Successful SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship Proposal

This was my successful proposal for a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship back in 2020. I hope it may be useful to anyone preparing their own proposals!


Indigenous and Settler Correspondence with the Aborigines’ Protection Society: Negotiating Imperialism from within Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, 1850-1900.

Context and research questions:

The Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS) was a British humanitarian organization that operated between 1837 and 1909. The mandate of the APS was to protect Indigenous peoples in the empire from exploitation and violence, but not to challenge the notion of colonialism and empire. As such, it presents a remarkable window into the operation and contradictions of British imperialism. The correspondence network of the APS, previously neglected by historians, offers crucial insight into how Indigenous peoples and settlers attempted to participate in imperial politics from the edges of the British empire, as well as insight into the cultural structures that marginalized Indigenous voices during the late nineteenth century. My research will be focused on this correspondence network. I ask the question: Who were the Indigenous and settler individuals who corresponded with the APS from Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand between 1850 and 1900, how were tensions between their voices mediated by the APS in its lobbying activities, and what can we learn about the operation of imperial information networks by studying the APS’s mediation of Indigenous and settler voices?

Literature review:

The focus of scholarship on imperial information networks has been on European engagements, while Indigenous peoples have often been assumed to be locally bounded victims of imperialism (Elbourne 2005; Scully 2012; Carey and Lydon 2014). Previous histories of the APS have adopted this view, treating its Indigenous correspondents as peripheral players in a predominantly European endeavor (Swaisland 1968; Nworah 1971; Whitehead 1975; Edgecombe 1976; Willan 1979; Rainger 1980; Mitcham 2001; Heartfield 2011). This view is incorrect. Recent studies, including my Master’s thesis, have demonstrated that Indigenous peoples engaged extensively with the APS (Elbourne 2005; Laidlaw 2014). The full extent and impact of this engagement is yet to be revealed, and this is the research gap I will address.


My proposed dissertation will be structured into two sections, each based on a different set of primary sources. The first section, based on letters written to the APS held in the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, will be a close reading of those letters sent by Indigenous and settler individuals. I will categorize and contrast themes in Indigenous letters against themes in settler letters to identify tensions and similarities between the two groups. The second section, based on articles published in The Aborigines’ Friend, the APS’s journal available online through, and letters written by the APS to the Colonial Office, held in The National Archives of the UK (Kew), will be a close reading of the ways in which the APS mediated the voices of its settler and Indigenous correspondents. To identify connections between correspondent letters and the APS’s outputs, I will start from the post-marked dates of the correspondence used as case studies in the first section, and trace how the words and the messages contained within them were transmitted, ignored, or mediated.


By incorporating the long-neglected archives of Indigenous and settler correspondence with the APS into the history of the British empire, my research seeks to reconceptualise our understanding of how knowledge about the empire was generated, disseminated, and mediated. I will reconsider the extent to which imperial discourses were informed by Indigenous voices, and the extent to which Indigenous knowledge of empire was distanced from their voices by the mediation of information facilitators such as the APS.


Carey, Jane, and Jane Lydon, eds. Indigenous Networks: Mobility, Connections and Exchange. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Edgecombe, Dorothy Ruth. The Influence of the Aborigines’ Protection Society on British Policy towards Black African and Cape Coloured Affairs in South Africa, 1866-1910. PhD Dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1976.

Elbourne, Elizabeth. “Indigenous Peoples and Imperial Networks in the Early Nineteenth Century: The Politics of Knowledge.” In Rediscovering the British World, edited by Phillip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis, 59-85. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005.

Heartfield, James. The Aborigines’ Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1837-1909. London: Hurst, 2011.

Laidlaw, Zoë. “Indigenous Interlocutors: Networks of Imperial Protest and Humanitarianism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.” In Indigenous Networks: Mobility, Connections and Exchange, edited by Jane Carey and Jane Lydon, 114-139. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Nworah, Kenneth D. “The Aborigines’ Protection Society, 1889-1909: A Pressure-Group in Colonial Policy.” Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 5, no. 1 (1971): 79–91.

Rainger, Ronald. “Philanthropy and Science in the 1830’s: The British and Foreign Aborigines’ Protection Society.” Man 15, no. 4 (1980): 702–17.

Scully, Pamela. “Indigeneity, Agency and Modernity.” Cultural and Social History 9, no. 4 (2012): 589–93.

Swaisland, Henry Charles. “The Aborigines Protection Society and British Southern and West Africa.” PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 1968.

Whitehead, Rachel. “The Aborigines’ Protection Society and the Safeguarding of African Interests in Rhodesia, 1889-1930.” PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 1975.

Willan, Brian. “The Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society and the South African Natives’ Land Act of 1913*.” The Journal of African History 20, no. 1 (January 1979): 83–102.