urban history has been quite different from my earlier research. In writing the history of Makoni, I was writing about a district that no-one had ever written about.  In Bulawayo, I’m writing about a city that many people have written about.  I worked both in the archives but also in the municipality, with the huge volumes of out-letters and in-letters and municipal records. That was another dimension to the rise of urban history in Zimbabwe. It turned out to provide a whole range of sources that people hadn’t used before.  For all the towns, there were municipal archives, either better or worse, but still they existed.  So then a number of us began to work on this and I organised two or three workshop days on urban history. A sense of real excitement began to grow on comparative urban history.

Now, as all this developed, I hadn’t read a lot of contemporary European urban history. In one of my articles I rather outrageously characterise it by borrowing from somebody else’s writing, saying how dull it’s become and how it’s lost all the excitement of Edward Thompson; it’s more like sociology than history.[87] Of course, that’s a caricature, but the alternative caricature is that studies on Zimbabwean towns used to be sociology and not history. In Bulawayo, you have a whole series of classic sociological reports that raise the ‘problem of de-tribalisation’. But I think that the problematic of the historian is a different one. The assumption is not that these towns are places where Africans can’t live or are ill prepared to live.  Nonetheless, until recently, you didn’t really have historians working on the towns with the opposite problem of urbanisation: how people become part of a town and how an African urban culture emerges.  You had the work of Tsuneo Yoshikuni, but unfortunately that was only published recently.[88]

So I still haven’t read much recent European urban history; but I’ve read a lot of recent African urban history and particularly Southern African. Some of the South African work, which is beginning to move away from a tight political economy perspective and to look at urban culture, is now being very useful.  And, of course, I referred earlier on to Joyce Nyairo’s work. I haven’t yet got my hands on the book edited by Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall about culture in Johannesburg, which certainly I must look at.[89]

I have a piece coming out in a German anthology, about the local and the global, in which I argue that Europeans, I suppose, had the Empire as a globalising force, but that was actually beginning to fade away.[90] It was Africans who were dressing up to the latest smart mode with the music and all the rest: the football teams called after the great powers and so forth.  So there’s this extraordinary interaction between the appropriation by African music groups of American and Afro-American music and the fury of the Europeans at the brashness and smartness and glitter of the Africans.

So I think this history of Bulawayo will certainly be different from the massive sociological reports that were published in the past, although, of course, one can draw upon them.  The thing this book is closest to, in fact (although whether he would agree I don’t know), is Michael West’s work and particularly his thesis rather than the book.[91] I wrote a review of the book (which was no doubt to him annoying), saying that I much preferred the thesis, because the thesis is full of bicycles and boxing and prostitution![92] That’s all been tidied up in the book. I said in the review that I could imagine the publisher saying, “There’s nothing middle class about this,” and so what he’s got instead is a narrative of the different phases of nationalism.

However, I learnt when I went to the meeting in Cape Town on the history of Zimbabwe that in fact people find West’s narrative useful; there were plenty of references to West’s theories of nationalism.[93] I didn’t appreciate that it was as useful as it has been, so I repent of that.  I thought that it was a repetition of what one already knew about nationalism, and that the social history side of it was much more interesting.  But still, he has a masterly account of the politics of tenure, for example leasehold and the struggle for urban citizenship, which will certainly have to come up very much in my next chapter.

And which is also a theme you find right through studies of European cities as well.

Yes quite, you do indeed.  And urban tenure complicates citizenship, which is already a complicated question.  Obviously citizenship originates in an urban context. Nationalism in Bulawayo is complicated by people wanting to be ‘citizens of Bulawayo’ and voters in municipal elections, simultaneously with, or even more importantly than, the national vote.

It does sound as though you have a distinctive voice for this urban history, unlike what other people have done. It sounds very typically Ranger-esque in its variety of interests and themes, including the integration of cultural matters into a political history.

Yes. It is a political history, I suppose, but it’s a municipal political history and only just about to become national. I’ve written lots of little bits along the way: I’ve written about photography, for example, and how you set out having photographs of male dandies and end up with photographs of female beauties; I’ve written about boxing; I’ve written about death.[94] Some of that I can’t get in to the book; but of course I can give references to these fascinating files on voluntary associations and the minutes of the advisory boards and so on. Wonderful rich stuff.

