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From a variety of historically grounded perspectives, After the Imperial Turn assesses the fate of the nation as a subject of disciplinary inquiry. In light of the turn toward scholarship focused on imperialism and postcolonialism, this provocative collection investigates whether the nation remains central, adequate, or even possible as an analytical category for studying history. These twenty essays, primarily by historians, exemplify cultural approaches to histories of nationalism and imperialism even as they critically examine the implications of such approaches.
While most of the contributors discuss British imperialism and its repercussions, the volume also includes, as counterpoints, essays on the history and historiography of France, Germany, Spain, and the United States. Whether looking at the history of the passport or the teaching of history from a postnational perspective, this collection explores such vexed issues as how historians might resist the seduction of national narratives, what—if anything—might replace the nation’s hegemony, and how even history-writing that interrogates the idea of the nation remains ideologically and methodologically indebted to national narratives. Placing nation-based studies in international and interdisciplinary contexts, After the Imperial Turn points toward ways of writing history and analyzing culture attentive both to the inadequacies and endurance of the nation as an organizing rubric.

Contributors. Tony Ballantyne, Antoinette Burton, Ann Curthoys, Augusto Espiritu, Karen Fang, Ian Christopher Fletcher, Robert Gregg, Terri Hasseler, Clement Hawes, Douglas M. Haynes, Kristin Hoganson, Paula Krebs, Lara Kriegel, Radhika Viyas Mongia, Susan Pennybacker, John Plotz, Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Heather Streets, Hsu-Ming Teo, Stuart Ward, Lora Wildenthal, Gary Wilder

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

After the Imperial Turn is an important collection of essays marking the 'coming of age' of 'new imperial history.’ One of its great strengths is its range—from the big picture to the local study, from the pedagogic to the institutional, from the British exemplar to a number of comparative perspectives, from the U.S. to the Caribbean and Hong Kong. This is an essential read for aspiring young historians.”—Catherine Hall, author of Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830-1867

“This is a timely intervention in the conversation on the nation sparked by critiques of the imperial foundations of modern nations and disciplines. It both assesses the fruits of the ‘imperial turn’ in scholarship and charts new directions on how to think and teach in the aftermath of the critiques of the nation. Incorporating perspectives from a range of disciplines and locations, the essays offer challenging reflections on the historicity of the present.”—Gyan Prakash, editor of After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822331421
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 369
  • Sales rank: 1,366,974
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Antoinette Burton is Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, Department of History, University of Illinois. Among her books are Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India and At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain.

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After the imperial turn

Thinking with and through the nation
By Antoinette M. Burton

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3142-X

Chapter One

SUSAN D. PENNYBACKER Rethinking British Studies: Is There Life after Empire?

The elections of 1983 and 1987 pointed to yet another important social development: the growth of the immigrant population of peoples from Asia and the West Indies.... People of Asian and West Indian descent now make up a large part of the shopkeeping and public transportation work force in such cities [London, Leicester, Wolverhampton, and Bradford], with one result being that local shops stay open longer because the Asians are willing to work long and hard. Asian doctors have been essential to the National Health Service, since many homegrown British doctors prefer private practice.... It is clear, therefore, that the British Nationality Act of 1981 and its predecessors of the 1960s and 70s did not succeed in keeping Asians and West Indians from immigrating into Britain and that England, which for many hundreds of years had absorbed Celtic people from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, is no longer exclusively white. -Thomas William Heyck, The Peoples of the British Isles

Divisions were capable of being bridged in the light of a prevailing attachment to places, traditions and myths. The more ceremonial aspects, such as the enthusiasm for the Crown, masked a more fundamental kind of commitment, to which West Indian andother newer immigrant citizens could also respond.... The truth was, perhaps, that Britain in the years from 1914 to 1987 had not changed all that fundamentally. -Kenneth Morgan, "The Twentieth Century"

The story cannot simply be told as one of decline. Though the laurels of international leadership passed to others during the twentieth century, Britain still had its moments of glory, not all of them illusory; and Britons nourished hopes, not all of them misguided. ... [Decline of empire] could be represented, in a flattering but not wholly false light, as an enlightened transition to the creation of a multicultural Commonwealth. -Peter Clarke, The Penguin History of Britain

The old American-centered specifications of black life as abjection, though tied to the immiseration of so many people, are incompatible with the new currency of black culture as commodity and cipher of vitality, fitness and health in a weightless global market that relies more than ever on blacks to supply some of its most alluring software. ... Britain has been judged to be a relatively successful multicultural society. -Paul Gilroy, "The Sugar You Stir"

