Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c.1800-1947 / Edition 1

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This innovative volume demonstrates that the body was central to the construction and maintenance of British authority in India. Imperial Bodies explores ways in which the transformation of the British presence in India between 1800 and 1947 involved and relied upon changes in the way the British in India managed, disciplined and displayed their bodies. The move from commerce to control, and then to imperialism and Empire corresponded to a shift in bodily norms. As the nineteenth century progressed, an openness and interest in India gave way to a ban on things Indian. The British rejected curries for tinned ham, cool white clothing for black broadcloth and Indian mistresses for English wives. By the twentieth century, the British official had been transformed into an upright, decent representative of British virtues whose task was to bring civilization to India.

By the late nineteenth century, racial theory focused attention on the physique to such an extent that the body became a distinct category within official discourse, regarded as an instrument of rule. The body was used symbolically during Raj ceremonial, and even the pith helmet worn by officials was turned from a reminder of British vulnerability in the tropics into a symbol of British power.

Through an in-depth discussion of texts and practices, the body is introduced into the historical account as an active social principle: a force in the construction of social inequalities along lines of race and class. Drawing on a wide range of sources including government records, newspapers, private letters, medical handbooks and cookery books, E.M. Collingham paints a vivid picture of the life and manners of the British in India.

This important contribution to both British and imperial history will appeal to students and scholars of cultural and colonial history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'I am deeply impressed by the assurance, craftsmanship andhistorical judgement displayed by Imperial Bodies. It representsthe new fusion of colonial history and body history at its verybest.' Roy Porter, Wellcome Institute for the History ofMedicine

'Collingham's work on the physical experience of the British isa remarkable piece of research and analysis. Perhaps the mostextraordinary part of the work is her section at the end of thebook on the "Social Body" where she describes the new tasks (mostlynot undertaken) that confronted the British understanding of theirbodies as the moment of Independence of India and Pakistan loomed.'Gene Irschick, University of California at Berkeley

"its ambition is to be applauded" Mark Harrison, Universityof Oxford

'Lively and insightful.' Times Literary Supplement

'A first-rate read ... What makes Imperial Bodies such fun todelve into is the mass of fascinating social detail that its authorhas uncovered and assembled; by turns medical, biological,culinary, sartorial, sexual, even scatological, drawn from sourcesas diverse as advertisements for soft flannels in The Englishman,Chota Sahib's Camp Recipes for Camp People (Madras, 1890) and theWhipping Bill of 1864. In sum, a fine body of work.' TheSpectator

'Beautifully written, this history of the body during the Raj isa telling antidote to the traditional imperial histories of theBritish occupation of India. Weaving analytical and empiricalknowledge E.M. Collingham produces a very readable and at timesshocking history of British arrogance and ignorance of Indiancultures and histories ... It is a remarkable book, one thatreaches well beyond an academic audience to all of us concernedwith the trends behind the cultural and social inequalities andconfusions with which we continue to struggle.'Development

'Using this evolving parade of the colonial presence, Cambridgeacademic E.M. Collingham provides a fascinating sweep ofAnglo-Indian society and its attitudes to a variety of topics,among them the home, dress, food, cleanliness, sexuality, andservants.' The Natal Witness

"I found this book more illuminating than any previouspostcolonial history, both because it sees the world that childrensaw - which is not far from a world that an observant doctor sees -and because it goes further in accounting for it and explaining itsunique mix of lovable and repellant features than anything else Ihave read." International Journal of Epidemiology

"Readers will find much that is original and of interest in thisbook." Victorian Studies

"This is a highly readable and lucid account of a relatively newtopic in imperial history and historiography and should prove ofvalue to historians as well as scholars in a number of otherdisciplines." Kleio

"Well researched, clearly argued, and full of rich andinteresting detail, this is a book that will be of interest toanthropologists, culture historians and scholars working in thefield of colonial and post-colonial studies." Joseph S. Alter,Journal of The Royal Anthropological Institute

In this study, Collingham (Cambridge U.) considers the British body in India during colonial times. The author traces "the transformation of the early 19th century nabob from the flamboyant, effeminate and wealthy East India Company servant, open to Indian influence and into whose self-identity India was incorporated, to the sahib, a sober, bureaucratic representative of the Crown"<-->(from the introduction). Distributed by Blackwell Publishers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780745623702
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 7/12/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

E.M. Collingham is a Research Fellow at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

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Table of Contents

List of Plates.




Part I: The Nabob, c.1800-1857.

1. The Indianized Body.

Rule as an 'Indian Idiom'.

Survival of an 'Indian Idiom'.

The Dangers of Indianization.

The Limits of Indianization.

The Depth of Indianization.

2. The Anglicization of the Body.

Rule in a British Idiom.

The Ban on the East.

Survival in a British Idiom.

3. The Limits of Anglicization.

The 'Baba Logue'.

The Bungalow.

The Household Servants.

Part II. The Sahib 1857-1939.

4. The Sahib as an Instrument of Rule.

The Competition-Wallah and the Ideal Official Body.

Imperial Ceremony and the Symbolic Body.

The Bureaucratic Body.

Prestige and Physical Violence.

5. The Social Body.

Social Life and Conformity.

The Fragility of Domestic Space.

Prestige in the Bathroom.

Degeneration and the Regulation of Sexuality.

Race and Sociability.

Epilogue: The Dissolution of the Anglo-Indian Body,1939-1947.





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