Dr. Mara Albrecht


ehem. wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin (Faculty of Philosophy)

Research Project

The SpaceTime of Urban Violence and Policing in the British Empire: The Riots in Belfast (c. 1857-1935) and in Jerusalem during the British Mandate

The sectarian riots in Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in Palestine during the Mandate era are among those cases of disturbances of the peace most damaging to the prestige of the British Empire. The cities of Belfast and Jerusalem played a significant role in these struggles about religious and national identity, political power and spatial hegemony. Practices of urban violence and policing in the empire’s territories were shaped by imperial policies based on a paternalistic and orientalist worldview that was not only applied to “Orientals” but also to the “fighting Irish”. A main approach within British policies was to differentiate the local population spatially and temporally according to religious categories, which were at least in their exaggerated form constructed and imagined.

In this study, I analyze the riots in Belfast and Jerusalem against the backdrop of how urban violence and its policing was interconnected with British notions of religious identities, urban space and time. I argue that the British imperial perception of their “colonial subjects” significantly influenced their urban planning strategies, changed urban rhythms and spatiotemporal practices of the local actors. However, these actors also had their own agency and operated in a field of tension between cooperation with and resistance to imperial rule on the basis of their own spatiotemporal perceptions and ultimately also through the use of violence. By adopting a spatiotemporal perspective on the meso level of the city, new insights can be gained about the impact of religious imaginations on the transformation of urban space and time as well as the shaping of practices of urban violence and its policing.

I further reflect the riots in a broader, imperial context of accumulation and circulation of knowledge about urban violence and policing strategies. The connection between Ireland and Palestine is of particular significance in this regard: Not only did the Royal Irish Constabulary serve as a role model for other police forces within the empire, but many officers, troops and administrative personnel were transferred to Palestine after the Irish War of Independence and brought their perceptions of sectarian violence with them.

My research is based mainly on reports by British commissions of inquiry into the riots, which convened in the fashion of a court of law, calling witnesses from all religious groups and social classes. These comprehensive reports with the minutes of evidence offer detailed information on the urban space and the timing of the violence as well as the viewpoints of the different actors. I supplement the reports with archival records as well as historical maps and newspaper articles.

Recent Publications