Slaves of fortune: Sudanese soldiers and the River War, 1896-1898
Although the Anglo-Egyptian reconquest of the Sudan has been chronicled numerous times, we still know little about the Africans who participated in the campaign. In particular, the role of Sudanese soldiers in the Egyptian Army has been ignored, or misrepresented, in most accounts. In effect, these men are depicted as no more than military automatons cum battalion numbers—nameless, faceless, imperial pawns, liminal figures that possessed neither identity nor agency, neither culture nor history. Making use of unpublished official and private primary sources located in the United Kingdom and the Sudan, as well as numerous published sources, this dissertation is at its core a historiographical restoration. It argues that nineteenth-century Sudanese slave soldiers were social beings and historical actors, shaping both European and African destinies, just as their own lives were being transformed by imperial forces in the process.
The dissertation begins by providing a background history of Sudanese soldiers in the Egyptian Army, from the early days of the Turkiyya to the launch of the Nile Campaign in 1896. In so doing, it reveals that despite military reforms and British circumlocution, for Sudanese soldiers the transition from "old" to New Egyptian Army in the 1880s, and from that of "slave" to "volunteer," represented regional and institutional continuity more than it did change. The dissertation proceeds to explore the complex nature of Sudanese soldier identity and social condition, as well as daily life and conditions of service. It then examines the unique character and scope of interactions between Sudanese soldiers and their British military brethren during the 1896-1898 Nile Campaign, or "River War," as Churchill famously penned it. It goes on to highlight not only the decisive military role played by Sudanese troops throughout this war, but also the many non-combat roles these men occupied during the campaign, as translators, military recruiters, and ethnic ambassadors. The dissertation concludes with a detailed narrative of the 1900 Sudanese mutiny at Omdurman, discussing its multiple causes, various outcomes, and broader implications.
0331: African history
0722: Military history