Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire / Edition 1

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With the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government in 1997, the empire that had lasted three hundred years and "upon which the sun never set" finally lost its hold on the world and slipped into history. But the question of how we understand the British Empire—its origins, nature, purpose, and effect on the world it ruled—is far from settled. In this incisive work, David Cannadine looks at the British Empire from a new perspective—through the eyes of those who created and ruled it—and offers fresh insight into the driving forces behind the Empire. Arguing against the views of Edward Said and others, Cannadine suggests that the British were motivated not only by race, but also by class. The British wanted to domesticate the exotic world of their colonies and to reorder the societies they ruled according to an idealized image of their own class hierarchies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A lively account....As entertaining in its anecdotes as it is thought-provoking."—Boston Globe

"Cannadine is excellent on the uses of pageantry and on the kitschy extremes it had reached by the nineteen-twenties."—New Yorker

"A thoughtful and spirited book....In the privacy of their small worlds, away from the postmodernists and the radical historians writing 'peripheral' history, there can be heard fond retrospects of the empire and its pageantry by ordinary, unfashionable men and women. Were these people to tell us what they recall of the empire's doings, I suspect that they would echo some of the truths of Cannadine's subtle and learned retrieval of that imperial history."—Fouad Ajami, The New York Times Book Review

"A study of British imperial attitudes that is light in size and tone but filled with weighty significance. In less than 200 pages of text, he has reopened the debate on the British Empire and has brought fresh insight into the ways that nations project their power around the globe."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"This is a lovely book, full of insights and unfamiliar perspectives. Were the rulers of Victoria's Empire more snobbish or more racist? They hardly knew the difference, for the common people of their own nation were very little less mysterious or threatening to them than the dark sullen masses of India or Africa. At least this much can be said, though, and David Cannadine says it: The snobbery diluted and tempered the racism."—John Derbyshire, National Review

"Cannadine writes with insight, felicity and wit."—The Washington Post Book World

Library Journal
Imperialism, Cannadine argues, was a vehicle that enabled the British to replicate and export their own "hierarchical social structure" to their colonies. This need was especially pressing as industrialism changed the social order in their own country. In some undeveloped nations, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Britons could start to build this stratified society from scratch. In other regions, such as India, Africa, and the Far East, they simply worked to preserve the already established order, such as the "caste-based indigenous Indian society" and the rule of the "Malayan sultans and African Kings." Cannadine stresses that the British system was not about race but about class and status. The British viewed most of their own people as far beneath these foreign chiefs, sultans, and pashas. Inevitably, though, the dominions became increasingly unimpressed by the pomp, ceremony, and British authority, and as nationalism grew stronger, all vestiges of British rule came under attack. Often repetitive and slow, this book reads like a university thesis, but the arguments and ideas are insightful. Appropriate for academic or large public libraries with British collections. Isabel Coates, Brampton, Ontario Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fresh perspective on British history, in which Cannadine (The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain, 1999, etc.) argues against racial interpretations of colonialism and maintains that the British Empire was sustained by a universal respect for social class. Recent decades have seen the rise of identity politics within the academy. One result of this phenomenon has been a growing tendency among historians to regard European imperialism as a conquest that was driven and held together by principles of racial superiority. Seen in this light, the "white man's burden" was an ironic enterprise at best, insofar as it relied upon a false and utterly self-serving view of the inferior capabilities of the subject peoples (who, invariably, were nonwhite). Cannadine, however, argues that this interpretation is an oversimplification that ignores an essential reality of British attitudes toward the native populations. The prejudices that the Englishman bore against the Indian, African, or Asian were precisely the same that he held against his fellow countrymen-namely, that they formed a hierarchical society in which a few enlightened souls stood together at top against an ignorant and vicious rabble below. Thus, the colonial administrators always tried to rely as much as possible on the preexisting structures of authority (maharajas, native chieftains, etc.) in establishing the order of their rule-and the author points out how the native populations, more often than not, responded enthusiastically to attempts to strengthen their loyalty to the British crown (most notably through military service in bloody wars that usually addressed few issues of much concern to them). Ironically, Cannadine finds themost blatant acceptance of racism among the white settlers (the Boers and the Americans, primarily) who were the most dissatisfied with British rule. A controversial work that is sure to spark debate-and a painstaking and temperate argument, written with a good command of the facts and a remarkable sense of proportion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195157949
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/5/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,183,523
  • Product dimensions: 8.06 (w) x 5.38 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

David Cannadine is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of Historical Research at London University. He is the author of many acclaimed books including The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain, and G.M. Trevelyan: A Life in History.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Pt. 1 Beginnings
1 Prologue
2 Precursors
Pt. 2 Localities
3 Dominions
4 India
5 Colonies
6 Mandates
Pt. 3 Generalities
7 Honours
8 Monarchs
9 Perspective
10 Limitations
Pt. 4 Endings
11 Dissolution
12 Epilogue
App An Imperial Childhood
Illustration Acknowledgements
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    One would expect more from the author

    Despite having a world wide reputation, David Cannadine sorely disappoints with this mishmash of late imperial nostalgia and selective reading of the past. It was as if he came up with the catchy title and decided he should say something controversial, evidence be damned. In the process, he ignores 20 years of careful scholarship on the empire. This is the worst sort of imperial apologia.

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