Charlotte Kelsted

Discipline: History
Research Centre/Unit: Centre for Imperial & Global History | European Centre for Palestine Studies

Project Summary

Throughout the British Mandate for Palestine (1920-1948), British women travelled to the country as missionaries, teachers, welfare workers, nurses, doctors, journalists and colonial wives. Their actions affected the lives of the people of Palestine and tell us much about the nature of British colonialism in this settler colonial context. In the existing historiography of the Mandate, a male-dominated narrative prevails, with British women receiving very little attention from historians.

My PhD is the first extensive study of these British women. It uses their correspondence, reports and publications, archived across Britain, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Beirut, and Washington, D.C., to analyse their activities in various spheres of the intimate. The attitudes and actions of these women expose the variability of the colonial encounter in this setting. In Mandate Palestine, British women’s intimate colonialisms were multiple: there existed an intrusive intimacy of condescension towards the Palestinian Arab community and a paradoxically distant intimacy of respect towards the Jewish community. This was based on discourses of difference constructed by British women and underpinned by hierarchies of child-rearing, domesticity, agency and modernity, with the Jewish community typically placed further up these social scales than the Palestinian Arab community. There were however inconsistencies in, and limitations to, these multiple intimate colonialisms, which ultimately undermined the strength of British women’s discourse.

My thesis develops existing histories of British women in early to mid-twentieth century Palestine and contributes to enhanced understandings of the British Mandate for Palestine more broadly. By inserting British women in Palestine into existing imperial literatures on intimate colonialisms, it establishes a new framework for grappling with the nature of white women’s colonialisms in the juncture between colonial and settler colonial phenomena: the concept of multiple intimate colonialisms. This marks an important and original contribution to both colonial and settler colonial studies.

Supervisory Team

Dr Stacey Hynd (University of Exeter)

Professor Ilan Pappe (University of Exeter)

Dr Christopher Prior (University of Southampton)