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NYU London Professor Philip Woods Publishes New Book on Media Covering the British Retreat from Burma

Today we hear directly from an NYU London Professor, Dr. Philip Woods. Professor Woods teaches two classes at NYU London: Britain and Slavery 1492-1865 and Cultures and Contexts: Multinational Britain. He has been teaching at NYU London for more than fifteen years and says “it has been a really good experience.” Professor Woods also enjoys teaching American study abroad students, saying “They tend to be very enthusiastic and keen to learn about the country they are studying in.” He also is a “firm believer” in the benefits of studying abroad. He has seen students “transformed in terms of their increased confidence and broadened in their understanding of the wider world.” Professor Woods especially “appreciates[s] the importance that US universities, especially NYU, give to study abroad and opening up opportunities regardless of income. The book he recently published and describes in the post below, which involved studying war correspondents, was a new venture for him. Professor Woods describes himself as “still learning,” and notes “I will continue my research looking at media management in the Second World War in the Burma campaign, the longest of the war. |it is interesting how many people have told me about relatives who were involved in the campaign since they heard about my book.”

This post originally appeared on the South Asia @ LSE blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is available here.
The beginning of the end of Empire? Reassessing the reporting of the British retreat in Burma

The British-Indian army fighting in Burma during 1942 is sometimes misleadingly referred to as a ‘Forgotten Army’. In fact, the army’s long retreat was given good coverage in the western press which provided twenty-six correspondents to cover the campaign. Philip Woods’s new book is the first scholarly analysis of media coverage of this retreat, focusing on newsreel, magazine and newspaper correspondents. It argues for the historical value of the journalists’ contribution, most especially in their published memoirs. The book has implications for the study of journalism and the history of Burma and India.

The British defeat in Burma at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 marked the longest retreat in British army history and the beginning of the longest campaign in the war. It also, arguably, marked the beginning of the end of British rule, not only in Burma but also in south and south east Asia more broadly. There have been many studies of the military and civilian experiences during the retreat but my book, Reporting the Retreat: War Correspondents in Burma 1942 (published by Hurst on 3 November 2016) is the first to look at the way the campaign was represented through the western media: newspapers, pictorial magazines, and newsreels. There were some twenty-six accredited war correspondents covering the campaign, and almost half of them wrote books about their experiences, mostly within a year or two of the defeat. Their accounts were heavily criticised by government officials as being misinformed and sensationalist. Historians have tended to avoid using them, except to add colour to their accounts, perhaps because they are seen as being too patriotic and optimistic in their coverage and thus giving the public an unrealistic view of how the war was progressing.

My book draws on archival sources to assess the validity of these criticisms. How do the war correspondents see their role? It is clichéd to talk of war journalism in terms of ‘The First Draft of History’ but in view of wartime censorship restrictions it does seem that correspondents were keen to have their experiences recorded, especially when they could publish less censored versions usually within a year or two of the key campaigns they were covering. What were the constraints on war correspondents, other than censorship?  Clearly, there were limits resulting from the nature of the media that they worked in, often exacerbated by wartime considerations, such as the reduction in newspaper space. This can be seen very clearly in the case of the newsreel cameramen, two of whom covered the Burma retreat. By examining their films and the supporting documentation, one can see how they needed to meet the requirements of the newsreel business, which acted as a largely patriotic, rather anodyne adjunct to the main films which audiences had come to see. Even so, the newsreels and the photographs which appeared in the popular pictorial magazines of the day, provide very good evidence of the way that the war was represented to the British, American and Australian publics in the days before television.

Indian Kumaonis of the Burma Frontier Force hustle into sampans to cross the river at Shwegyin while the main British force attack the Japanese in the background. Credit: George Rodger. Image adapted by CBI-Theatre from 22 June 1942 issue of LIFE.

There is, of course, the issue of authenticity in the reporting: did the journalists make up stories or present them in a misleading way?  Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel Scoop (1938) famously depicted the way in which journalists would sit in the bar far from the action and file reports which started ‘From the battle-front…’ Journalists in Burma were sometimes caught out, claiming to be witnessing events first-hand when they were reporting second-hand accounts. From the First World War there were clear examples of battle scenes being faked or re-enacted for the cameras. During the Burma retreat I did find a clear case where a battle was re-staged for newsreel and still cameramen, but this was exceptional and went against clear company guidelines. As in the First World War, it resulted from the difficulty of getting good action pictures, in this case because of jungle and night-time fighting.

