EMPIRE WRITING

 

Next class, we will be discussing the excellent anthology EMPIRE WRITING. I will not be assigning individual sections or themes. Instead, this handout is intended to illustrate the themes we will be addressing, and you should use this to guide your reading. I want you as you go to pick out passages, extracts, quotes, that illustrate and try to address these issues. If one particular issue comes up blank, don’t worry – but just use these notes as a working basis for approaching a fairly long book. Oh – and don’t forget the question we raised in an earlier class: What do we find in literary sources of this kind that we are unlikely to find in official documents?

 

1.Regions Caesar never knew / Thy posterity shall sway

Why did the empires happen?

What did imperialists want?

What did they get from these empires that surprised them?

What historical models and examples shaped imperial expectations? How far were these past examples and analogies valid?

Ideas of empire are dynamic rather than static. How do they evolve in the period under discussion? (Hint: note the movement during the period from simply commercial motives to exalted ideas of High Imperialism, Christian mission, Second Roman empire, etc etc)

Do we see signs of the later idea that the European powers are ruling to train up their subject peoples to prepare for self-government?

Is empire a uniform pattern, or how does it vary from place to, place? Does imperialism have degrees?

 

2.Lords of Human Kind

What are the passages you find that best indicate colonial attitudes?

What are the religious justifications for colonialism?

Where does colonialism emerge at its best?

Where does colonialism emerge at its worst?

How are our attitudes affected by the nature of our sources?

 

3.The Pink Bits

How were the colonies meant to solve the problems of the home lands?

How does the empire serve as a release valve for the metropolitan societies?

How did the imperial experience affect conditions and attitudes back home?

How do people evolve an idea of life in the colonies as wild, free, and often more authentic than life in the crowded homeland?

 

4.The Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady/Are sisters under the skin

Women found themselves in an ambiguous position, as members of the master race, but within a patriarchal setting. How do colonial circumstances affect concepts of gender?

Tell me about the ideology of masculinity in the colonial setting?

Tell me about the ideology of femininity in the colonial setting?

How did the colonial setting affect attitudes towards sexuality? How rigid a barrier did racial frontiers constitute?

 

5.”The Horror! The Horror!”

What evidence do we see of guilt, doubts or qualms about colonialism? On what grounds?

How do Westerners come to idealize and/or romanticize the colonial worlds, especially the “Mystic east”?

 

6.Voices from Below

How did colonized people respond?

What evidence do we see for resistance by the colonized?

Tell me about the varied reactions we find among literate subject peoples – resistance, adaptation, imitation….

How do ordinary peoples in the subject lands see or interact with their rulers?

What is the religious impact of this interaction?

Do the empires tend to produce reactions that ultimately doom them? How? Is empire its own gravedigger? Note how the British and other Europeans create the potential for new nations and new nationalisms

 

7.The Empire in Black and White

Simplistic stereotypes to the contrary, European empires were complex societies with many intervening stages between pure imperial overlords and native peasants. What were these stages? Think about the role of merchants and compradors, mixed race communities, marginal races and peoples, Jews and Syrians…. How did lines of race and color float and vary over time?

What evidence do we see of imperial activity by Britain’s own “subordinate tribes”, like the Irish and Scots?

What impact would these marginal groups have on the rise of nationalism and the movement towards independence?

What are the particular problems faced by white colonials, eg the settler populations in societies like Australia and Canada?

How do people struggle to maintain the notion of Whiteness? Can this status be lost? How? What happens to those who fall short of it?

 

7.Orientals and Ornaments

In recent years, academics have written about two ways of approaching colonialism, orientalism (famously) and more recently, ornamentalism. What do the terms mean? What passages can we find here that illuminate or contradict these ideas?

How do these readings reflect the insights of post-colonial theory, eg about the essentializing of the subject peoples?

Do we see evidence of scientific foundations for racism? How does this mesh with what we already know about ideas of evolution and degeneracy in this era?

 

8.Broadening the Story

This book focuses on the British experience. How do you think conditions would have been seen differently from the perspective of other great imperial powers, such as France, Germany, Italy, and so on.

How different was the American experience? Does our understanding of imperial and colonial attitudes help explain US attitudes towards subject races, eg American Indians and above all blacks?

Should we see “the West” as the US equivalent of the common European concept of the empire? Is “manifest destiny” much more than just an American peculiarity?

Note also how black nationalism in the US grows out of and often borrows from nationalisms within thee British empire, especially in the Caribbean. Ie, in many and various ways, the European empires do have a direct impact in the US

 

9.The Empires Strike Back

What impact did war have on the empires? Why did they eventually decline and fall? How far can we see the seeds of decline in the writings you have here?

How do imperial attitudes and conflicts reflect back on European and global events and controversies, especially during and after the two world wars?

How did the imperial connection shape the changing ethnic and social character of the metropolitan countries from the 1950s onwards?

Does modern racism have its roots in the ideas and events we are studying here?

Should we see Zionism – which is so central to modern Middle Eastern politics – as an aftershock of European and specifically British imperialism? (And if not, why not?) What would this analysis mean for our understanding of the Middle East?

 

10. Some Individuals

There are also some authors who tend to dominate this book. Tell me about the following, what they wrote, and why they matter:

Olive Schreiner

H. M. Stanley            

Rudyard Kipling                                

Claude McKay                                              

Joseph Conrad                       

Flora Annie Steel

 

In conclusion, I quote the wonderful scene from John Boorman’s 1987 film Hope and Glory: The scene is set in a London school during the 1940 blitz. A teacher points to an atlas that has covered the blackboard: "Right...what are all the pink bits?..., yes Martin?"

"Don't know Miss"

"Granger?"

"They're ours Miss"...

"Quite right, Granger. The Empire...two fifths of the world...and that's what this is all about. Men are out there fighting and dying to save all the pink bits for you ungrateful little twerps".