Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Department of History
The study of mixed race populations and their identity formation have become important fields of historical research over the past few decades within the larger scope of colonialism. This dissertation explores how Anglo-Burmans formed and redefined their own place in the twentieth century as a consequence of conflicting perspectives on race and ‘belonging’ in the British Empire on the one hand, and majority Burman policies in the post-independence era on the other. These views are largely derived from archival records in the United Kingdom and Myanmar. Minutes from meetings as well as correspondence with Anglo-Burmans, British officials, and Burmese officials illustrated the complex situation the Anglo-Burman community found themselves in. Memoirs from Anglo-Burmans as well as contemporaneous print media help augment these perspectives.
In this dissertation I show that Anglo-Burmans had different perspectives on their futures across temporal periods and often disagreed about how they should position themselves to best survive. The growth of the population in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shaped how Anglo-Burmans understood their place and the degree to which they belonged in Burma. Complex British reactions to miscegenation between British men and Burmese women and the mixed-race offspring that arose from these relations left Britons in fear of their own futures in the colony. Given their connections to the colonial regime and consequent economic advantages, Anglo-Burmans thought of themselves as being superior to the Burmese population. The Government of India Act 1935, the growth of Burmese nationalism, and the outbreak of World War II forced Anglo-Burmans to reevaluate their place and future within Burma. As the British moved towards more self-government, this mixed-race group feared they would be forgotten by the British, a shift that challenged their sense of self belonging.
In 1944, a conference was held in Simla, India, with the evacuated Burmese Government, to determine how best Anglo-Burmans should move forward in order to protect themselves. Here, a small group of representatives determined it would best for the community to drop their claims to special privileges under the British and align themselves with their Burmese kin. What was meant to be a major turning point, however, turned out to illustrate the complexity of the Anglo-Burman population’s position in Burma. They could not be either British or Burmese, they were a mix, and being asked to choose was disquieting.
After Burmese independence, Anglo-Burmans continued to struggle to find their place. Many of the concerns they expressed about their future at the Simla conference came to fruition and they tried to move to the United Kingdom or another country within the British Commonwealth. But in asking for help, many used different methods to appeal to the British for assistance. Officials discussing applications for assistance were unsure of how to classify this mixed-race population. Again, they were not British or Burmese, and officials were unsure where to place them.
Between 1900 and 1962, there were many political and social changes in Burma. These years saw constant turmoil from British colonization, self-government without independence, two World Wars, and decolonization. In short, things in Burma were constantly changing across the twentieth century and various British, Anglo-Burman, and Burmese populations had to adapt accordingly. This study seeks to understand how Anglo-Burmans, a small and understudied group, negotiated their community identity through this period. While many scholars assume that this community identified as more European than Asian, my research suggests this mixed-raced population struggled with their sense of belonging rather than conceiving of themselves as one or the other. How did Anglo-Burmans express their own place in society and what motivations did they have in doing so? I believe that fear and the desire for security played an important role in their constructions. What affiliations would afford them the greatest sense of security in the colony? What group, Burmese or European, would be the most accepting of them? Which identity could afford them the best opportunities for personal advancement? In answering these questions, I seek to make better sense of how Anglo-Burmans have understood their place, ethnicity, and nationality over time.
Chludzinski, Katrina, "The Search for 'Home': Anglo-Burman Identity at the End of Empire" (2019). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 6922.
Northern Illinois University
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