No longer are lands outside the British isles the only theaters of racial and imperial conquest. In a reversal of fortune, the center of past empire has become a contested site for those who govern the history industry. How is Britain now captured; how is it understood in the work of the practitioners of our times? The quotations above suggest some notable directions. Thomas Heyck has written what is probably the most successful, "progressive" textbook presently used in the teaching of British history in American colleges and universities. Kenneth Morgan and Peter Clarke, both holders of prestigious chairs in Britain, have contributed two best-selling volumes to the Anglo-American canon of new, popular British histories. Paul Gilroy is a leading social theorist whose work on "race" has a wide academic following and whose voice is now highly influential among a multiracial, transatlantic intelligentsia. For different if frequently overlapping audiences, the few statements cited above mark out lines within which both "nation" and "empire" receive restorative treatment.

This essay asks a series of questions: How is the "nation" of Britain being construed within a popular interpretive literature? How do conflicting interpretations nevertheless reflect the omnipresence of the United States as the "negative example" of race relations and of a flawed "multiculturalism"? How do these issues, one of interpretation and one of political and demographic influence, affect the teaching of the subject still most often presented in its gut as "modern British history," fashionable packaging notwithstanding? Further, do new canons that include Hanif Kureishi, Michael Ondaatje, and Mary Prince transcend a past drill? Do new interrogations of old favorites like Austen, Roberts, and Orwell also assist American students and their overlords in negotiating that seductive pedagogic dance step, the "imperial turn"? How is the pursuit of modern British history faring in the "new era of globalization"? Are the cures working, the complaints subsiding, the patient rejuvenating?

The most explicitly racial narrative of English history is not that of empire per se but of slavery and antislavery. This story has altered considerably over time, and though William Wilberforce's triumph takes pride of place, the "economic" role of slavery has been increasingly emphasized in general works of history, even if slaves are afforded little agency. Before Heyck's work, R. K. Webb's Modern England was regarded as the textbook of choice in the United States. It explained:

Hence the importance of the west coast of Africa. There English merchants found buyers for printed cotton cloth from India and for English metal goods and gin; in return they got ivory and gold that could be sent to the Far East in exchange for cottons, silks, spices and tea, and they procured slaves for the West Indies and the southern colonies of North America, a trade on which much of the prosperity of Bristol, and to a lesser extent Liverpool, was based.

Webb also wrote of "the one great legislative monument of the [Fox] ministry, the abolition of the slave trade ... the first installment of a long campaign against slavery led by the Clapham Sect; Wilberforce had moved the bill." But the Jamaican uprising of 1865, which led to the court-martial of Governor Eyre, found Webb more willing to judge character. He identified the anti-Eyre campaign in England as "a magnet for radical, progressive, and humanitarian sentiment":

The pro-Eyre forces were no mere cluster of reactionaries, although Kingsley had long shown his distaste for blacks, and Carlyle was by this time far gone in an unattractive, racist hatred of the world he had been unable to hector into his own image.... Eyre attracted as defenders many men who disliked what was happening around them; they were neither evil nor inhumane, but they believed sincerely that men of whatever breed should be kept in their places and ruled firmly-through natural deference where possible, by force if necessary.

Heyck's discussion of slavery is more perfunctory, with white Englishmen occupying center stage in the context of economic imperative:

By 1700, the white population (overwhelmingly British) stood at a quarter of a million in the thirteen colonies; by 1750, it had grown to almost a million, and there were 250,000 African slaves as well.... The growth of slavery in the West Indies (and the simultaneous importation of slaves into some North American colonies) constituted a very important and new feature of life for some Britons.

The passage from slavery to freedom is typically succeeded in historical narratives by the onset of the foreign policy of the mid- to late Victorian era. In Morgan's Oxford History of Britain, the late H. C. G. Matthew wrote of what Morgan termed "imperialist neuroses" at the fin de siecle, forebodings linked to the misgivings that surrounded the Boer War. Further, Morgan proclaimed the "forcible wrenching of Britain out of its place in the sun," insisting upon its enduring legacy: "Britain in many ways has been the cockpit of mankind." The dissenters, from the Levelers to Orwell, remained "deeply committed to an almost religious sense of the civilized essence of their country and its people, their history and destiny." The doubts revealed character-even the dissidents' exalted love of country. As empire faded, its aftermath became in some sense a reinvigorated subject, sustained precisely by the absence of what had ceased to be.

