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Preliminary Perspectives

Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes

De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire aims to offer a timely and inclusive contribution to the evolving cross-disciplinary scholarship that connects visual studies with British imperial historiography. The key purpose of this book is to introduce scholars and students of British imperial and Commonwealth history to a clearly presented and diversely themed evaluation of several visual manuscripts—images of all genres depicting particular events, personalities, social and cultural contexts— that document the development of some of the British imperial and post-colonial visual literacies. The concept of visual manuscripts, alongside theories of visual anthropology and memory studies, is addressed across the entire volume, thus allowing the readers to approach with greater ease the discourse on imperial iconography and historiography. This approach is meant to highlight central comparisons between various schools of thought—written manuscripts versus visual manuscripts—and to provide an accessible, coherent, and substantial account of current developments in visual sociology and culture relevant to the study of British colonial and post-colonial constructions of personal and national identities.

De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire is charting the theoretical and historical advances in visual and cultural studies concerned with the history of the British Empire, from late seventeenth century to early twenty-first century. The book is of immediate relevance to visual theorists and historians, sociologists and cultural anthropologists, as well as to students and scholars of British imperialism and Commonwealth history and culture. Owing to its wide-ranging theoretical methodology, from concepts of visual perception to media semiotics, this volume is meant to be a timely accompanying book for the social sciences and humanities programs concerned with developing new perspectives on British imperial and Commonwealth studies. The volume presents across different methodologies a series of clear and consistent examples of how visual research methods commonly used in visual sociology and visual anthropology studies are immediately pertinent to imperial studies. It covers a varied thematic agenda with contributions ranging from ethnographic research to gender studies, fine arts analyses, international politics, and questions about contemporary cultural patterns.

The volume also offers a systematic and wide-ranging survey of the core scholarship addressing key issues in new media, visual anthropology, and historical analyses relevant to contemporary British studies. Moreover, by addressing issues of private and collective memory, it proposes a necessary contribution to regional, national, and contemporary British and Commonwealth iconography. In light of this, De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire aims to complement major publications such as The Oxford History of the British Empire volumes (under the general editorship of Professor Wm. Roger Louis, Oxford University Press, since 1998); The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset (Philippa Levine, Routledge, second ed., 2013); Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (John Darwin, Penguin, second ed., 2013); The British Empire. The Cambridge Illustrated History (ed. PJ. Marshall, Cambridge University Press, 1996); Illustrating Empire. A Visual History of British Imperialism (eds. Ashley Jackson and David Tomkins, University of Chicago Press, 2011); Picturing the Empire. Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (James R. Ryan, University of Chicago Press, 1997); Visions of Empire. Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1870-1939 (Brad Beaven, Manchester University Press, 2012); Imperialism and Popular Culture (John M. MacKenzie, Manchester University Press, 1987); British Culture and the End of Empire (ed. Stuart Ward, Manchester University Press, 2001); or Propaganda and Empire. The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (John M. MacKenzie, Manchester University Press, 1986)—books that used images mostly to illustrate their respective core themes.1

De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire comprises several chapters that together form a unitary, clear, and comprehensive discourse. Moreover, the case studies are presented in a pertinent dialogue between several thematic strands while being supported by the contributors’ cross-disciplinary theoretical perspectives. This has hopefully ensured that the present volume will succeed in presenting a persuasive, well-defined, and accessible discourse with a wide appeal to scholars with specific expertise across varied humanities and social sciences academic networks, as well as to the wider public. The contributors to this volume have assessed and proposed several current research developments within visual studies and British and international historiography. Readers, whether scholars, students, or general public, will thus hopefully benefit from an in-depth presentation of the recent methodological trends in British and Commonwealth studies from a text-based historiography to a visual theory-driven approach, and its vital impact on current and future perspectives on British imperial and post-colonial history. Key features of this edited volume include pioneering research, new methodological frameworks, international contributions, cross-disciplinary assessments, unique research

Preliminary Perspectives 3 sources, rich thematic coverage, and innovative perspectives on the visual dimension of British imperial history.

Importantly, this volume aims to highlight the relevance of using visual research methods to the study of the history of the British Empire. In addressing the core line of enquiry proposed in this volume—Why should historians use images as primary research sources?—each contributor has considered issues of representation, significance, and interpretation within specific visual narrative frameworks, and thus employed specific theories of visual culture pertinent to their choice of theme and subject, i.e. gender, race, or political studies. The contributors have also addressed issues of production, distribution, and reception of meaning across sets of key images selected as pertinent case studies. In their analyses, they have proposed germane methodologies and critical perspectives on the role of such images in re-documenting and re-telling the history of the British Empire. Moreover, they have adopted critical and comparative frameworks that highlighted imperial and post-colonial assumptions about popular culture and major interpretative trends, from late colonial European propagandistic visual rhetoric to twenty-first-century artworks in which iconographies common to imperial advertising had been reascribed to contemporary traumas of race and war.