Generally speaking, I believe the war correspondents did a good job within the constraints they faced. The job was both dangerous and very emotionally taxing. The Hemingway-style machoism expected of them served to cover up what today would be described as post-traumatic stress.  It made a definite difference to the quality of the reporting when they were able to cover the fighting directly, as against newspapers relying on army communiques. However, it is in their memoirs rather than in their contemporary dispatches that the best quality is to be found. Using notes and photographs taken at the time, they reconstructed fuller and more analytical accounts of the campaign. Most correspondents had left-wing sympathies, which were usually strengthened by their wartime experiences. They pressed for political concessions to be made to India and Burma if the allies were to win the support in these countries that was necessary to win the war. They were saw the need to support Nationalist China under Chiang Kai-Shek, whose armies playing a major role in Burma, although they provided damning evidence of the Chinese corruption and politicking that was undermining the Lend-Lease supplies sent by the USA. The American and Australian reporters were the most critical of the hierarchical, racist and bureaucratic nature of British colonial regimes in India, Burma and Malaya.

Although my book may seem narrowly focused on a few months in 1942, it has much broader implications both for the study of journalism and for the history of Burma and India. A good deal of attention has been given to the loss of Singapore in February 1942 but the fall of Rangoon and the subsequent inevitable loss of Burma was actually much more serious, opening up major threats to India and China. The loss of Burma’s rice exports to India and the implementation of scorched earth tactics would soon have disastrous effects on Bengal, contributing to devastating famine in 1943. The mass migration of hundreds of thousands of Indian refugees from Burma and the tragic loss of life involved contributed to a devastating blow to Britain’s image as protector of its citizens in the region and proved impossible to repair.  I examine the way that sheltering and evacuation from Rangoon was mishandled by the Government of Burma and its hapless Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. I also look at the way that journalists had to contain their private views on these issues in their newspapers but made them very clear in their later memoirs. The Government of Burma continued to operate in Simla after the retreat and devised detailed plans for their post-war return. But as Chris Bayly and Tim Harper have so admirably shown in Forgotten Armies (Penguin: 2005), there was to be no lasting return for either the Governor nor British rule in Burma. The war had given rise to more radical nationalisms in the region that could not be assuaged.

Reporting the Retreat: War Correspondents in Burma 1942 is now available here.

About the Author

Dr. Philip Woods studied History at LSE and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has published on British-Indian politics after World War I, and the British use of film as propaganda in India. He has taught at the University of West London, Kingston University, and now teaches at NYU London. 

How January Term is Redefining Education

This is a post from NYU Abu Dhabi. Although January Term originated with NYU Abu Dhabi, now other students in NYU’s global network, notably those from NYU Shanghai, have the opportunity to experience a January Term.

Education at NYU Abu Dhabi is not just about learning facts from textbooks and passing multiple choice exams. It’s an immersive experience for NYUAD students, who, each January Term choose hands-on classes in cities from Al Ain to Buenos Aires that challenge their perceptions of the past and enrich their visions of the future.

There are dozens of courses offered in J-Term that get students out of the classroom to learn about the world as it was before, and experience the world as it really is today, like Jazz or the Financial Crisis taught in New York City, Emirati Arabic in Al Ain, Museum History in Berlin, and these seven examples that span the globe. Note: course descriptions have been edited.

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Oasis Coast and Mountain

Faculty: Steven C. Caton and Donald M. Scott
Course location: UAE and Oman

A course that challenges students’ perceptions of Arabian landscapes as being mainly desert by showing them three distinct habitat zones: desert oasis, maritime ports, and mountain farms all within 250 kilometers of each other across the UAE and Oman.

Students learn through observational site visits, direct encounters and interactions with local peoples and places through walking tours, interviews, photography and sketching.

Imagining the Renaissance City

Faculty: Jane Tylus
Course location: NYU Florence

Northern and central Italy’s bustling towns inspired many of today’s modern cities and also pioneered recognizably modern artistic, cultural, and engineering practices. Florence was a powerhouse of culture and industry and Siena the ‘Wall Street of Europe’ with the skyline to match.

