Michele Louro is a professor of history at Salem State with a focus primarily on South Asian and British imperial history. Last year, Professor Louro released her co-edited volume The League Against Imperialism: Lives and Afterlives. She was also recently awarded a Fulbright Award which she will use to travel to India next Spring and research the Meerut Conspiracy Case. The Center was able to speak with Professor Louro and gain some insight into her exciting work in a brief interview.
The League Against Imperialism is an “organization that linked together anti-colonial movements around the world,” during and after World War I. The new book expresses what this organization truly was, and does so through scholarly collaboration. In Professor Louro’s first book, Comrades against Imperialism: Nehru, India, and Interwar Internationalism, she provides a small portion of the League’s story from the perspective of India. She realized after writing her first book that there was so much more to the story beyond just the Indian perspective. “When I was asked if I was going to write the next book on the League Against Imperialism it was really an impossible project because you would have to be able to travel the world, and not only travel the world but know the world, know their languages, know how to navigate different histories and historiographies,” Louro says. And this is how she came to the idea of a co-edited volume.
Each chapter of the book is written by a different scholar in a different part of the world. Each chapter was also workshopped, “we had scholars of each chapter read the other's word to put it into conversation,” which creates a unique experience for the reader. As a result of these collaborative efforts, each chapter aligns with each other, so you are seeing the League from different global perspectives while also making connections. If you click here you can find a video from the book launch featuring Professor Louro herself and some of the scholars she worked with.
For Professor Louro there are a number of key takeaways from this book, number one being “transnational histories reveal a lot about the world of the 1920s-30s that we miss when we look at local and national histories… Number two, scholarly collaboration is essential to telling authentic stories about our past,” which calls attention to the isolation that has typically existed in historical writing. Louro also brought attention to the fact that this book is open access as a result of collaboration with different editors and institutions, including support from the CRCA at Salem State. “Scholars around the world can read this book and access it.” Many of the primary documents used to write the book have also become available digitally. Louro points out that this will be a great teaching tool for history teachers teaching on the global past.
The introduction of the book describes how the League itself is situated in the world in the context of 1919, giving anyone a background to the League before the book really begins. “It is a response in many ways to the failures of the League of Nations to address things like anti-colonialism and claims to national sovereignty but also a product of the interconnectedness of World War I itself,” Louro says. In this way, it is accessible to anyone, regardless of historical background. This book also serves as the first book to provide a history of the League so it is the perfect place to start for anyone interested in learning more.
Because this book is the first of its kind, the research has not been easy. When Professor Louro first began learning about the League she was looking to start her PhD and use this topic as her research focus, however there was practically nothing in any archives that talked about the League. “I came to the question, is there no evidence or is there evidence in unlikely places? And what I found was that there was evidence in most of the papers of people who became members.” The story came together in fragments that Louro had to piece together herself.
This research brought Louro to two projects she is currently working on now. The first is her trip to India funded by a Fulbright award. In India she will be exploring a legal trial in a remote colonial town called Meerut, “this legal trial in which 32 suspected communists in India… were put on trial for attempting to overthrow the sovereignty of the king in India,” making this an example of the Red Scare long before the Cold War took place. This story is unique because, “the fact that American trials have been the center of Red Scare histories like Sacco and Vanzetti. But actually, the more contested terrain for the red scare was in the colonies and it was launched by the British empire.” Louro explains that this trial became a key component of the League’s propaganda during the 1930s.
Professor Louro also recently wrote an article about a woman who was married to the secretary of the League Against Imperialism. Louro describes her as, “an American radical feminist turned communist and anti-colonial radical,” she was a huge part of launching the League’s movement, yet she was rarely mentioned in the League’s archives. Louro went further to say, “she worked behind the scenes both as an activist, as a writer, and as a wife and yet her labor as a women to this organization has been neglected so I want to think a little about the behind the scenes work, romance, and intimacies that came to be involved with those who led these movements and how those have been a neglected yet important aspect of the League’s history.”
Louro emphasized her appreciation of the support she received from the university, specifically Elizabeth Kenney and the CRCA. “The seed grant allowed me to go to Berlin and do some preliminary research on the conspiracy case. The League Against Imperialism book benefitted from a grant to help make it open access so Salem State actually put in for that which really fits my mission that if I'm writing a book about places like India people in India should be able to access it.” She expresses her gratitude to Salem State in making this research possible.
Congratulations to Professor Louro on producing the first book representing the League Against Imperialism! This work is so exciting and we cannot wait to learn more after your research trip to India!
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