The indebtedness of twentieth-century histories to A. J. P. Taylor's English History, 1914-45 is still visible. Though few American students would know his name, his candor remains unrivaled:

This book is about thirty years in the history of the English people, and others come in only if they made a stir in English politics or aroused English interest in other ways. Thus, I discuss the impact of events in India on English politics and do not attempt to narrate India's political history. Similarly, I have passed over developments in Africa which were significant for Africa, but not, at that time, for England.

Taylor was fearless of the charge of exclusion, precise in his purpose, and confident in its rationale. Compare that assuredness with the tentative openings of both Morgan's panoramic Oxford History of Britain and Clarke's more discursive and ruminative Hope and Glory. Morgan begins by paying a kind of backhanded homage to Lord Trevelyan's masterpiece, his History of England:

Secure in itself, a vibrant, outward-looking island has proceeded to colonize and civilize the world. None of Trevelyan's themes can be dismissed. Equally, none can be accepted uncritically in the more tormented, doubt-ridden age of the late twentieth century, with its well-founded suspicion of racial and national stereotypes. The problem of trying to come to grips with the essential reality of British experience remains as pressing and as fascinating as ever.

Clarke hesitates to affirm his subject, though he will soon find a way out of the bind, which he ascribes chiefly to others: "The main reason ... why British history is no longer in thrall to triumphalist accounts is surely not just because of methodological enlightenment: it is because at the end of the twentieth century British historians lack confidence that there is much to celebrate."

Whence the uncertainty, and how is it manifest in the imaginary journey from Blitz to Blair? It lies in part in the awkward pursuit of racial narrative, conjoined with the quest to salvage English national character. Taylor had provided an unsubtle, straightforward verdict on World War II and its aftermath: "Future historians may see the war as a last struggle for the European balance of power or for the maintenance of Empire. This was not how it appeared for those who lived through it. The British people had set out to destroy Hitler and National Socialism." They had been through both wars, start to finish:

Yet they remained a peaceful and civilized people, tolerant, patient, and generous. Traditional values lost much of their force. Other values took their place. Imperial greatness was on the way out; the welfare state was on the way in. The British empire declined; the condition of the people improved.... 'British' here means, perhaps for the last time, the peoples of the Dominions and of the Empire as well as of the United Kingdom.

But Taylor stopped in 1945. For those narrating the subsequent half century, the script changed drastically. Postwar immigration and its consequences had to be explained in order to confront national character. For Taylor, character appeared rock solid in the wake of the war, strengthened by the shared imperial experience, not stricken by it. Yet two decades later, Webb's rendering of the 1960s posited profound stresses on the national character:

The 1960's ... saw ... developments that, though they may have drawn on recessive traits in the nation's past, appeared as radical departures from settled and admired national traditions.... One of these new departures was the prominence assumed by racial tension and conflict.... Britain's prosperity served as a magnet to the poor and ambitious in colonies and former colonies.... The immigrants clustered in larger cities.... In 1958 there were race riots ... serious as portents if not in damage to lives or property.... One can perhaps understand public hostility when strange, alien people were intruded into a situation of economic uncertainty, especially in communities that have been by tradition tightly knit and inward-turning-though to say that is not to deny the self-evident racial cast of thinking and feeling that underlie this phenomenon, a century after the Governor Eyre controversy.

Heyck's more ostensibly liberal account of the century, fueled by its steady attention to the multiple histories of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (hence Peoples of the British Isles), recorded new, seemingly unprecedented antagonisms:

Meanwhile, a new division was emerging in British society: race.... Labor was also idealistic about the Commonwealth: in 1948 the Labor government adopted the British Nationality Act, which allowed citizens of the Commonwealth to come to Britain with full rights of British citizenship. By 1951, the black population of Britain had doubled to 200,000, and in 1961 alone, 113,000 "colored" (including blacks, Indians and Pakistanis) immigrants arrived. The immigrants did not disperse evenly across the country but concentrated in a few urban areas.... Because the British were accustomed to a relatively homogeneous population, many of them did not readily accept the newcomers.

The British accounts of Morgan and Clarke also struggle to make sense of this era of disruption. Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech always appears. In Morgan's case, Welsh and Scots demands are contrasted favorably with those of the new arrivals, while nowhere are the interwar black and Asian communities acknowledged:

Less constitutional or placid were the demands of the black or brown minorities, over a million of whom had migrated to Britain from India, Pakistan, West Africa, and the West Indies since 1950. In addition to dilapidated housing and racial discrimination in employment and (sometimes) at the hands of the police, there was the added hazard of racial bigotry in older urban areas.

