1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6

  1. In his 1878 essay "England's Mission," the politician William Gladstone claimed that imperialism was a constant though perhaps unconscious topic of interest to all Victorians: "The sentiment of empire may be called innate in every Briton. If there are exceptions, they are like those of men born blind or lame among us. It is part of our patrimony: born with our birth, dying only with our death; incorporating itself in the first elements of our knowledge, and interwoven with all our habits of mental action upon public affairs." Choose three Victorian selections from NAEL that do not overtly discuss imperialism and show how we may find the "sentiment of empire" hidden within the text and "interwoven" with other concerns.
  2. Nineteenth-century European and American imperialists argued that they had both a right and a duty to rule people of non-European descent.
    1. How does Rudyard Kipling articulate this argument in "The White Man's Burden"? For instance, how does he characterize the white man and the people he is to subjugate?
    2. John Ruskin's "Imperial Duty" and Joseph Chamberlain's "The True Conception of Empire" are more concerned with British imperial rights and duties than the "white man's burden" in general. Compare their nationalist argument to Kipling's racial one. What assumptions about national and racial identity do they share? Both "Imperial Duty" and "The True Conception of Empire" are far more idealistic in tone than Kipling's poem. What different rhetorical strategies are at work in the three texts, and what goals do they share in common?
    3. Compare Thomas Babington Macaulay's "Minute on Indian Education," which focuses on the cultural superiority of the British, to Benjamin Kidd's The Control of the Tropics, which describes European evolutionary superiority. How is Kidd's argument about biology also an argument about culture?
  3. Critics of British imperialism challenge its enabling ideology by arguing that imperial expansion is neither animated by unselfish and benevolent aims, nor has it effected improvement of non-European cultures.
    1. In "The Political Significance of Imperialism," John Atkinson Hobson asserts that the British govern "huge aggregations of lower races in all parts of the world by methods which are antithetic to the methods of government which we most value for ourselves" (NAEL 8, 2.1634). What are those political ideals, and how does Hobson show that British colonial governance has violated them?
    2. According to J. J. Thomas's Froudacity, how has European imperialism interrupted the development and destroyed the prosperity of African cultures? What vision of progress does Thomas offer in contrast to those proposed by Joseph Chamberlain or Benjamin Kidd?
    3. What are some of the darker motives that inspire the would-be imperialist in Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" (NAEL 8, 2.1794–1818) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (NAEL 8, 2.1890–1947)? How do you account for the contradictory character of Kurtz, who is simultaneously greedy and idealistic?
  4. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow comments that more often than not, imperialism is "just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale. . . . What redeems it is the idea only" (NAEL 8, 2.1894).
    1. Compare Joseph Chamberlain's assertion that violence is an unfortunate but necessary component of the "work of civilization" undertaken by the imperialist.
    2. Marlow goes on to describe the redemptive idea as "something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to" (NAEL 8, 2.1894). Is he being ironic? Is Conrad being ironic at Marlow's expense?
    3. What are some of the "eloquent" and "noble" ideas that motivate Kurtz's work in Africa, as set forth in his pamphlet for the "International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs" (NAEL 8, 2.1926) and elsewhere? Compare Kurtz's ideas with those found in Chamberlain, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Benjamin Kidd.
  5. The Victorian human sciences purported objectively to prove the biological and cultural superiority of Europeans, and the inferiority of colonized peoples.
    1. According to Victorian anthropologists and social evolutionists, the criteria determining a civilized state were quantifiable, uniform, and universal. However, Edward Tylor does not establish these in a scientific way, instead simply noting that the "educated world of Europe and America practically sets a standard by simply placing its own nations at one end of the social series and savage tribes at the other, arranging the rest of mankind between those limits according as they correspond more closely to savage or to cultured life." Can you find other instances in Tylor or in Benjamin Kidd in which scientific argument proceeds by means of prejudice, convention, or unexamined assumptions?
    2. Compare Kidd's argument that tropical climates have impeded the evolutionary progress of their indigenous inhabitants to J. J. Thomas's assertion that the rigors of the African climate are proof of the African's "soundness and nobility." In what other ways does Thomas challenge British representations of Africa and Africans?
  6. Among their many other tasks, postcolonial writers look critically at imperialism and its history and seek to undo the ideologies that underpin and justify imperialist practices.
    1. What psychological profiles of the imperialist is presented by J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians (NAEL 8, 2.2839–48)? Are the motives of Coetzee's imperialist consistent with those professed or described by the Victorian writers in this web topic? How do the narrator and Colonel Joll characterize the captive aborigines under their charge?
    2. The selection from E. M. Forster's A Passage to India describes the occupation of British India from the Indian perspective. What do Dr. Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, and Hamidullah think of the British "sahibs"? How might they respond to the essays by Thomas Babington Macaulay and Joseph Chamberlain?

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback   :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page    
Home