One last question, if I may. A surprisingly large number of people who had you as a doctoral supervisor or, like me, came to the seminars you organised and were hugely influenced by your approach to the past and to African history, have become professors, become heads of department, have stayed within the profession. I wondered whether you think that there is, as it were, a ‘Ranger School’ that continues to exert an influence in UK universities, with so many of us being heads of our departments.  Do you feel you have a legacy that extends outside of African history?

I certainly don’t want to think that there’s a ‘Ranger School’ in terms of a single interpretative theory or tradition. I’ve always tried to encourage people who want to go in very different directions from each other.  I remember John Lonsdale met both Heike Schmidt and David Maxwell and said, “Can you both be students of the same man?”

Terry, thank you so much for your time and your generosity in answering all these questions.

[1] Hugh Trevor Roper became notorious amongst Africanists because of his comment that Africa had no history beyond “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes.” Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Past and Present: History and Sociology,” Past & Present, vol 42, 1969:3-17.

[2] Terence Ranger, ‘From Ireland to Africa: A Personal Memoir,’ History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 4, Ireland & Africa (Jul. – Aug., 2006), pp. 46-49

[3] John McCracken, ‘Terry Ranger: A Personal Appreciation’, Journal of Southern African Studies, vol 23, no2, June 1997: 175-186

[4] Alexander Balloch Grosart, ed., The Lismore Papers of Richard Boyle, First and “Great” Earl of Cork: Selections from the private and public (or state) correspondence, Chiswick Press, 1887

[5] ‘Richard Boyle and the making of an Irish fortune, 1588-1614’, Irish Historical Studies, vol 10, no. 39, 1957

[6] T. O. Ranger, Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-7: A Study in African Resistance, London: Heinemann, 1976.

[7] Terence O. Ranger, Dance and society in Eastern Africa, 1890-1970: the Beni ngoma,
University of California Press, 1975

[8] T. O. Ranger, The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia, 1898-1930, London: Heinemann, 1970.

[9] Terence O. Ranger, ‘Religious Movements & Politics in sub-Saharan Africa’, African Studies Review, vol 29, no. 2, 1986: 1-69; see also Terence Ranger. Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008

[10] ‘Growing from the Roots: Reflections on Peasant Research in Central and Southern Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Special Issue on Themes in Agrarian History and Society,1978: 99-133

[11] Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition. A Study in Historical Methodology (Translated from the French by H. M. Wright). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965. Vansina’s oral history reconstructs the distant past through a critical analysis of the oral accounts preserved in African praise songs and royal genealogies.

[12] John Iliffe, A modern history of Tanganyika,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979

[13] ‘Towards a radical practice of academic freedom : the experience of East and Central Africa’, 22nd T.B. Davie memorial lecture, University of Cape Town, 1981

[14] Aluka is an international, collaborative initiative, building an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa: http://www.aluka.org.

[15] Julian Cobbing, ‘The Absent Priesthood’, Journal of African History, vol 18, no 1, 1977; D. N. Beach, ‘Chimurenga: the Shona rising of 1896-7’, Journal of African History, vol 20, no 3, 1979.

[16] David Lan, Guns and Rain. Guerillas & Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe, London: James Currey,1985.

[17] Gilbert E. Gwassa, ‘The outbreak and development of the Maji Maji War 1905-07’. Ph.D. thesis, University of Dar es Salaam, 1973

[18] G. Andrew Maguire, Toward “Uhuru” in Tanzania: the politics of participation. London: Cambridge University Press,1969; Susan Geiger, TANU women: gender and culture in the making of Tanganyikan nationalism, 1955-1965. London: Heinemann,1997

[19] James Clyde Mitchell, The Kalela dance: aspects of social relationships among urban Africans in Northern Rhodesia, published on behalf of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute by Manchester University Press, 1968.