Clarke attributes racist attitudes in the 1950s and 1960s to the uniqueness of the encounters: "It was the visible presence of 'dark strangers,' concentrated in some English towns and cities, which gave immigration statistics a racial edge. The newcomers had their own distinctive habits and conventions, from cooking to religion; and, of course, their own distinctive skin color."

Thus, the convention of the recent literature on both sides of the Atlantic has been to acknowledge slavery and explain the mixed responses to it in terms of epistemological stances rather than approbations of repressive violence. Next follows the anxiety about empire fostered by the turn of the century, which still enjoyed, if rather more hesitatingly, the greatness of British imperial achievement. The era of the two wars culminated in a new perplexity prompted by a split response: if some knew of the need for racial harmony, many were simply bewildered by the foreignness of the invaders, curiously unused even to seeing them (seemingly even after years of colonial encounters, two wars in which they had participated, much travel by some to lands and territories peopled by "Others").

Still, proponents of national character were not perhaps wrong in exercising caution. Even Powell might be partially redeemed from the geopolitical vantage point of the 1990s, as Clarke admonishes: "Powell, however, had more of a point than his liberal critics allowed when he singled out the intractable difficulties in coming to terms with Islam.... Pakistani communities ... presented an almost impenetrable cliff-face to the conventions of their host country." Clarke reassuringly cites the fatwah issued against "profane" writer Salman Rushdie as a case in point. One is reminded of the Today Show interview with the mild-mannered Asian milkman in outer West London in the first days of l'affaire Rushdie. When asked if he supported the fatwah against Rushdie, the man enthusiastically replied that he knew not who Rushdie was, but he certainly did support the fatwah. In light of September 11, 2001, Clarke's cautionary note takes on new vernacular meaning. Americans need not have laughed too heartily in hands-across-the-sea solidarity; they still continue to perform the ultimate role as validators of the rationality of British character by serving as the negative example of a society gone awry-the model of undesirable and endemic racial violence.


Excerpted from After the imperial turn by Antoinette M. Burton Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: On the Inadequacy and the Indispensability of the Nation / Antoinette Burton 1

1. Nations, Empires, Disciplines: Thinking beyond the Boundaries

Rethinking British Studies: Is There Life after Empire? / Susan D. Pennybacker 27

Transcending the Nation: A Global Imperial History? / Stuart Ward 44

Empire and “the Nation”: Institutional Practice, Pedagogy, and Nation in the Classroom / Heather Streets 57

We've Just Started Making National Histories, and You Want Us to Stop Already? / Ann Curthoys 70

Losing Our Way after the Imperial Turn: Charting Academic Uses of the Postcolonial / Terri A. Hasseler and Paula M. Krebs 90

Rereading the Archive and Opening up the Nation-State: Colonial Knowledge in South Asia (and Beyond) / Tony Ballantyne 102

2. Fortresses and Frontiers: Beyond and Within

Unthinking French History: Colonial Studies beyond National Identity / Gary Wilder 125

Notes on a History of “Imperial Turns” in Modern Germany / Lora Wildenthal 144

After “Spain”: A Dialogue with Josep M. Fradera on Spanish Colonial Historiography / Christopher Schmidt-Nowara 157

Making the World Safe for American History / Robert Gregg 170

Asian American Global Discourses and the Problem of History / Augusto Espiritu 186

Race, Nationality, Mobility: A History of the Passport / Radhika Viyas Mongia 196

3. Reorienting the Nation: Logics of Empire, Colony, Globe

Periodizing Johnson: Anticolonial Modernity as Crux and Critique / Clement Hawes 217

The Pudding and the Palace: Labor, Print Culture, and Imperial Britain in 1851 / Lara Kriegel 230

Double Meanings: Nation and Empire in the Edwardian Era / Ian Christopher Fletcher 246

The Fashionable World: Imagined Communities of Dress / Kristin Hoganson 260

The Romance of White Nations: Imperialism, Popular Culture, and National Histories / Hsu-Ming Teo 279

Britain's Finest: The Royal Hong Kong Police / Karen Fang 293

One-Way Traffic: George Lamming and the Portable Empire / John Plotz 308

The Whiteness of Civilization: The Transatlantic Crisis of White Supremacy and British Television Programming in the United States in the 1970s / Douglas M. Haynes 324

Selected Bibliography 343

About the Contributors 357

Index 361

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