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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
European and American imperialists argued
that they had both a right and a duty to
rule people of non-European descent.
- 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
- John Ruskin's "Imperial
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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- Compare Joseph
Chamberlain's assertion that
violence is an unfortunate but necessary
component of the "work of civilization" undertaken
by the imperialist.
- 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?
- 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
- The Victorian
human sciences purported objectively to prove
the biological and cultural superiority of
Europeans, and the inferiority of colonized
- According to Victorian anthropologists
and social evolutionists, the criteria
determining a civilized state were
quantifiable, uniform, and universal.
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
Kidd in which scientific argument
proceeds by means of prejudice, convention,
or unexamined assumptions?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
Babington Macaulay and Joseph