Home Fronts of the Empire-Commonwealth: Imperial Interconnections and Wartime Social Transformations during the Second World War

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Politics and International Relations


The Second World War disrupted millions of people in the form of military recruitment, civil labour conscription, food shortages, savage fighting, propaganda, and political competition. Imperial power connected remote regions to global economic, political, and military currents. The incredible diversity of the war experience of the subjects of the Empire-Commonwealth, and the great importance of the empire in defining Britain's war, is only slowly coming to be properly understood. The trans-national effects of the war are often regarded simplistically as one-way relationships between metropole and periphery, that stress the role of non-Western combatants in Europe but do not go further to enrich our understanding of the vast dependency of Europe on imperial supplies, people and resources during wartime. This project aims to considerably broaden our understanding of the full impact of war in the widest sense by investigating imperial interconnections and social transformations during the Second World War in South Asia and the Middle East from 1939-45 by showing the lasting developmental changes that accompanied the war on some of the most important imperial 'home fronts.'

This project aims to examine the social history of the second world war from the perspective of South Asia and the Middle East, by concentrating on the perspective of war from these 'home fronts' and analysis of three major themes: firstly, the imperial and transnational connections which enabled the fighting of the war, such as shipping and supply networks, migrant labour and factory production. Secondly, the project seeks to go beyond conventional military history to analyze the experience of non-combatants and the links between civilians and wartime in these regions; for instance the role of South Asian and Middle Eastern labourers, nurses, transport workers and factory workers. We will ask whether there may have been closer quotidian interactions between the military and local imperial subjects than is usually depicted. Thirdly, the project hopes to highlight the social transformation wrought by wartime, for instance, the development generated by war through the investment of indigenous capital, the building of infrastructure and development of cities and factories. In short, the total and transforming nature of war during empire will be better stressed and illustrated in a way that goes beyond simply 'social' or 'military' history to present a more integrated and holisitic appraisal of how events on the ground in South Asia and the Middle East intersected with wartime transformations.

Planned Impact

1) Who will benefit from this research?
Potential institutions and organisations beyond universities identified as potential beneficiaries of this research are detailed in the pathways to impact. They include the following:
a) Museums. The Imperial War Museum. Alan Jeffries at the Imperial War Museum has previously collaborated with Jackson and KCL-Imperial War Museum hosted a one day conference on The Indian Army, 1939-1947 in 2009. There is further potential for use of the IWM's collections (archival and object), opportunities for academic collaboration, potential for public speaker series/lectures at IWM. Also the National Maritime Museum: potential for public lecture. Khan previously lectured on the subject of the Partition of India at NMM.
b) Public organisations, institutions, veterans' groups: Royal Society of Arts; Royal Commonwealth Society; Commonwealth Secretariat, British Commonwealth Ex-Services League, Overseas Pensioners Association, Imperial War Museum London and Manchester and British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, National Army Museum.
Jackson is on the Development Group as well as the Academic Advisory Panel of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum Trust (building a new museum alongside the Oxforshire Museum) which is a potential site for related speaker events and engagement.
c) Local Schools and community groups: particularly in London, e.g. Lampton School Hounslow has established links to outreach work by RHUL during Black History Month. Khan has lectured at Mehfil-e-Ali, Harrow on previous research work.
d) General trade book readers/publishers: readers in English language of accessible, scholarly publications, both in the UK and overseas including India and USA.
2) How will they benefit?
The project will take forward a new wave of understanding about the Second World War which brings its wider global aspects into view and involves communicating a story of global transformation through the war's impact on societies beyond Europe. The Second World War is a profitable driver of heritage/museum/publishing industries in the UK but the historiography needs constant refreshing and development to avoid becoming simplistic and outdated and also to have relevance for international as well as British audiences. Direct impact is planned during the immediate 24 months of the project through direct involvement and participation of these groups and organisations. Individual specialists beyond academia will be invited from museums to participate in both workshops and therefore develop additional skills and knowledge base, for instance by presenting papers and engaging with roundtables. Time is also allocated for outreach lectures and talks by PIs to public institutions, organisations and veterans' groups. Ongoing impact, indirectly, after the end of the project, will be achieved through the publication of monographs intended for non-specialist readers, promoted in tandem with publishers and an accessible web resource of use to specialists and non-specialists.


10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/J000019/1 01/05/2012 31/12/2012 £151,716
AH/J000019/2 Transfer AH/J000019/1 01/01/2013 31/08/2014 £130,073
Title A Passage to Britain 
Description 3 part series for BBC 2 called A Passage to Britain (Specialist factual) produced by Wall to Wall television, broadcast by BBC 2 in August and September 2018. Some of the research generated through this AHRC project was included in the background research to these films and informed the content of episode 2. Khan was presenter and consultant on the series. The first episode was seen by more than 1 million viewers. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Wide audience reach and greater understanding of the role played by South Asians in British homefront experiences of the second world war 
Description Please see AH/J000019/2 (it is the same project)
Exploitation Route Please see AH/J000019/2 (it is the same project)
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Please see AH/J000019/2 (it is the same research project)
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Collaborative work on curriculum pilot with Cheney School
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Khan addressing History Teachers at the Historical Association Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact History teachers attending the annual Historical Association Conference requested a presentation from Khan on the history of South Asia during the Second World War
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019