The British Empire Library

Thomas Hodgkin: Letters from Africa, 1947-56

edited by Elizabeth Hodgkin and Michael Wolfers

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Richard Jeffries (Ex-Lecturer in African Politics, Now Honorary Research Associate Department of Political Studies, SOAS, London)
The writings of Thomas Hodgkin are famously associated with a radically different perspective. Hodgkin was staunchly anti-imperialist and highly sympathetic to emergent African nationalism, about which he was to publish, in 1956, his seminal work, Nationalism in Colonial Africa. Most of the material for this work was collected during a series of journeys to and around Africa, more especially in Nigeria, the Gold Coast and Sudan, then Francophone Africa, in 1947-56. The book under review presents a selection of the letters he wrote during these travels, mostly to his wife, Dorothy. Anyone expecting these to be full of thoughtful observations or of insightful comments on the nationalist politicians Hodgkin met will be sorely disappointed. The earlier letters from Nigeria and the Gold Coast are especially uninformative about anything except the scenery and Hodgkin's most recent travel difficulties. Although he records meeting numerous nationalist politicians and other famous historical names, he scarcely says anything interesting about them. They are almost all uniformly characterised as "nice, intelligent chaps"; and, for all Hodgkin's populist and democratic sympathies, there is a patrician tone to his language far more pronounced than in the writings of an author like Philip Dennis the DC.

On the positive side, Hodgkin's generosity of spirit shines through many of the letters and the tedium of most of them is occasionally broken by a description of an interesting episode. They certainly give the impression of someone who was, by all accounts, a lovely man. Yet subsequent developments have surely also emphasised how naive he was, how credulously accepting of the propaganda of African nationalist leaders, and how fundamentally wrong in his reading of the basic historical dynamics.

British Empire Book
Elizabeth Hodgkin
Michael Wolfers
HAAN Associates
1 87420 993 6


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