Students spend three weeks getting to know these towns intimately. Explore downtown Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Walk from the town of Fiesole (with its Etruscan ruins and Roman theater), to Monte Ceceri (from whose summit a student of Leonardo da Vinci’s tried to fly; good start, sad ending). Visit seats of government and Renaissance orphanages, climb towers for bird’s-eye views, prowl a crypt recently excavated under Siena’s cathedral, visit churches on hills overlooking Florence and the cells of monks, and walk the trail of the stonecutters to see where Michelangelo found his stone.

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Coastal Urbanization

Faculty: John Burt
Course location: Sydney

Over 80 percent of the Australian population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast and virtually all major Australian cities occur on coastlines. As a result, Australia’s coastal environments have been substantially modified to suit human needs.

Using Sydney’s terrestrial, marine, and built environments as a natural laboratory for field research, students collect environmental data throughout the city and use geographic information systems (GIS) to examine the spatial patterns of human impacts to Sydney’s environment and compare their results with patterns observed in other coastal cities.

Prague

Faculty: Professor Michael Beckerman
Course location: Prague

Prague should have been destroyed during the Second World War, like other major cities in Europe, but somehow it wasn’t. Its remarkable survival allows us to explore Central European history and culture in the context of a completely preserved inner urban core dating back to the Middle Ages.

Class time includes walking tours around Prague, trips to museums, castles, theaters, classical concerts including Mozart’s Magic Flute and Janacek’s From the House of the Dead, and several excursions outside the city to the Eastern Province of Moravia, birthplace of Mahler and Freud, and to the UNESCO Heritage site of Cesky Krumlov.

Democracy and its Critics

Faculty: Philip Mitsis
Course location: Abu Dhabi / Athens

An examination of one of history’s most radical and influential democracies, ancient Athens.

Students assume historical roles in key decision-making institutions and debate questions about democratic procedures, the extension of voting rights, religion and free speech, foreign policy, etc., often in the very locations where these ancient debates occurred.

The Idea of the Portrait

Faculty: Shamoon Zamir
Course location: London

The course draws upon the rich resources of London’s museums and galleries to examine a wide range of portraits and self-portraits in painting and photography from different periods of history and from different cultures.

Students visit The National Gallery, British Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Queen’s Collection, the Courtauld Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Creative Cities

Faculty: Arlene Davila
Course location: Buenos Aires

Latin America has been undergoing rapid urbanization and is increasingly recognized as a continent made up of “countries of cities,” yet the dominant Latin American image has been on indigenous or traditional communities, which are always imagined as rural and authentic, rather than modern and urbanized.

Buenos Aires provides an urban laboratory to explore culture in urban development, urban tourism, and the marketing and internationalization of tango. Guided tours and guest speakers enrich students’ appreciation of contemporary Buenos Aires.

Original post by Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs, available here.

Gary Slapper, NYU London Site Director, 1958-2016

Gary Slapper, NYU London’s beloved Site Director, and an NYU Global Professor, passed away on Sunday after a brief and sudden illness.

Gary Slapper

Gary Slapper

“Gary was one of the first members of the NYU community I came to know, and we have not only lost a great site director, but also someone of great humanity,” said NYU

President Andrew Hamilton. “Gary helped to build London into one of NYU’s premier sites with grace, attention to detail, and of course, a sense of humor that was second to none.”

Gary was named Site Director in 2011, after serving as director of the Open University’s Centre for Law. During Gary’s tenure, NYU London experienced a nearly fifty percent increase in enrollment, with more than 1,000 students studying at the site each year, and the site expanded its academic breadth to include disciplines such as education, public health, and fashion.

Gary Slapper

Gary Slapper in his NYU London office (photographed by Hannah Slapper)

“Gary was a cherished member of the NYU community,” said Linda G. Mills, Lisa Ellen Goldberg Professor and vice chancellor for Global Programs and University Life. “His commitment to NYU’s students, lecturers, and administrators was at his very core, closely rivaled by his sense of humor and great intellect, all of which brought smiles as well as keen insights on a daily basis.  We are all in shock that such a rich and generous life has been extinguished far far too soon.

