Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your ‘research journey’. How did you get to where you are right now?
I’m Lloyd Roberts, and I’ve been at Leeds since 2014 and a PhD student in the School of History since 2018. I had a longstanding interest in South African and Zulu history, and I decided to fulfil this interest and did an undergrad dissertation on the topic. I enjoyed university and living in Leeds so I decided to stay for a Masters, where I wrote another dissertation on Zulu history. Doing a PhD was really an ad hoc decision, and not something I had intended when I started university. However, with the help of my supervisor, Will Jackson- who had also supported me through both dissertations- I managed to secure a White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities doctoral studentship to continue my studies at Leeds.
Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?
My older brother bought my dad the Michael Caine classic, Zulu, when I was about eight or nine. I watched the film with my dad and then didn’t stop watching it for two or three years. I would pester my brother- also a keen history enthusiast- with questions about the Zulu war, the amaZulu people and the British Empire. I’m sure I drove him mad! He fostered this interest by buying me lots of books on the area (perhaps also an attempt to stop me irritating him quite so much with my incessant questioning) and I read a lot. University was the first opportunity for me to properly engage with empire as an historical topic, and over the years cultivated a broader and more complex understanding of the empire’s place in history and the amaZulu people more generally.
What are you currently working on, and why do you think it’s important?
Broadly, my thesis looks at the construction and representation of Zulu masculinity, ethnicity and identity in British imperial writings, with a specific focus on the role of violence, from sources including government documents, newspapers and amateur ethnography. My childhood interest that stemmed from watching the film made me think about the representation of Zulus and Zuluness in modern narratives; namely the synonymy of ‘Zulu’ with a warrior masculinity and South Africa generally to a huge amount of the general public. Plotting the construction of this warrior identity, and how Zulu violence is both described and informs imperial narratives of the amaZulu, helps us to understanding how these ideas are formed and, as they change and are reworked over time, how they have had such a lasting impact. Not only that, it allows us to explore the complex ways that the empire sought to manage its subjects, and how descriptions changed over time, as well as allowing us to see how the amaZulu responded to these narratives as they move from an independent people to colonial subjugation.
How does your research contribute to current debates in African (and African diaspora) studies as an interdisciplinary field?
This research seeks to complicate common stereotypes of Zulu masculinity, seen in contexts such as military tourism, exploitation of African labour, violence associated with the Inkatha Freedom Party and Jacob Zuma’s much publicised rape trial. It therefore contributes to a growing body of scholarship that use specific case studies to challenge assumptions of an ‘African’ masculinity.