State-Led Inquiries as Political Devices: Lessons Learned and Lost from British Interventions, 1853 to the Present Day

9th September 2021 – Online Workshop

University of Exeter (BST) This workshop is hosted by the Leverhulme-funded project ‘Warnings from the Archive’ led by Owen Thomas, Catriona Pennell, and Margot Tudor. It is supported by the Centre for Histories of Violence and Conflict at the University of Exeter.

9.45 – 10.00: Introductory remarks

10.00 – 11.00: Panel 1: Inventing an institution: Formative inquiries and their meanings

Chair: Catriona Pennell, University of Exeter

Does the fact of an inquiry matter more than what it finds? Roebuck’s inquiry into the British army at Sebastopol, 1855’ James Strong, Queen Mary

‘“Sickness”, the making of “crisis” and the Second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-1880)’ Maximilian Drephal, University of Potsdam

Discussant: Richard Toye, University of Exeter

11.00 – 11.15: Coffee Break

11.15 – 12.15: Panel 2: Inquiries in an age of decolonisation: Experts, elites, and the end of empire

Chair: Margot Tudor, University of Exeter

Subverting the Commission: How Local Elites Utilised the Cobbold Commission to Advance Communal and Ideological Goals amidst the End of Empire in Sabah, 1961–63’ David Saunders, University of Hong Kong

Anti-imperial truth-telling: historian expert testimony at the 1967 Russell Tribunal’ Leyla Belle Drake, Uppsala University

Discussant: Martin Thomas, University of Exeter

12.15 13.15: Lunch break

13.15 – 14.15: Panel 3: Violence at Home: Reckoning with state transgression and militarism

Chair: Gemma Clark, University of Exeter

‘The British Army and Bloody Sunday: what public inquiries reveal and conceal’ Huw Bennett, Cardiff University

‘“A deadly weapon aimed at our hearts”: The scope and composition of Lord Scarman’s 1981 public inquiry’ Simon Peplow, University of Warwick

‘Beyond ‘classified’ evidence: How inquiry methodologies produce silences, ignorance, and public secrets of the postcolonial British militaryMargot Tudor, University of Exeter on behalf of the WFTA team

Discussant: Tom Bentley, University of Aberdeen

14.15 – 14.30: Coffee Break

14.30 – 15.30: Panel 4: Undoing individualism? Rethinking the limitations of past lesson-learning

Chair: Owen Thomas, University of Exeter

‘Learning and Losing Lessons: An analytical frameworkLouise Kettle, University of Nottingham

‘Locating political responsibility for war: the Iraq inquiries, 2003-2016’ Glen Rangwala, University of Cambridge

Discussant: Andrew Williams, University of Warwick

15.30 – 15.45: Coffee Break

15.45 – 16.45: Panel 5: Counter-inquiry cultural activism: Art, photography, and British protest politics

Chair: Tom Allbeson, Cardiff University

‘Queen and country: artworks as alternative Iraq war archive’ Alan Ingram, UCL

“A well vetted protest”: Visual representations of veteran anti-investigation activism in the British media’ Hannah Richards, Cardiff University

Discussant: Elspeth Van Veeran, University of Bristol

16.45 – 17.00: Closing comments


Dr James Strong

Senior Lecturer in British Politics and Foreign Policy, Queen Mary University of London

James Strong studies the domestic politics of British foreign policy. His first book drew heavily on the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry to analyse the relationship between public opinion, public debate and the Blair government’s approach to the invasion of Iraq. His subsequent research has tracked the emergence, refinement and possible demise of a tentative constitutional convention granting the House of Commons the right to veto major military deployments. His current book project studies the history of parliamentary influence over governments in times of war, with case studies ranging from 1782 to 2003.

Dr Max Drephal

Lecturer at the Historical Institute, University of Potsdam

Max is a historian of empire with a particular interestin the colonial making of the modern world. He focuses on (new) diplomatic and international histories, their knowledges and practices, broadly conceived. His book Afghanistan and the Coloniality of Diplomacy (2019) is a study of the British Legation in Kabul, the empire’s diplomatic mission in Kabul following Afghan independence in 1919. It engages with the legation’s colonial makeup and reach, whilst also invigorating diplomatic history’s methodological toolkits in chapters on biography and prosopography, performance, the body and architecture. At the University of Potsdam, he works on a collaborative project on international conflict since the nineteenth century, exploring histories of violence, empire and their legacies.

