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June 25, 2008

Dane Kennedy to Discuss "Decolonization and Disorder" at Library of Congress on July 9

Historian Dane Kennedy, in a lecture at the Library of Congress, will examine three waves of European decolonization, from the late 18th century through the late 20th century, and the violence and discord that accompanied the transitions.

Kennedy’s presentation "Decolonization and Disorder" will take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 9, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The lecture, sponsored by the Library’s John W. Kluge Center and the National History Center, is free and open to the public. Tickets or reservations are not needed. The event is presented in conjunction with the History Center’s Third International Research Seminar on Decolonization, which will be held in Washington, D.C., from July 6 through August 2.

According to Kennedy, who is the Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University, the public holds two major misconceptions concerning European decolonization. The first is that decolonization was, in most instances, a reasonably well-planned and peaceful transition, a willing relinquishment of power by imperial authorities to their colonial subjects.

The second misconception is that decolonization was a uniquely modern event, a post-World War II turning point that marked the end of empires and the culmination of the age of nation-states. "Third World" decolonization, however, which came in the second half of the 20th century, was preceded by an era of "Old World" decolonization in the early 20th century and an era of "New World" decolonization in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

"Each of these moments of decolonization was precipitated by global war and accompanied by considerable violence and a renewed, if modified, form of imperialism. Recent scholarship on the era of decolonization that followed World War II has shifted attention from the plans drawn up at negotiating tables to the chaos and upheaval that occurred on the ground. My talk will examine this shift of focus, stressing the role of ethnic violence and mass migration in the process of decolonization," Kennedy said.

Kennedy teaches British and imperial history at George Washington University. He is the author of numerous articles and four books, including: "The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World" (2005); "Britain and Empire, 1880-1945" (2002); and "The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj" (1996). Kennedy received a Guggenheim fellowship for 2003-2004.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. Please visit

The National History Center promotes research, teaching and learning in all fields of history. Created by the American Historical Association in 2002, the Center is a public trust dedicated to the study and teaching of history, as well as to the advancement of historical knowledge in government, business and the public at large. For more information, visit

The National History Center’s seminar on decolonization has been made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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PR 08-117
ISSN 0731-3527

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