This new account of the Congo Reform Association (CRA) is a welcome addition to the growing field of the history of humanitarianism. Dean Pavlakis presents a clear and comprehensive review of the CRA’s history as a movement, focused on its development, its strategies and an evaluation of its impact. Refreshingly, for this field of research, the book does not try to argue that this was a new or different kind of humanitarian organisation, but, in fact, that it fitted into long-standing patterns of humanitarian movements stretching back through the nineteenth century and continuing well into the twentieth. Pavlakis argues that ‘the Congo reform movement, despite its claims of uniqueness, was firmly embedded in the humanitarian tradition’ (pp. 26–7) and he highlights throughout the book that the movement drew on all of the traditional sources and styles of appeal that previous movements had relied upon. Since, as Pavlakis notes, E.D. Morel’s own writing on the movement has largely affected scholars’ perceptions of the movement in its aftermath, the book has attempted to move beyond a focus on this influential individual to demonstrate the wider organisational structure and the influence that the amalgamation of different interest groups had on the directions that the movement chose in pushing for a reform of King Leopold’s reign in the Congo Free State. Once established, after the various strands of critique of Leopold finally coalesced (under Sir Roger Casement’s guidance) into the CRA, the movement’s Executive Committee ‘was to include people from the worlds of humanitarianism … religion … commerce … politics … and crusading journalism’ (p. 131). The book is therefore organised around the competing tensions of the various strands of the movement. Chapter One is an introduction to the wider context of Leopold’s Congo Free State and the campaign against him. Chapter Two shows that, although there were numerous attempts by groups such as the Aborigines Protection Society and the Anti-slavery Association, as well as exposés by missionaries and former officials, it was only E.D. Morel’s focus ‘on the perverse nature of Leopold’s system of government and its economic underpinning’ which ‘revolutionized the hitherto ineffective movement’ (p. 46). Chapter Three outlines the organising structure of the newly-established CRA and the role of Alice and John Harris in revitalising the movement with their intervention of money and organisational skill. Chapter Four details the membership of the CRA and its popular impact. Chapter Five looks at the domestic alliances that operated in tension within the CRA, while Chapter Six explores the role of internationalism in the movement. Chapter Seven presents an overview of the types of representations of the Congo on which the campaign relied to appeal to popular audiences. Chapter Eight shifts attention to the strategies used in appealing to the Foreign Office. Finally, Chapter Nine attempts to measure the movement’s effectiveness by examining the outcomes in relation to the stated goals of its various membership bases. For scholars and students interested in pursuing more focused studies of any particular aspect of this British organisation, the book includes lists of donors, auxiliary organisations, executive membership, and is fairly thorough in detailing the group’s wider membership base. Chapter Four, especially, provides a detailed breakdown of the various groups involved, looking at how many people probably actually attended meetings (400,000–1.1 million), the largely Liberal, middle-class make-up of the membership, who donated money, and what role women played in the organisation and the wider movement. Scholars of the wider history of British humanitarian movements will not be surprised to learn that Quakers and manufacturing interests were among the largest donors to the association, or that several prominent women—Mary Kingsley, Alice Harris, Alice Stopford Green—helped to push the movement forward at crucial moments. This chapter and Chapter Eight, which focuses on strategies employed in the movement’s relationship with the Foreign Office, provide a great deal of new information relevant for understanding the wider appeal and success of the movement in effecting change. Although Chapter Seven, on representations, and the overviews of the development of the movement in the first two chapters follow similar trajectories to other accounts of the movement, and some of the work on the alliances, both domestically and internationally (chs. 5 and 6) is a bit cursory, the book as a whole presents an unrivalled comprehensive account of the British movement, and should be required reading for anyone interested in this period of British imperial humanitarianism. The detailed prosopographical work allows the author to make an important contribution to understanding the inner workings of the movement. This also helps historians move toward answering the broader questions of the history of humanitarianism, such as how activism functions at the organisational level, and how diverse interest groups work together to achieve a goal in the face of national and international resistance to change. © Oxford University Press 2017. All rights reserved.
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 21, 2017
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