[20] John Middleton, Edward Henry Winter, eds., Witchcraft and sorcery in East Africa, Praeger, 1963

[21] Audrey I. Richards, ‘A Modern Movement of Witch-Finders’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1935), pp. 448-461

[22] John L. Comaroff & Jean Comaroff, Ethnography and the historical imagination, Boulder: Westview Press, 1992

[23] ‘Missionary adaptation of African religious institutions: the Masasi case’, in The Historical study of African religion, ed. Terence O. Ranger & Isaria N. Kimambo. London: Heinemann, 1972: 221-251; ‘The Apostle: Kolumba Msigala’ in Modern Tanzanians, ed. John Iliffe, Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1973; ‘European Attitudes and African Realities: the rise and fall of the Matolac chiefs of south-east Tanzania’,Journal of African History, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1979): 63-82; ‘Godly medicine: The ambiguities of medical mission in Southeast Tanzania, 1900–1945’, Social Science & Medicine. Part B: Medical Anthropology,Volume 15, Issue 3, July 1981: 261-277.

[24] Terence O. Ranger, Peasant consciousness and guerrilla war in Zimbabwe: a comparative study, London: James Currey,1985

[25] John Lonsdale,Agency in tight corners: Narrative and initiative in African history’, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Volume 13, Issue 1 June 2000:5-16

[26] John Iliffe, Africans: the history of a continent, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995

[27] ‘The Recovery of African Initiative in Tanzanian History’, University College, Dar es Salaam, 1969

[28] J.P. Kenyon, The history men: the historical profession in England since the Renaissance, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983

[29] David Cannadine What is history now?, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

[30] Judith M. Brown, author of Modern India. The Origins of an Asian Democracy, Oxford, 1994, left Manchester to become Beit Professor of Modern History at Oxford.

[31] A reference to Hugh Trevor-Roper, Past & Present, vol 42, 1969

[32] Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds, The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983

[33] Hugh Trevor-Roper, The invention of Scotland: myth and history, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008

[34] Terence Ranger, Paul Slack, eds., Epidemics and ideas: essays on the historical perception of pestilence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992

[35] Helen Callaway, Gender, culture and empire : European women in colonial Nigeria, Basingstoke : Macmillan in association with St. Antony’s College, Oxford, 1987.

[36] David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire, London: Allen Lane, 2001

[37] Dance & Society (1975)

[38] A paraphrase from Iliffe, Modern History of Tanganyika (1979):318

[39] ‘The Invention of Tradition Revisited: the case of colonial Africa’, in Terence Ranger and Olufemi Vaughan (eds.), Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth Century Africa London: Macmillan (1993): 62-111

[40] Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997

[41] Tom Otto & Poul Pedersen, Tradition & Agency: Tracing cultural continuity and invention, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press (2005).

[42] ‘African Identities: Ethnicity, Nationality and History. The case of Matabeleland 1893-1993’ in J. Heindrich, ed., Changing Identities, Berlin: Centre for Modern African Studies, 1994 [Not certain that this is the text in question: not an ASEN collection, and not before ‘all this’.]

[43]Paris Yeros, ed, Ethnicity and Nationalism in Africa: constructivist reflections and contemporary politics London: Macmillan Press, 1999.

[44] Conference held in Livingstone, Zambia, 5th-8th July 2004. A selection of papers was published in Journal of Southern African Studies ‘Heritage in Southern Africa’ Vol. 32, No. 4, Dec., 2006, edited JoAnn McGregor and Lyn Schumaker

[45] Thomas Spear, ‘Neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa,’
Journal of African History, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2003): 3-27

[46] Megan Vaughan, ‘Colonial discourse theory and African history, or, Has postmodernism passed us by?’, Social Dynamics, Volume 20, Issue 2, 1994: 1 – 23

[47] ‘Myth and legend in urban oral memory: Bulawayo 1930-1960′, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol 44, issue 1, 2008:77 – 88

[48] A paraphrase from Karl Marx’s ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’.

[49] ‘Christianity and Indigenous Peoples: A Personal Overview,’ Journal of Religious History, Volume 27, Number 3, 2003: 255-271

[50] Ben Knighton, The vitality of Karamojong religion: dying tradition or living faith? Oxford: Ashgate Publishing, 2005

[51] Yvonne Vera, Zimbabwean novelist, 1964-2005. Her work is discussed in more detail later in the interview.

