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John Chircop – Colonial Encounters – €25

This volume brings together international and Maltese scholars, offering a line-up of innovative contributions to some of the most current – and demanding – social, economic, and cultural debates on colonialism and colonial rule. The seventeen chapters presented here take as their focus the multiple Maltese experiences of British dominion from the 19th century to postcolonial times, employing a diversified range of research methods and sources to investigate key research themes in the growing literature on colonial studies. Most adopt a critical approach to, and at times propose a challenging reassessment of Malta’s historiography of the period. The outcome is a fresh critical-historical outlook that articulates ambivalent, intriguingly contrasting, and often multi-faceted ‘local’ experiences of British colonialism, the decolonisation process and their postcolonial implications.

Colonial Encounters is informed by a growing corpus of theoretical literature in line with the cutting-edge research taking place in colonial-historical studies and further afield. The volume’s contributions, together with the analytical introduction, present focused and stimulating approaches to some of the complex dimensions of the colonial encounter in the Maltese context, with specific reference to various Maltese social groups – both within Malta and, as migrants on the move in the region, throughout the British empire.

Most of the contributions endeavour to approach colonial history against the grain – moving away from conventional, empirically-based historical narratives towards the more theoretically elaborate interpretations of 19th century colonial rule and their postcolonial inferences. Colonial experience is not perceived here only as experienced by elite social groupings (with ‘native’ collaborators and the nationalist opposition in particular) but – and more importantly – through a historiographical perspective, one primarily concerned with hitherto neglected social groups, such as the herdsmen and fishing folk, that emerge here as subjects of their own history, ones endowed with an own agency within the colonial context.

In these terms, Colonial Encounters stands out as a coming together of thought-provoking stances on current social, economic, cultural and political thematics. The debates generated will be useful for a clearer understanding of the broader ambit of British colonial-historical and postcolonial studies, taking on issues that, apart from their political aspect, have often been partially, sometimes completely, ignored by mainstream historical narratives. Some of the contexts addressed here include received constructions of “Maltese national identity”, racism in specific colonial and nationalist spheres, collaboration and multi-level resistance, the structures and operations of the Colonial State, as well as the more directly tangible issues of employment, migration, public health and medicine, language and cultural hegemony, economic dependence and the colonial impact on the natural environment. Colonial Encounters endeavours to offer, therefore, a range of incisive and often unconventional insights into some of the most consequential and historically fraught Maltese encounters with British colonial rule.

 

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