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Aidan Forth

Aidan Forth

The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize


Aidan ForthBarbed-Wire ImperialismBritain’s Empire of Camps, 1876-1903

In this ambitious, compelling, and profoundly important book, Aidan Forth traces “the origins of civilian concentration” in camps established across the British empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Moving in particular between South Asia and southern Africa, Forth meticulously and persuasively demonstrates how the premises, techniques, and personnel associated with internment justified by famine and plague in the first moved to the quarantine and military camps of the second. Collectively, Forth argues, these were “interconnected crises,” which the British “tried to solve with mass encampment.” Disciplinary confinement was thus a flexible measure, not always an outgrowth of war, and tied also to parallel regimes of control in late-Victorian Britain. In this sense, Barbed-Wire Imperialism is a model of global, colonial history — backed by enormous research, but also an inspiring blend of sources, arguments, and prose. One result is a more thorough and yet geographically dispersed explanation of the alliances between imperial violence and ‘humanitarianism’. In a powerful, precise Epilogue, Forth carefully addresses the linked if also distinct cases of totalitarian camps in the twentieth century, while tracing the troublingly persistent premise of the orderly camp space into the numerous contemporary examples of confinement given a humanitarian gloss.

Shortlisted Books
Kristine Alexander. Guiding Modern Girls: Girlhood, Empire, and Internationalism in the 1920s and 1930s. UBC Press
Venus Bivar. Organic Resistance: The Struggle over Industrial Farming in Postwar France. UNC Press
Quinn Slobodian. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Harvard University Press
Molly Ladd-Taylor. Fixing the Poor: Eugenic Sterilization and Child Welfare in the Twentieth Century. John Hopkins University Press