[52] Voices from the Rocks: Nature, Culture and History in the Matopos Hills of Zimbabwe. Oxford: James Currey (1999)

[53] ‘Women in the Politics of Makoni District, Zimbabwe, 1890-1980’, unpublished paper, Manchester University, 1981

[54] Are We Not Also Men?: The Samkange Family and African Politics in Zimbabwe, 1920-64, Oxford: James Currey, 2003

[55] Bulawayo Burning: The Social History of a Southern African City, 1893-1960, Oxford: James Currey, 2010. Completed and published after the interview took place.

[56] ‘Dignifying Death: The Politics of Burial in Bulawayo,’ Journal of Religion in Africa
Vol. 34, Nos. 1/2 (Feb. – May, 2004), pp. 110-144

[57] Michael Jindra, Joėl Noret, eds, Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011.

[58] Teresa A. Barnes, “We women worked so hard”: gender, urbanization, and social reproduction in colonial Harare, Zimbabwe, 1930-1956, Oxford: James Currey, 1999; Michael Oliver West, The rise of an African middle class: colonial Zimbabwe, 1898-1965, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002

[59] Yvonne Vera, Butterfly Burning, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000

[60] Richard Gray, The two nations: aspects of the development of race relations in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, London: Greenwood Press, 1974; Stephen Thornton, ‘A History of the African Population of Bulawayo’, draft PhD dissertation, University of Manchester; Ossie Stuart, ‘Good Boys, Footballers and Strikers: African Social Change in Bulawayo, 1933–1953’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1989; Olga Bungu, ‘Police and Army Co-operation in Suppressing the Strikes of 1948’, unpublished BA history honours thesis, University of Zimbabwe, 1996; Terence Ranger, ‘Who Was to Blame for the 1948 Strike?’, University of Zimbabwe, Economic History seminar, Oct 1999; Stephen Thornton, ‘The Struggle for Profit and Participation by an Emerging Petty-Bourgeoisie in Bulawayo, 1893–1993’ in Brian Raftopoulos and Tsuneo Yoshikuni (eds), Sites of Struggle, Harare: Weaver Press, 1999:19–52; Jon Lunn, ‘The Meaning of the 1948 General Strike in Colonial Zimbabwe’ in Raftopoulos and Yoshikuni, 1999: 163–82; Ian Phimister & Brian Raftopoulos, ‘”Kana sora ratswa ngaritswe”: African Nationalists and Black Workers–The 1948 General Strike in Colonial Zimbabwe,’ Journal of Historical Sociology, Volume 13, Issue 3, 2000:289–324; Terence Ranger, ‘The Meaning of Urban Violence in Africa: Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1960’, Cultural and Social History, vol 3, 2006: 193–228

[61] Phimister & Raftopoulos, ‘”Kana sora ratswa ngaritswe”’.

[62] ‘City Versus State in Zimbabwe: Colonial Antecedents of the Current Crisis,’ Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol 1, no 2, 2007:161 – 192

[63] Government Phiri is Lecturer in the History Dept, University of Zimbabwe

[64] G. A. Chaza, Bhurakuwacha: the story of a black policeman in colonial Southern Rhodesia, Harare: College Press, 1998

[65] Voices from the rocks: nature, culture & history in the Matopos Hills of Zimbabwe, Oxford: James Currey, 1999; Jocelyn Alexander, JoAnn McGregor, and Terence Ranger, Violence & memory: one hundred years in the “dark forests” of Matabeleland, Oxford: James Currey, 2000.

