To look and feel like a state: The Pan-African Congress and interwar diplomacy

Authors: Jake Hodder*, University of Nottingham
Topics: Historical Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Historical geography, Political Geography, International Relations, Race, Pan-Africanism, Du Bois
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Formed in the wake of World War I, the Pan-African Congress met four times in the decade which followed. Whilst its significance is widely recognised, not least as the forerunner to the important 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945, these earlier congresses are often viewed unfavourably. They are criticised for being unrepresentative, elite, and politically moderate, especially when read against the spectacular popularity of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the other great competing vision of Pan-Africanism in the 1920s. Like many historical cul-de-sacs, however, the Pan-African Congress rewards revisiting. This paper retraces its meetings, showing how the congress needs to be assessed not only by its immediate political outcomes, but as a space in which social, cultural, artistic and intellectual elements combined. The synthesis of these elements allowed delegates to reconstitute race within diplomatic terms explicitly conversant with the new international framework which emerged after WWI. The congress shows us that, however flawed, this framework nonetheless provided those on the margins of geopolitics with new spaces and new vocabularies to challenge racial discrimination.

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