Indigenous Networks: Mobility, Connections and Exchange. Edited by Jane Carey and Jane Lydon. New York: Routledge (Routledge Studies in Cultural History), 2014. Pp. 311. £85.00 cloth.
This review first appeared in Australian Historical Studies, Jun. 2015, Vol. 46 Issue 2, pp. 312-313.
Indigenous Networks: Mobility, Connections and Exchange
Edited by Jane Carey and Jane Lydon
Reviewed by Michael A. McDonnell, University of Sydney
For some time now, there has been an outpouring of works exploring the negotiations, exchanges and connections at the heart of imperial, national and global histories. The transnational turn in particular has often radically altered our understanding of the early modern and modern world and has had an especially influential role in the burgeoning scholarship on the Atlantic world and the new British imperial history. Yet while many scholars are now more attuned to the interplay between colonies and metropoles, and the connections between mobile imperial agents, missionaries, traders and thinkers, few studies have tried to reimagine the place of indigenous peoples in this increasingly mobile and connected world. In part, this is a result of the hard labour needed to understand the nuanced details of encounters, exchanges and indigenous–settler conflict in particular — and very diverse — settings, let alone the work involved in connecting those experiences to metropolitan developments, and to each other. Thus Jane Carey and Jane Lydon have done the historical profession a tremendous service in bringing this collection together to start to fill this gap.
Focusing on the British imperial world roughly from the mid-nineteenth century through to the twentieth, the editors have assembled a stellar cast of established and emerging scholars to rethink the place of indigenous peoples in colonial, metropolitan, and imperial networks. Indeed, they have pushed the contributing authors to challenge tired and worn analytical categories, embrace the diversity of indigenous experiences, and re-imagine the active part played by indigenous peoples themselves in creating, sustaining, and challenging new imperial and emerging global networks. At the same time, in their attention to each other’s contributions — marked by frequent references to the other chapters — the editors and authors model a spirit of collaboration and engagement that reflects the pioneering and agenda-setting nature of this work. That engagement also brings a liveliness and coherence to the volume that is increasingly rare in edited collections. It is thus an exemplary work on several different fronts. The first section of the book offers provocative and challenging pieces by Catherine Hall, Alan Lester and Ann Curthoys, who each draw on their own previous and important contributions to the new imperial history to explore the role played by indigenous peoples in colonial governance, humanitarian networks, and new imperial social formations at a critical moment in the expansion of the British Empire in the mid-decades of the nineteenth century. Hall pushes us to frame our histories of indigeneity alongside slavery by linking abolition with renewed settler-colonial enterprises, and a rethinking of race and hierarchies of difference that would have a profound influence across the Empire. Alan Lester zooms in to detail the negotiations between ‘assemblages’ of peoples within the Port Phillip Protectorate in southeastern Australia to probe the usefulness of older notions of indigenous resistance, and suggest more nuanced ways to detail both the influence of indigenous peoples on humanitarian thinking, as well as the emergence of new and effective indigenous politics. Similarly, Ann Curthoys charts the interplay between humanitarians and indigenous peoples as Britain passed the Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850, and also suggests that while settler-controlled governments brought new challenges, indigenous peoples responded with new forms of political activism. Contributors to the second section of the book use biographical approaches to challenge some enduring myths. In lively and engaging essays, Lynette Russell, Zoë Laidlaw, Jane Lydon, Cecilia Morgan and Jane Carey all point to mobile and cosmopolitan life-histories that had deep roots in indigenous communities and their pasts.
Tasmanian Aboriginal men and women who worked in the maritime industries, travellers to Britain, exchanges between northern indigenous Australians and Macassan fishermen, and Māori anthropologists, all reveal dynamic, hybrid, and ultimately modern indigenous experiences that also give the lie to British imperial foundation myths that exclude indigenous peoples. The authors also explore the complex and sometimes contradictory responses of indigenous peoples to new challenges, and admirably embrace both the creative adaptations made and the sometimes ambiguous legacies they left. That ambiguity is taken up in the third section of the book, which explores the coalescence of global indigenous networks from the late nineteenth century to the present. Here, we see indigenous peoples at work with, and against, imperial modernity, and an emerging circulation of ideas and strategies among indigenous activist networks. Spirited essays by Tony Ballantyne, Caroline Bressey, John Maynard and Ravi de Costa reveal the cracks in imperial edifices that indigenous peoples exploited, as well as the connections — and differences — between indigenous activist networks and wider colonial and anti-racist associations. The many rich essays, the insights raised, and the thought-provoking conceptual provocations in the collection — only glossed here — make this an important book. It should be read by a wide audience. In producing this volume, the editors have set an agenda for future discussion. They have also issued a challenge to imperial and transnational historians to start taking seriously indigenous peoples as dynamic and mobile historical actors. Indigenous Networks demonstrates they had and continue to have a profound influence on the making of the British imperial world—and the world in which we now live.