[66] Joyce Nyairo and James Ogude, ‘Specificities: Popular Music and the Negotiation of Contemporary Kenyan Identity: The Example of Nairobi City Ensemble,’ Social Identities, Volume 9, Issue 3 September 2003:383-400; Joyce Nyairo, ‘“Reading the referents”: the ghost of America in contemporary Kenyan popular music,’ Scrutiny2, Vol 9, Issue 1, 2004:39-55; Joyce Nyairo, ‘“Zilizopendwa” : Kayamba Afrika’s use of cover versions, remix and sampling in the (re)membering of Kenya,’ African Studies, Vol 64, Issue 1, 2005:29-54; Joyce Nyairo and James Ogude, ‘Popular music, popular politics: Unbwogable and the idioms of freedom in Kenyan popular music,’ African Affairs vol 104, no 415, 2005:225-249.

[67] Mark Ncube was the Bulawayo archivist during Ranger’s research for Voices from the Rocks. He carried out many of the interviews with Ranger and went on to develop his own historical expertise and personal interest in the research area.

[68] The Gukurahundi is the name given to the period of massacres carried out in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, in the name of counter-insurgency against putative South African destabilisation.

[69] Shula Marks is Emeritus Professor of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Among her many achievements, she convened an enormously influential seminar series at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London, which pioneered new approaches to Southern African history in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s.

[70] Andrew Burton, African underclass: urbanisation, crime & colonial order in Dar es Salaam, Oxford: James Currey, 2005.

[71] Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70’s Britain,  London: Routledge, 1982; Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, Routledge: London, 1987; Paul Gilroy, ‘The end of anti-racism, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol 17, Issue 1, 1990:71-83

[72] Papers from that conference were published in Journal of Southern African Studies Special Issue: Race and Class in South Africa and the United States, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2004.

[73] Amongst many other works, Elizabeth Vibert, ‘Real Men Hunt Buffalo: Masculinity, Race and Class in British Fur Traders’ Narratives,’ Gender & History, Vol 8, Issue 1, 1996:4–21

[74] Melanie Chait, “Healing Hawaii: The Recovery of an Island Identity. A Socio-Historical Study of Hawaiian Cultural Resistance from the 1840s to the 1990s,” D. Phil., University of Oxford, 1999; C.E. Alexander, The art of being black: the creation of black British youth identities, Oxford University Press,1996

[75] Terence Ranger, Yunas Samad and Ossie Stuart ,eds., Culture, Identity and Politics: Ethnic Minorities in Britain, Aldershot: Avebury Press, 1996.

[76] John Rex, Race Relations in Sociological Theory, New Edition with Additional Material, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983; John Rex, Race and Ethnicity, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1986.

[77] Amongst much other work, Pnina Werbner Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims, Oxford: James Currey, 2002; and two edited collections: Debating Cultural Hybridity, London: Zed Books, 1997 and The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe, Zed Books 1997; Alexander, Art of Being Black (1996)

[78] Diana Jeater, ‘Roast Beef and Reggae Music: The Passing of Whiteness’, New Formations, vol 18 (1992):107-21

[79] Published as Rhodes, Oxford, and the Study of Race Relations, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987

[80] Diana Jeater, Law, language, and science: the invention of the “native mind” in Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1930, Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2007

[81] Based on E. Chipembere, ‘Colonial Policy and Africans in Urban Areas – with Special Focus on Housing, Salisbury, 1939–1964’, MPhil. thesis in Economic History, University of Zimbabwe, July 2002.

[82] ‘Nationalist historiography, patriotic history and the history of the nation: the struggle over the past in Zimbabwe,’ Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 30, Issue 2, 2004:215-234

[83] Ngwabi Bhebe, Terence Ranger, eds, The Historical Dimensions of Democracy and Human Rights in Zimbabw. Volume 1: Pre-colonial and colonial legacies, Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications, 2001; The Historical Dimensions of Democracy and Human Rights in Zimbabwe. Volume 2: Nationalism, democracy and human rights, Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications, 2004

[84] For examples of his patriotic histories, see Aeneas S. Chigwedere, British betrayal of the Africans: land, cattle, human rights. Harare: Mutapa Publishing House, 2001; and a series of school textbooks, including, under a pseudonym, the influential S. Mukanya, Dynamics of History, Harare: College Press/Macmillan Heinemann ELT, 1995

[85] Thornton, ‘A History of the African Population of Bulawayo’; Stuart, ‘Good Boys, Footballers and Strikers’; Richard Parry, ‘Culture, Organization, and Class: The African Experience in Salisbury, 1892–1935’, in Raftopoulous & Yoshikuni, eds., Sites of Struggle:53–94.

