King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Hidden voices of Empire

Complex conclusions

On closer inspection, periodicals made up of primarily of British-authored articles do in fact contain African voices – hidden, but there. Despite their relatively low frequency of occurrence, the African voices represent a broad spectrum of views on development across the periodicals (of which one extreme was dependent on If you ask me…) to be discovered.


If this research was more quantitative in design, it may be concluded that reluctance was the overriding response to development and this might, at first glance, appear to be a sensible conclusion. However, while reluctance was the most heavily represented attitude discovered, it was by no means dominant. It is also quite possible that more extreme negative responses were simply depicted as mild conservatism (where they were not suppressed entirely), leading to an over-representation of this view.

Furthermore, reluctance was regularly presented as the first stage in a process of evolving views, with Africans often shifting towards more acceptance as time went on and the benefits of the policy became clear and actualised. Therefore, it is difficult to conclude that a single view on development dominated public opinion. Nor should swathes of people across a continent ever be considered to be homogenous in their views.


An article concerning the church in Sierra Leone and an advertisement for equipment with a church visibleAn article concerning the church in Sierra Leone and an advertisement for equipmentAcross Britain’s African colonies, certainly, but even on the level of a single individual, what comes through from the sources is complex. As with reluctance evolving into acceptance, others seemed to think that development was positive but that Britain was not doing enough of it. This is how real people think in real life.

It is easy to oversimplify the thoughts and actions of historical actors, particularly when much of their lives remain obscured by the records, but it is important to consider them as normal people much the same as people today.

Indeed, many of the people who wrote for and read the periodicals in the FCDO Historical Collection are probably still alive today, (and if that includes you we would love to hear your recollections).

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People are rarely entirely in favour of, or against a policy. There are always shades of grey and people often change their minds. When seeking hidden voices in the historical record, therefore, it is important not to overlook anything in case hidden voices, worthy of being uncovered in all their complexity, remain hidden.

The image reproduced here shows an article from the The West African annual, whereby multiple elements relating to the processes of development are visible: the church and missionary work are commemorated; a development project in the form of the construction of a deep water port is highlighted; and an advertisement for an import/export company importing commercial equipment and supplying other goods is prominent.

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