De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire is also meant as an invitation to develop further scholarship exploring the ways in which the production and reception of images can offer rewarding new perspectives on the history of the British Empire. The implicit diversity of topics and methodologies required by such a discussion can hardly be covered in one volume, hence the subtitle of this book—preliminary perspectives. The vast amount of available research material and the many possible theoretical approaches, whether grouped chronologically, thematically, or by ways of cross-disciplinary research, could only be feasibly addressed across several edited volumes. It thus seems reasonable to believe that future publications on this theme would offer scholars, and their readers too, the chance to investigate a vast amount of directly or tangentially related themes and case studies selected from specific visual histories of the British Empire, and therefore succeed in developing new and pertinent methodologies.

In the meantime, the theoretical framework proposed by De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire is meant to present a unitary approach in which the use of visual research methods should enable the readers to mediate between different constructions of social reality, to challenge the inter-subjective process of interpreting cultures and events (i.e. authoraudience-historian); to locate constructions of individual, gender, and national identities; and to complement traditional research sources and practices (i.e. written historiographies). Each contributor has addressed a comprehensive thematic and theoretical agenda and tested the apparent historic data legibility of the selected images by investigating the ways in which these had been produced, distributed, and consumed as products of the British imperial popular culture and, more recently, as renewed signifiers of global hierarchies. The present volume includes contributions by the editors Dr Carol Jacobi (Tate Britain, London), Dr Diana Lange (University of Hamburg), and Dr Phillip Hatfield (British Library, London). In their respective chapters, they addressed theoretical issues concerned with the representation and distribution of meaning, such as the relationship between artistic styles and ideological agendas, and applied their findings to studies of race, gender, and class against the background of imperial and post-colonial visual literacies.

Oh Visual Rhetoric and British Imperial History. This chapter explores the ways in which images have been used in various monographs, anthologies, research projects, and pedagogical programmes concerned with the history of the British Empire. It also presents an overview of some of the conventional historical and cultural approaches of visual literacy in relation to text-based discourse and considers theories of perception and visual priming when assessing recurrent modes of historicizing events and thematic strands within British imperial studies. The chapter explores some of the core research questions that allow for the re-contextualization of celebrated as well as lesser-known imperial (and post-imperial) visual records, all media, as primary resources for new social and historical perspectives on the history of the British Empire. Case studies discussed in this theoretical framework, in which images traditionally had been used as illustrations of specific key moments in the history of the British Empire, are treated as insurgent visual narratives and grouped under five themes: ‘Mis-illustrated histories of the British Empire’, ‘Preserving the rhetoric of terror’, ‘Advertising imperial, racial, and gender dynamics, then and now’, ‘Visual framing and reversible social hierarchies’, and ‘Ongoing imperial visual currency’. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the crucial role played by recent developments in visual research methods employed by cultural, visual, social, and anthropological studies while encouraging innovative cross-disciplinary regimes of knowledge informing renewed perspectives on the history of the British Empire.

Art and Illustration: Re-viewing Empire (Carol Jacobi. Tate Britain). During the twentieth century, colonial territories won independence and the Empire—reconfigured as Britain and the Commonwealth, continued to generate a visual legacy across the world. This chapter considers its value to historical studies in the twenty-first-century global context. Traditional European concepts of history reflected the asymmetries of Empire. Hegel’s racist vision of a progressive European history, leading non-Europeans out of static non-history, persisted into the modern age. Long views privileged the recent over the past and the European over the locations in which most Empire history took place. In the twentieth century, the artefacts made under the conditions of Empire that populate

Preliminary Perspectives 5 historical texts tend to be those valued by European elites and embedded in Euro-centric narratives. Such artefacts manifest conditions and cultures specific to the time and place of their makers, however, and those made outside Europe preserve and reveal new Empire histories. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, local arts and crafts were revived to express nationalist narratives: In Britain, these were allied to colonialist projects, while in British territories they often supported resistance and movements towards independence. Modern art promoted nationalist identities and internationalist ideals on a world stage and, in many cases, challenged imperial visual culture.

A Visual History of a Hidden Exploration of Mid-nineteenth Century Tibet: The British Library’s Wise Collection (Diana Lange. University of Hamburg). Owing to its strategic location in Central Asia, Europeans edged closer to Tibet during the nineteenth century. Hence the seeking and acquisition of systematic knowledge of Tibetan landscapes and societies became an ambitious goal for the British Empire. The gathered knowledge often depended on the aid of local informants. As a result, the region was occasionally culturally represented and visualized by local people—such as in case of the British Library’s Wise Collection. The set of maps and drawings of this collection is probably the most comprehensive set of visual representations of mid-nineteenth-century Tibet and the Western Himalayan kingdoms of Ladakh and Zangskar. They were made in the late 1850s by a Tibetan lama and commissioned by a British official. The Wise Collection represents the product of their collaboration. In this chapter, the author used the materials as a case study to examine the processes by which knowledge about Tibet was acquired, collected, and represented. Her work focuses on how Tibet was shown through visual culture, particularly through drawings and maps. This chapter thus argues that the collection can be regarded as a visual history of a hidden exploration of Tibet. It explores the type of knowledge about Tibet that was represented in the Wise Collection before concluding with a discussion of the collection’s potential as a visual historical source.

