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The Horn of Africa in the Late Imperial Age (1869-1993)

This panel seeks to bring together scholars studying the Horn of Africa during the late imperial age, which we define as beginning in the mid-19th century until formal independence from imperial powers. This region, covering modern-day Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland, and Somalia, has long been a crossroads between the African continent, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Indian Ocean world. From the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Horn became the focus of European imperial competition and expansion, adding a new layer to a dynamic local context of political competition, military conquest, and trans-regional commerce. European powers faced fierce resistance, and even defeat, across the region in their attempts to divide and colonize the territories and peoples who lived there. Effective colonial occupation of many parts of the Horn of Africa was not achieved until the interwar years, if it was ever achieved at all. Although European hegemony was never complete, the political economy of the region was transformed by global currents, which had important implications for the organization of land, labor, and political and social relations.

The struggle for independence varied across the region—the decolonization of the Italian Empire took place as a result of the end of the Second World War, whereas the French and British imperial presence had different ends. With the independence of Eritrea in 1993, the late imperial age could be said to have officially closed, though self-determination claims from the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia continue to affect its political present. The long legacies of imperialism still haunt the modern Horn of Africa, from the question of borders to the very systems of governance and law that continue to shape modern states.

Studying the history of the Horn of Africa brings to the fore complex methodological questions. The historical archives and sources are distributed across multiple languages and geographies. Contemporary conflicts in the region have led to widespread document destruction and have made certain archives impossible to access, while others are ever more urgent to conserve. After independence, academic and state historians focused on creating national histories, monumentalizing resistance and the pre-colonial past. With some distance from that moment, new questions about the late imperial period can now be examined and re-opened. At this critical juncture, we seek to bring together scholars working on questions and themes related to the Horn of Africa during the late imperial period. We welcome contributions that engage the hyper-local (and especially peripheral regions), the trans-regional and trans-imperial, as well as supranational organizations (such as the United Nations or the Organisation of African Unity/African Union).

Possible themes include:
– Early European encounters (explorers, merchants, missionaries)
– Borders and borderlands
– Colonial governance (direct and indirect rule), laws, and courts
– Religion and religious movements
– Early anti-colonial resistance (ie. Mahdiyyah, the Somali Dervish wars, the Biimaal Revolt, the Battle of Adwa)
– The World Wars in the Horn of Africa
– Modern nationalist movements and decolonization
– Insurgency and counterinsurgency
– The Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean
– Slavery, abolition, and feudalism
– Material heritage, urban planning, infrastructure, and architecture
– Imperial knowledge and knowledge-making
– Histories of science/medicine and public health
– Media and popular culture
– Diplomacy and foreign relations
– Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism
– Separatist and secessionist movements
– Historiographies of the Horn of Africa

Organizers: Safia Aidid (University of Toronto) and Iman Mohamed (Harvard University)

Paper proposals, including title, brief abstract of up to 250 words, contact information and affiliation, must be submitted by email to Safia Aidid (University of Toronto) safia.aidid@utoronto.ca by March 24th. Participants will be notified of accepted papers by March 27th and must pre-register for the annual meeting by April 2nd to be accepted and listed on the program.