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Archives and Trails from the First World War: Repurposing Imperial Records of North African and Indian Soldiers in Palestine and Syria, 1917-1923

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First World War scholars more or less agree on the limitations imposed by archival sources on the study of North African and Indian troops. Conventional methods to find ‘the voice’ of the soldier do not apply in this case and the scarcity of records partly explains why so little is written. So, what opportunities are there in such an endeavour? This article argues for the need to decolonise military archives from the Great War era. That is to say, to use information that was originally gathered to serve narrow military interests as a means to understand the war experiences of the colonial soldiers. These sources, largely official records, bearing stamps of the past regimes, cannot be separated from the context or intent of their production. Nonetheless, they must not be overlooked as new historiographical demands make it necessary to read colonial archives for evidence of their context. Failing to draw from, and reflect upon, colonial era records on the Great War, despite their shortcomings, is tantamount to condemning valuable aspects of global history to oblivion. In turn, acknowledging these shortcomings, paradoxically, lends greater value to such sources as the colonial context in which they were produced becomes observable.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-170
JournalArchives and Manuscripts
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2020
EventRecording, Narrating and Archiving the First World War: The 10th Conference of the International Society for First World War Studies - Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 9 Jul 201811 Jul 2018

    Research areas

  • Archives, Colonial knowledge and power, First World War in the Middle East, North African soldiers, Indian soldiers

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  1. Le Front du Moyen-Orient: The Middle East in French Great War Strategy, 1914-1918

    Reddy, S., 2019, The Great War in the Middle East. Johnson, R. & Kitchen, J. (eds.). 1 ed. Routledge, (Routledge studies in First World War history).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

ID: 268564277