Neil Parsons

Neil Parsons has been professor of history at the University of Botswana since 1996. He has held other positions at the Universities of Zambia and Swaziland, and at Botswana's National Institute of Research and its National Museum, with short-term appointments at Oxford, Stanford, London (Institute of Commonwealth Studies), Cape Town, Berkeley, and Canberra (ANU).

He has co-edited (with Robin Palmer) The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (1977) and (with Michael Crowder) Monarch of All I Survey: Bechuanaland Diaries of Sir Charles Rey 1929-37 (1988). He has written textbooks, notably A New History of Southern Africa (1982), and a number of historical-biographical studies including (with Thomas Tlou & Willy Henderson) Seretse Khama 1921-1980, and King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen (1998), and his most recent book Clicko the Wild Dancing Bushman (2009, published so far only in Southern Africa). He has also served in an editorial capacity on a number of journals, notably African Social Research, the Journal of Southern African Studies, and Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies.

During his time at ASC Leiden, he will be conducting a study of the origin and effects of the growth of telecommunications between the Cape of Good Hope and the Zambezi via Botswana (Bechuanaland Protectorate) between the 1880s and the 1930s. The first part of the study looks at the colonial-commercial imposition of, and local resistance to, the Cape-Zambezi telegraph in 1889-91. The study continues with the loss of local sovereignty and economic autonomy in the 1891-1904/1910 period by colonial administrative controls exercised through telegraphic and railway communications. The third part of the study, covering the 1910-36 period, is on the intensification of political and economic subordination by means of telephone and radio communications as well as telegraphs and railways, and by new motor-road and air networks by-passing the Protectorate. The culmination of this being the 1936-63 incorporation (with subsequent neglect, despite initiatives to persuade British imperial authorities otherwise) of Bechuanaland within the posts and telegraphs regime of neighbouring South Africa. Key sources have previously been consulted in the Botswana National Archives, but the major sources for this study will be imperial and colonial records held in London--to throw light, in particular, on the transformation of local "tribal" bureaucracies and their systems of communication.

Fellowship year: 
Dr. N. (Neil) Parsons
Former visiting fellow