[86] JoAnn McGregor, Crossing the Zambezi: the politics of landscape on a Central African frontier, Oxford: James Currey, 2009

[87] Terence Ranger, ‘The Meaning of Urban Violence in Africa: Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, 1890–1960’, Cultural and Social History, Volume 3, Number 2, April 2006, pp. 193-228

[88] Tsuneo Yoshikuni, African urban experiences in colonial Zimbabwe: a social history of Harare before 1925, Harare: Weaver Press, 2007; also Raftopoulos & Yoshikuni, eds, Sites of Struggle (1999)

[89] Sarah Nuttall & Achille Mbembe, eds., Johannesburg: the elusive metropolis, Duke University Press, 2008

[90] Terence Ranger, ‘Reclaiming the African city: the world and the township’ in Translocality: the study of globalising processes from a southern perspective, ed. Ulrike Freitag & Achim von Oppen, Leiden: Brill (2010): 269-292

[91] Michael Oliver West, ‘African Middle-Class Formation in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1890-1965’, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1990; West, Rise of an African middle class (2002).

[92] Terence Ranger, Review of Colonial Lessons: Africans’ Education in Southern Rhodesia, 1918-1940 by Carol Summers and The Rise of an African Middle Class: Colonial Zimbabwe, 1898-1965 by Michael O. West, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 73, No. 4 (2003), pp. 623-625

[93] This was a meeting that led to the publication of Becoming Zimbabwe. a History from the Pre-Colonial Period to 2008, edited by Brian Raftopoulos & Alois Mlambo, Harare: Weaver Press, 2009

[94] ‘Pictures Must Prevail: Sex and the Social History of African Photography in Bulawayo, 1930–1960’ Kronos, vol 27, 2001:261–67; ‘Bicycles and the Social History of Bulawayo,’ in Short Writings from Bulawayo vol 2, ed. Jane Morris, Bulawayo: Amabooks, 2004:76–81; ‘Dignifying Death’ (2004).


  1. This is a very interesting overview of an influential intellectual and political trajectory. I was fascinated to read about Ranger’s shift from 17c (colonial) Ireland to southern Africa; and how Oxford graduate ‘training’ (and 17c interests) meant that despite his involvement in nationalist politics and history it did not occur to him in the late fifties and early sixties to record the testimony of older activists about risings which he was studying. One omission surprised me: surely he must have read Thomas Hodgkin’s Nationalism in Colonial Africa (1957) in the period when he was developing these concerns?

    1. I asked Terry, who replied, ‘ I don’t think I could add anything significant about the influence of Hodgkin. I never knew him or attended his seminars. I was very pleased when it was reported to me that he thought Revolt was ‘the real stuff’. But I fear his work had little inffluence on ths book.’

  2. ZiZi
    You are ingenuous on the reasons why Terrance Ranger was deported from Rhodesia. I suggest fair minded people make the effort to find out the full details.

    1. Terry’s final book was a memoir, ‘Writing Revolt’, in which he fully explains the activism against the colour bar that led to his deportation.

  3. Deepest condolences for a fine man who never lost sight of principle or purpose. He fought for freedom in Zimbabwe all his life, and we will all remember this.

  4. Professor Ranger, You never tired of Zimbabwe till the end. Rest in peace Professor.

    1. What a thoroughly generous man. Always supportive of his students, including his post-doctoral ‘students’. He gave a smashing valedictory lecture which rounded out his autobiography, emphasising the importance of anti-racist activism in his life and work.

      1. Peter is too modest to mention that two edited collections came out of the conference that Terry mentioned in his interview:

        Peter Alexander and Rick Halpern (eds) (2000), Racializing Class, Classifying Race: Labour and Difference in Britain, the USA and Africa. Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press.

        Peter Alexander, Rick Halpern, Shula Marks and Jeremy Krikler (2004), special issue on Comparing Race and Labour in South Africa and the United States, Journal of Southern African Studies 30(1).

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