Into Africa: The Imperial Life of Margery Perham (review)
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Reviewed by
Faught, C. Brad. 2012. Into Africa: The Imperial Life of Margery Perham. London and New York: I. B. Tauris Books. 198 pp.

Professor C. Brad Faught’s book, Into Africa: The Imperial Life of Margery Perham, details the life of Oxford-educated Dame Margery Perham, who received two knighthoods, including the 1965 Dame Commander of the Order of Saints Michael and George (DCMG). In this book, readers learn a great deal about the British Empire from the perspectives of the author and Perham, who first set foot on Africa in 1921 and stayed involved with affairs of the African continent for more than sixty years.

Perham’s maiden visit to Africa took place when she went to British Somaliland, where her sister was the wife of the British district commissioner. Her intellectual involvement with Africa started when, as a Fellow of St. Hugh College, Oxford, Perham received a 1928 travel fellowship, which she used for studying British colonial administration. It is fascinating to note how Faught weaves the life story of Perham around British colonial history in a book that he has dedicated to a formidable scholar of the subject matter, Anthony Hamilton Millard Kirk-Green of St. Antony College, Oxford, describing him as a “school, Mentor [and] Friend.”

After earning a first-class (summa cum laude) degree in modern history from Oxford, as one of four out of thirty-one female candidates taking the final examination in the Trinity term in 1917, Perham had every option (or right) to remain at Oxford. Instead, her first job took her to the University of Sheffield, where she started to lecture in history in September 1917, shortly after she turned twenty-two years old. As Faught writes, Perham at the time was “younger than many of the students she was about to teach, [End Page 101] the most junior member of the history staff, and, quite plainly, its only woman” (p. 14).

Sheffield, a Midland city, in 1917 had a population of about 185,000 (p. 15). Originally coming from Yorkshire, Perham was not expected to see her stay in the city as banishment. Therefore, she tried her best to enjoy it. At the end of her first academic year, in the spring of 1918, she accepted an invitation from the Young Women’s Christian Association to travel overseas “to lecture to British soldiers stationed across the Channel in northern France” (p. 17). That was part of the army’s educational scheme. It was a bittersweet lecture tour for Perham, whose brother Edgar had died at the front in July of 1916—a death that brought her a lot of grief.

Perham kept in touch with her mother through regular postal mail, in which she complained that it was not possible for poor people to live happily in the Sheffield area. To make life enjoyable, she started a romantic relationship with a campus colleague by the name of Vincent Tourner. Faugh writes: “Not much is known of him, but their brief relationship was ended by Perham” (p. 19). It was a period of disillusionment for Perham, who planned to travel to Somaliland to visit her sister and her husband.

Perham sought leave from teaching so that she could travel to Somali-land, and it was granted. Therefore, by 1921, she was in Africa. Upon her return in 1922, she went back to the University of Sheffield. In 1924, she decided to return to Oxford, where she accepted an appointment as Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St. Hugh College. While there, she was preparing a manuscript for publication, which was published in 1925 as Major Dane’s Garden. She continued to work at Oxford and, in 1929, she was awarded a Rhodes Trust Travelling Fellowship; in 1935, she was appointed Research Lecturer in Colonial Administration at Oxford; in 1939, she was elected the first Fellow of Nuffield College at Oxford. In 1948, having been appointed the first Director of the Institute of Colonial Studies at Oxford, she was made a Companion of the British Empire. Between 1956 and 1960, she published two books, Legend: The Years of Adventure, 1858–1898, and Lugard: The Years of Authority, 1899...


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