As I sit here contemplating my project proposal, I have come to wonder exactly what my specific 5000 word essay should be on? There are a number of avenues I would like to explore, and I have decided to settle on Africa. However, this hardly narrows down my search, as now I begin to question where should my focus lie.
While conducting my research I came across the Happy Valley Set in Kenya. A largely Aristocratic group of hedonists who lived in the Wanjohi Valley between the 1920s and 1940s. As I delve further into their adventures I find that the Happy Valley Set were entangled in a life of mischief and murder. One notable member of the group, Kiki Preston was named ‘the girl with the silver syringe’ because of her penchant for cocaine and heroin. Preston had numerous affairs with the British aristocracy, including Prince George, Duke of Kent, and was subsequently banned from meeting with him after she introduced him too to drugs.
I find the lives which the members of the Happy Valley Set to be particularly interesting. Yet for my project I would like to focus further on the wider picture of colonial settlement. The hedonism of the Happy Valley Set will be just one of the issues I will explore. Of particular interest to me is the interaction between the locals and the settlers, despite a largely negative picture being painted of the relationship, and the racism which ensued, my research last semester regarding Anglo-Indian relations revealed that a codependent relationship existed between the Indian employees and the British employers.
The British aristocracy is an interesting angle to take, their lives in Britain were structured by rigid formality, yet those who came to the colonial outposts of Africa seem to have let go of their inhibitions and taken to a life of hedonism. The impact this had on the legacy of the British is one I would like to look into further, and understand whether the British had an overall negative or positive impact on the country. It is easy, in hindsight, to look back and look at a society taken over single handily by European influence, but it is important to understand the benefits that empire had. The impact of women, and the lives which they led, such as that of Kiki Preston are biographies which I would like to look into. Perhaps then, my project will take on a micro-history approach…
The British in Africa is a lesser explored topic in colonial historiography. There has been a large focus on the Indian subcontinent, and the mark which the Empire has left. However, Africa too has a long history of colonization which has been slightly overlooked. It garnered much attention after the Scramble for Africa during the late 19th century, but in my opinion has been largely overshadowed by the British in India.
My essay has not been sufficiently narrowed down by my research stated above. I still need to condense it down in a chronological order, and formulate a question. Although, the benefit the extended project has given me is the freedom to conduct my own research and formulate my own argument.