Dr David Saunders

Lecturer, The University of Hong Kong

David is a historian of imperialism in Southeast Asia, with a particular interest in decolonisation, anti-colonialism, and the experiences of dispossessed minorities and sub-national groups. He recently completed his PhD at The University of Hong Kong, where he currently teaches courses on decolonisation and modern Southeast Asian history. David is currently working on a book manuscript that aims to reconceptualise decolonisation and state formation in Malaysia. Most recently, he has published in eTropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics on issues of colonial alcohol policy and indigenous depopulation in British North Borneo.

Leyla Belle Drake

PhD Candidate, Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University

Leyla is a third-year doctoral student in the History of Ideas, also affiliated with the multidisciplinary Engaging Vulnerability research program. Her research concerns war crimes and popular justice in the context of colonialism and decolonization in the 20th century, and how they relate to the rise of international criminal law and human rights. Her dissertation project explores the methods of the activist-led 1967 Russell Tribunal, which investigated American conduct in Vietnam. Understanding the Russell Tribunal as an instance of prefigurative justice, she argues that its operative vision and meaning cannot be sought in statements by individual members, but in its pluralistic approach and collective knowledge production. She has also published articles on the legacy of 16th-century natural law in present-day refugee exclusion in Europe, and on colonial industrialization in the Scandinavian subarctic at the turn of the 20th century with a focus on space, place and gender.

Dr Huw Bennett

Reader in International Relations, Cardiff University

Huw joined Cardiff University in February 2016 as Reader in International Relations. He specialises in strategic studies, the history of war, and intelligence studies, and work on both historical and contemporary issues concerning the use of military power. His research focuses on the experiences of the British Army since 1945, in the contexts of British politics, the Cold War, the end of empire, and the War on Terror.

Dr Margot Tudor

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Univeristy of Exeter

Margot is a historian of international interventions and sovereignty, focusing predominantly on post-colonial state formation and colonial continuities in international security practices during the mid-20th century. She undertook her BA in History and MRes in Security, Conflict, and Justice at the University of Bristol. She completed an ESRC-funded PhD on the history of UN peacekeeping missions with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester. She has been published in Journal of Global History, Journal of Contemporary History and Twentieth Century British History.

Dr Louise Kettle

Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Nottingham

Louise’s research focuses on Britain’s foreign and security relationship with the Middle East with a particular interest in the interaction between the past and the present. Her most recent book “Learning from the History of British Interventions in the Middle East” examines if and how learning from the past occurs in the FCDO, Ministry of Defence and across the intelligence community by examining a series of military interventions in the region, from Suez to the Iraq War.

Dr Glen Rangwala

Lecturer in the Politics of the Middle East, Department of Politics & International Studies, University of Cambridge

Glen has written extensively on the politics of modern Iraq, including Iraq in Fragments: the Occupation and its Legacy (Cornell University Press, 2006, with Eric Herring). He is currently finishing off a book on the place of the Israel-Palestine conflict in national and international arguments about justice, identity and security.

Dr Alan Ingram

Associate Professor of Geography, UCL

Alan teaches political geography and geopolitics at UCL. A recurring theme in his research concerns the nature of geopolitical events and the ways in which they are appropriated critically as matters of public concern. He is the author of Geopolitics and the Event: Rethinking Britain’s Iraq War Through Art (Oxford: Wiley RGS-IBG Book Series 2019) and has worked extensively with artists and curators concerned with the 2003 war and Britain’s role in Iraq more generally. He was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to support his research in this area and curated the exhibition Geographies of War: Iraq Revisited, which brought together work by artists of Iraqi and British heritages around the tenth anniversary of the invasion.

Hannah Richards

PhD Candidate, Cardiff University

Hannah Richards is a first year PhD student in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, her doctoral research is a collaborative project with the Ministry of Defence’s ‘Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre’ (DCDC) and explores the relationship between human rights and the British military. This research interest has grown out of her work with the Ministry of Defence and previous study of British civil-military relations.