Gary was a true renaissance man, nimbly switching between law, philosophy, football, the environment, and pop culture (with The Simpsons holding a special place in his heart). He was also an accomplished writer, penning The Times [of London] Weird Cases column, in which he explored particularly strange legal cases, bringing immense entertainment to his readers – and we think it’s safe to assume, to Gary himself.

“Rarely can a ‘boss’ have been a more popular and revered figure,” said Eric Sneddon, associate director, NYU London. “We all recall a man of warmth, great humor, gifted at once with a razor sharp mind and a common touch.  The university has lost someone truly special; anyone who moved within Gary’s orbit would feel enrichened and would know the world is now poorer.”

A graduate of University College London, Gary received his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. He was the author of some 15 books concerning law and the English legal system, and was also a visiting professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The NYU community extends its deepest sympathies to Gary’s wife, Suzanne, his three daughters, Charlotte, Emily, and Hannah, and the rest of his family, friends, and colleagues, in the UK and beyond.

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NYU London Professor Clive Bloom Book on Thatcher’s Secret War Nominated for Outstanding Radical Book of 2015

Clibe Bloom Thatchers Secret WarNYU London Professor Dr Clive Bloom’s recently published Thatcher’s Secret War: Subversion, Coercion, Secrecy and Government, 1974-90 has been nominated for the Bread & Roses Award for outstanding radical book of 2015. The book focuses on the rise of the British secret state (a secret bureaucracy) in modern times and the way the state-within-the-state warped the history of Thatcher’s premiership. Bloom argues that the secret bureaucracy of the state has become an uncontrolled, hidden political power in Britain, where power is no longer decided by parliamentary process. Dr Bloom teaches Gothic Literature and Cultural Foundations at NYU London. More information can be found here: www.clivebloom.com

NYU London Professor Sophie Von Stumm Launches New iPhone App

Sophie Von Stumm moo-Q-logoNYU London Professor Dr Sophie Von Stumm, who teaches Personality, has launched a new iPhone application with her laboratory (The Hungry Mind Lab) that allows people to track their mood and brainpower over time. The app – ‘moo-Q’ – can monitor your cognitive function throughout the day (you can set how often it sends you alerts) and will tell you when your brainpower is at its best. The application will also track your mood and aims to analyse how mood changes are related to within-person differences in cognitive function. The app works by the user completing a series of tests – including memorizing and adding up a series of numbers – throughout the day. Users’ data will be confidential but the results will be used for a University of London research project. It is available for free and more information can be found here: www.hungrymindlab.com/moo-q. Sophie also won the 2015 Rising Star Award by the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

NYU London Professor Benedict O’Looney Creates New Wing in Local Mosque

Croydon-Mosque OLooneyNYU London Professor Benedict O’Looney, who teaches Seeing London’s Architecture, is currently working on a new project in South London – a women’s and children’s wing for the Croydon Mosque, opening in June 2016. The Croydon Mosque is one of the biggest in Britain and this recent addition marks the third stage of development since the 1980’s. The project has attempted to harmonize traditional Islamic architecture with London’s familiar brick Victorian and Edwardian public buildings and includes a new men’s wudu (bathing area), a last rites room (janazah) and day-lit double prayer room for women and children. The project echoes the international spirit of NYU! More information can be found here: www.benedictolooney.co.uk/croydon-mosque

Global Student Dialogue on Europe’s Migration Crisis – Live Stream Program involving students across NYU’s global network

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On April 22, NYU Florence will host a global student dialogue on Europe’s migration crisis. Europe’s migration crisis has become one of the most urgent policy challenges of our time. This Global Dialogue brings students from NYU sites around the world together to look at the overall structure of the migration crisis; the responses of national governments, the European Union and international organizations to the crisis; and to analyze the different impacts of the migration crisis on society and culture including public opinion, the media and the arts.

The three panels will include panelists located in Florence, London, New York, and Washington, DC. The first panel is Instability in the Mediterranean: The Structure of the Crisis and will provide background; the second, Slow to React? Responses to the Crisis, will explore what has – and hasn’t – been done in response; the third panel, Charting a New Landscape: The Impact of the Crisis on Society, will consider what the implications of the crisis have been thus far and also look ahead.

Students from across NYU’s global network can participate in this dialogue. The live conference stream, which also allows viewers to submit questions, is available here.