Illustrating the Warriors of Empire (Philip John Hatfield. British Library). The First World War left behind a detailed illustrated history in the form of photography, art illustrations, and even adverts created by those based at the front lines, in supply camps, or in offices in London and colonial territories. This chapter considers the production of these visual materials, particularly why they were produced and how they circulated. It looks at material from across the Dominion territories of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, with particular attention paid to Canada. During the war, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian businessman, drove a successful campaign to promote and memorialize the work of Canadian troops through the actions of the CWRO. Using various visual methods, including photography, the CWRO created a visual commemoration of Canadian troops at war that would become the inspiration and envy of other colonial, and even British, commanders. This chapter reflects on how photography, print, exhibitions, and even the memory institutions of empire were used to develop a coherent message about Dominion troops in the First World War.

Selling British ‘Empire-Consciousness’: Imperial Rhetoric and Advertising Poetics. This chapter explores the ways in which institutional policies and practices that generally define the production of advertising films have also informed certain British colonial film productions such as government and privately sponsored films as well as instructional, amateur, and missionary films. It discusses promotional strategies and product placement policies employed by film companies such as the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), and evident across standard advertising film production styles and policies employed in the production of films such as One Family (advertising the British Empire as ‘one imperial family’; dir. Walter Creighton, EMB, 1930), or The Song of Ceylon (tea production and distribution; dir. Basil Wright, Empire Tea Marketing Board and Ceylon Tea Propaganda Bureau). The comparative framework used in this chapter also brings to the forefront case studies selected from colonial amateur productions and several missionary films produced, for instance, by the St. Joseph Missionary Society in India and Africa in 1920s. Apart from David Ciarlo’s detailed analysis of various media records proposed as feasible and effective means of advertising the German Empire (Ciarlo, 2001), current scholarship addressing this theme within the British imperial visual culture includes occasional and succinct case studies discussed in several publications (Zimmermann, 1996; MacCabe et al., 2011), as well as in some digital projects such as the Colonial Film online database. In this context, the chapter provides a detailed analysis of several British colonial films, which have been produced while borrowing from the traditional aesthetic guidelines and standardized production policies specific to the British imperial advertising and consumer culture.

The rationale for choosing these contributions, and the respective case studies discussed throughout De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire, owes to the fact that each of these analyses offers, directly or complementarily, a unified interpretation of original perspectives on visual research methods used when researching British imperial history across several geo-political contexts. This strategy has allowed the contributors to highlight key intersections of research interests and to identify areas of further discussion concerning popular visual narratives produced across specific examples of material culture that have defined and unified the British imperial visual currency. Written in an informative and engaging style, it is hoped that the present volume will offer the reader a clear, coherent, and engaging narrative, one void of high rhetoric, buzz words, excessive theoretical acrobatics, and overcomplicated terminologies. It is also hoped that the volume will appeal to scholars working in the fields of British and Commonwealth history; national,

Preliminary Perspectives 7 regional, and social history; cultural history; memory and visual studies; colonial and gender studies; media and the arts; and visual anthropology. Importantly, located within the academic context shaped by recent research projects and academic publications concerned with mapping diverse themes and trends in visual research practices and British imperial studies, De-Illustrating the History of the British Empire is meant to complement titles such as Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualisation of the British Empire (James Ryan, Chicago University Press, 1998), Art and the British Empire (eds. Tim Barringer, Geoff Quilley, and Douglas Fordham, Manchester University Press, 2007), Cultural Identities and the Aesthetics of Britishness (ed. Dana Arnold, Manchester University Press, 2004), Imperial Persuaders. Images of Africa and Asia in British Advertising (Anandi Ramamurthy, Manchester University Press, 2003), and Afterimage of Empire. Photography in the Nineteenth-Century India by Zahid R. Chaudhary (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012). In the theoretical context of such valuable publications, this volume aims to advance scholarship that attests to the validity of visual research methods used in exploring British imperial history—a framework that would hopefully secure flexible implementations within future British history curricula.


1. See also The Raj: India and the British, 1600-1947 (C.A. Bayly, Abbeville Press, 1994); Museums and Empire. Natural History, Human Cultures and Colonial Identities (John M. Mackenzie, Manchester University Press, 2009); Representing Africa. Landscape, Exploration and Empire in Southern Africa, 1780-1870 (John McAleer, Manchester University Press, 2010); or Exhibiting the Empire. Cultures of Display and the British Empire (John McAleer and John M. MacKenzie, eds., Manchester University Press, 2015).


The Amateur Cinema Studies Network (ACSN), Ciarlo, David. 2001. Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Colonial Film online database,

MacCabe, Colin and Lee Grieveson. 201 la. Empire and Film. London: BFL ------2011b. Film and the End of Empire. London: BFL

Zimmermann, Patricia. 1996. ‘Geographies of desire: cartographies of gender, race, nation and empire in amateur film’, in Film History, Vol. 8, 85-98.

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