Events, Seminars

17th May 2023: AAPI Heritage Month Special Seminar – Gender, Labour, and Colonial Violence: Stories from German New Guinea

Join us for our inaugural AAPI Heritage Month special lunchtime seminar! Dr. Emma Thomas (University of New South Wales) will share her paper on ‘Gender, Labour, and Colonial Violence: Stories from German New Guinea’.

Wednesday, 17th May 2023, 12pm BST/GMT+1

Sign up on Zoom here.

Gender, Labour, and Colonial Violence: Stories from German New Guinea

Between 1884 and the outbreak of WWI, at least 4,900 indigenous women were recruited and put to work as indentured laborers in German colonial New Guinea. The number was probably much higher, especially when we consider the myriad, informal labor regimes also ushered in by colonialism and women’s presence within them. These women were taken aboard recruitment ships and sent to labor in a range of colonial “contact zones”: on plantations, at mission stations, in administrative centers, and in the homes of white colonists. Yet, their presence remains overwhelmingly obscured in existing historiographies of the region. In this paper, I both consider the processes of erasure that have enabled historiographical silences surrounding female laborers in German New Guinea and suggest archival sources and methodologies that allow their stories to be told. I do so by drawing on an archive that includes imperial ordinances, European travel writings, photographs, and colonial court records. What emerges is a history that brings New Guinean women’s words and experiences to the fore, and reveals profound entanglements between colonial labor regimes and sustained, gendered, and bodily violence. It also speaks to the ways in which New Guinean women navigated, confronted, and contested European claims to their bodies, lives, and labors under German colonial rule.

About the Speaker


Emma Thomas is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Laureate Centre for History and Population at the University of New Wales, Sydney. She is a social and cultural historian of Oceania and Europe, whose current research focuses on transnational histories of gender, sexuality, and race in the German colonial Pacific. Emma holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is the recipient of the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize for the best doctoral dissertation on a topic in German history written at a North American university by the Friends of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (2020). Her current book manuscript, “Contested Labors,” analyzes the little-known histories of New Guinean women and their entanglements in German colonial labor regimes from 1884 to 1914.


Sign up now for a place in our Zoom webinar.

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