Looking at how genetic engineering can combat disease-carrying mosquitos in London

Mosquito
Today NYU London will host Dr. Hayden Parry for a conversation examining how genetic engineering can combat disease-carrying mosquitos. This event is organized in partnership with SCI’s London group.
The mosquito is the world’s most dangerous animal, accounting for hundreds of millions of malaria and dengue cases each year. In the global war against the mosquito it is the mosquito that is winning as trends such as globalisation and urbanisation provide transportation and environments that exacerbate the threat of mosquito borne diseases.
In his talk, Dr. Parry will argue that current tools have proved unsuccessful in combating this threat and that new approaches are desperately needed. His solution is that genetic engineering provides an answer by allowing the use of genetically ‘sterile’ mosquitoes that are released into an urban environment to reduce rapidly the disease carrying species. In presenting such a solution Dr. Parry argues that proponents must address the perceptions around GM technology with clear communication and transparency.
Hadyn Parry is the Chief Executive of Oxitec, an Oxfordshire based company pioneering the control of insects that spread disease and damage crops. Dr. Parry has an extensive background in the Life Science sector. During his career at ICI Crop Protection/Zeneca/Syngenta he held various positions helping to develop solutions for farmers and public health authorities. Hadyn has been involved in the development of GM crops through his position as General Manager of Zeneca Plant Sciences and as European Business Director and Global Head of R&D for Advanta, one of the world’s largest seed companies. More recently he has worked as an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical sector developing new therapeutics. Hadyn was also Chairman of Help for Heroes, a UK charity founded in 2007 to support wounded British soldiers from its foundation up to 2013.

NYU London Professor Guy Wilson’s Research Points to a Room Temperature Super-metal

Guy WilsonIn a paper recently published in Euro Physics Letters, NYU London’s Guy Wilson and his co-authors in provide a theory to account for the thirty-year-old outstanding experimental results by Donovan and Wilson on the electron transport in polydiacetylene (PDA) single crystals. Their work gives a theoretical understanding of currents induced by light pulses in these crystals, resulting in electron mobility that is higher than in any conventional semiconductor.
In crafting an “umbrella” Hamiltonian, which gives the complete story of quantum energy in the crystals, the authors explain how, in the presence of a low, external electric field, currents at supersonic velocities can be achieved.
The paper’s authors write that further experiments building on this transport theory of PDA crystals could achieve a room temperature super-metal. Their transport theory “offers the possibility of a mechanical control of electrons at the nano-scale,” and can also be used for other materials “whose stiffness and crystal vibrations permit strong enough compressions.”
Read the full paper at: http://iopscience.iop.org/0295-5075/106/2/27004

NYU London Professor Contributed to Winning Submission for 2014 Wolfson Prize

Nicholas FalkThe 2014 Wolfson Prize has been awarded to David Rudlin of URBED (Urbanism, Environment, Design), who prepared his submission in collaboration with NYU London Professor Nicholas Falk (also of URBED) and others. Professor Falk teaches Economics of Regeneration and Reuse for the MA in Historical and Sustainable Architecture program at NYU London.
The Wolfson Prize (£250,000) is the second-biggest cash economics prize in the world, after the Nobel Prize. This year the prize asked “How would you deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, and popular?”
An independent panel of judges chose the winning submission from the 279 entries submitted. The submission argues for the near-doubling of up to 40 existing large towns to provide new homes for 150,000 people per town, built over 30-35 years. The entry imagines a fictional town called Uxcester to develop the concept. It argues that expansion of existing towns is the best way to accommodate growth, regenerate town centers, and protect much-loved countryside and the setting of surrounding villages.
In an Appendix to the entry, Professor Falk applies the Uxcester concept to Oxford (2011 population: 150,000) as a case study. The study argues that if Oxford does not grow, Oxford University’s position as one of the top three in the world could be lost. It describes the County Council’s acceptance that 100,000 new homes are needed in the county by 2031 with Oxford itself in need of 28,000 new homes by 2026. It notes that Oxford City Council has recently published an informal assessment of the potential to release Green Belt land, but proposes an alternative strategy involving no use of flood plains and the protection of some smaller villages near Oxford which would otherwise be developed.