Lawler, Nancy Ellen

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LAWLER, Nancy Ellen

PERSONAL:

Female. Education: Trinity College, Dublin, M.A.; Northwestern University, Ph.D., c. 1988.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Wales. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Ohio University Press, Scott Quadrangle, 1 Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701-2979.

CAREER:

Historian. Oakton Community College, Des Plaines, IL, professor emeritus of economics and history.

WRITINGS:

Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1992.

(Editor, with John O. Hunwick) The Cloth of Many Colored Silks: Papers on History and Society, Ghanaian and Islamic, in Honor of Ivor Wilks, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1996.

Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers: The Gold Coast in World War II, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS:

Nancy Ellen Lawler, a historian who specializes in West Africa, developed her first book, Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II, from her doctoral thesis. The book resulted from extensive rewriting of the thesis, a broadened bibliography, and inclusion of illustrations and an index. Joseph J. Lauer described it in the International Journal of African Historical Studies as "an attractive study" of West African men from the Korhogo region of northern Ivory Coast (Ivorians), who were either conscripted into or volunteered for the French military during World War II. Lawler used interviews conducted in 1985 and 1986 with 110 veterans and other people, along with written archival reports from France and Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. Lauer commented that while France's use of West African men in the military has been written about extensively, the effect their service had on them personally and, in turn, what effect that had on West Africa's independence, has largely been neglected. Lawler's book, with a strong emphasis on social history, focuses on those effects.

Conscription of West African men into France's military was a well-established practice, and by the time World War II became imminent in the late 1930s, many Ivorians who wished to become French citizens were willing to fight for France. Most men from the Korhogo region, however, joined because they were promised exemptions from forced labor on private plantations or roads and from heavy taxes imposed by the colonists. Of the more than 120,000 Africans who served in Europe, 58,500 became prisoners and suffered severely in the camps. Then, rather than receiving a hero's welcome upon returning home, veterans and prisoners of war alike were denied their promised rewards by the pro-German Vichy regime which, after the fall of France to Italy, ruled the many French colonies in West Africa.

Lauer believed the book notable in that Lawler allowed veterans to speak for themselves through the lengthy quotes she dispersed throughout the text. However, he saw as weaknesses Lawler's closeness to her sources and the portrayal of her struggle to get the promised pensions granted to at least some of the vets. He also noted that she—as have many other writers—used tirailleurs to mean "African soldiers" or "riflemen" when historically it implied "units of non-European forces within the French military." Regardless, he called her thesis "well developed" and further commented that, "despite these flaws, this is an attractive study." J. Malcolm Thompson, in a review for the Journal of African History, noted that some areas would have benefited from more detail, including how the soldiers viewed Europeans and understood their actions. However, he commented, "These are but small criticisms to a book that is striking in its ability to retrieve the voices of hereto silent Africans."

The Cloth of Many Colored Silks: Papers on History and Society, Ghanaian and Islamic, in Honor of Ivor Wilks is a selection of thirty-four essays presented at the retirement reception in 1993 for Ivor Wilks, a prominent historian of Africa, Islam, and Wales. The volume includes a bibliography of Wilks's writings on Africa and Islam and a bibliographic essay of the historian by Lawler. Writing in the Journal of African History, Gareth Austin called Lawler's piece "short but fascinating." Austin commented on the high quality of each chapter and gave the editors credit for having maintained coherence across the book's more than four hundred pages. While noting that publishers in the late twentieth century seemed to steer clear of Festschriften (a compilation of writings by different authors offered as a tribute or memorial, especially to a scholar), Austin wrote that The Cloth of Many Colored Silks stands as a "reminder that the best of such volumes can make just as valuable a contribution to the literature as the best among other collections."

Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers: The Gold Coast in World War II focuses on the British West African Gold Coast (now known as Ghana) and the importance of the Allied war effort there. When France fell to Italy in June 1940, the British West African colonies were surrounded by former French colonies that supported the pro-Nazi Vichy regime; invasion from those colonies became a serious concern. Britain quickly established the London-based Special Operations Executive (SOE) in West Africa in collaboration with French leader Charles de Gaulle's Free French Intelligence. Through an elaborate combination of propaganda and espionage that employed strategies such as rumor-mongering, smuggling, and sabotage, the SOE scored a major triumph by masterminding the movement of a significant portion of the local population in 1942 from Vichy-controlled Ivory Coast to the Gold Coast. This migration included the king of Gyaman, his entire family, important chiefs, and many subjects. Emmanuel Akyeampong of Harvard University, who reviewed this book on the Ohio University Press and Swallow Press Web site, noted that the achievement of this migration was a minor miracle in light of the disagreement between the many governmental branches. He went on to say that the value created by the propaganda that arose from the coup was "enormous" to the Allied war effort.

In the book, Lawler addresses two fundamental issues: how invasion of the Gold Coast by enemy forces was deterred, and what factors deterred invasion by the regions of French West Africa that had fallen under the Vichy regime. She sheds light on the decision-making processes in London, Washington, and Brazzaville and includes events surrounding a bitter two-year squabble over territory. Owen White, reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, noted that, in covering the region of the Gold Coast, an area not traditionally focused on by historians, Lawler clearly demonstrated just how significant that region was to British forces. He commented that "Lawler's fresh research uncovers intriguing stories" and called the book "well-researched and illuminating."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Choice, January, 2003, R. A. Callahan, review of Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers: The Gold Coast in World War II, p. 897.

International Journal of African Historical Studies, winter, 1993, Joseph J. Lauer, review of Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II, pp. 193-195.

Journal of African History, January, 2000, Gareth Austin, review of The Cloth of Many Colored Silks: Papers on History and Society, Ghanaian and Islamic, in Honor of Ivor Wilks, p. 136; August, 1993, J. Malcolm Thompson, review of Soldiers of Misfortune, p. 513.

Times Literary Supplement, February 14, 2003, Owen White, review of Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers, p. 26.

ONLINE

Country Bookshop Web site,http://www.countrybookshop.co.uk/ (July 14, 2004), review of Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers.

Ohio University Press and Swallow Press Web site,http://www.ohiou.edu/ (July 6, 2004), review of Soldiers, Airmen, Spies, and Whisperers.*

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Lawler, Nancy Ellen

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