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‘Showcasing Empire, Then and Now: Material Culture, Propaganda and the Imperial Project
Fanny Robles et Gilles Teulié

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1A few decades ago, Professor John M. Mackenzie developed a new historical school around the relation of the Victorians and Edwardians to their Empire and, more precisely, their appetite for the popular culture surrounding the Imperial project. Since then, scholarship has explored the multiple issues related to the omnipresence of imperial culture in Britain, at a time when the first consumer society was also emerging (Flanders). Other studies have examined the way imperial culture was represented and developed in the British colonies. Questions were raised as to what the range, scale and nature of the imperial impact on Britain were (Thompson 3–4) or what were the repercussions of imperial culture in the territories under British rule.

2Through his work, John Mackenzie reminds us that in the second half of the nineteenth century, people had entered ‘an era of more widespread availability of education—and hence of expanded levels of literacy—extension of the franchise (initially mainly among males), and therefore of mass politics’. He further adds that ‘all of this was accompanied by a burgeoning print culture, as well as forces of the mass market accompanied by extensive advertising, more readily consumable forms of entertainment, and other means by which extensive permeation could be achieved’ (Mackenzie 2011, 2). The main thrust of this volume is imperial visual and material culture, in the broadest sense, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain and in its colonies. As regards the presence of Empire within Victorian, and later Edwardian societies, seminal works such as that of John Mackenzie’s own impressive production and his famed ‘Studies in Imperialism’ or works like Andrew Thompson’s The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (2005) have underlined that there never was a unique, unanimous response to the Empire and its seemingly attractive power. Asa Briggs writes that the Victorians’ own consciousness of things, late or early in the reign was expressed in different ways, reflecting not only different degrees of understanding and appropriation, but different, sometimes ambivalent, or contradictory reactions (Briggs 32). Thus, the response to the call for Empire in England was complex, multi-faceted and unpredictable.

3For mid-Victorians, political consciousness preceded legislative action; public opinion initiated parliamentary change. But public opinion needed to be organized and directed to exert significant influence (Bell 169). It is thus as a social force that public opinion is to be viewed, an emerging force, that was now better educated, and had the capacity to ‘buy cultural products that had hitherto remained beyond their purse’ (Sèbe 47) and was therefore, more easily given to imperial stimuli. Pieter Oosthuizen sheds light on the interplay between consumers and industrialists when he argues that ‘in Victorian England, the population loved trinkets, tokens and curios’ (Oosthuizen XIV) and recorded an impressive variety of such products, following the Anglo-Boer War, that were presented to the public. Anglo-Boer War memorabilia were made for display. They sought to recall battle scenes and bore the faces of officers and soldiers or of the Boer enemy, a fact which leads us to ask questions about such an outburst of memorabilia frenzy at that time and to wonder what other types of events, such as military conflicts or social gatherings, during the middle period of British colonization were celebrated or commemorated with objects as souvenirs.

4The aim of this volume is precisely, but not exclusively, to ponder on such ‘things as emissaries’ as Asa Briggs once put it (Briggs 11), and to reconstruct the ‘intelligible universes’ of the Victorians and Edwardians (Briggs 31). Moreover, as this British historian points out, the notion of ‘appropriation’ of things which pervaded British society, encouraged a sense of belonging to a community. As Disraeli envisioned the maintenance of Empire and the community of Victorian England and ‘her’ colonies in 1874, the British ruling elite acted as a gateway to Victorian culture, both visual and material, in the Empire. ‘Modern’ objects arrived in the colonies in a reverse movement, in all shapes and sizes, from the bicycle to the hairpin, through wall tiles, hagiographic pictures, chintz curtains, combs and powder puffs. They caused profound changes in the lifestyles, modes of behaviour and thought, but also spending patterns of the colonized. Beyond the comfort and sense (or illusion) that these things gave the colonized consumer of ‘moving with times’, and becoming Westernized, objects, machines, but also colonial edifices (from museums and bridges to clock towers and statues on street corners) became the all too conspicuous standard bearers and promoters of imperial grandeur. But, while they stood as symbols of the technological and inventive ‘superiority’ of Great Britain, in the country and outside, did material culture in any way also become a binding force between ideas and individuals living in the various spaces of Empire?

5Identity re-writing of this materiality is another line of thought. How were some of these Victorian things customized once they left their place of invention and were introduced into other ‘exotic’ spaces and minds? Did their ‘reappropriation’ cause the ‘erasure’ and ‘re-writing’ of their original identities? The many variations of this Western material culture in the colonial space, and the way colonial exoticism was represented in Britain are the object of remarkable works, by specialists like Saloni Mathur whose India by Design, Colonial History and Cultural Display (2007) is an attempt to understand the way the representations of the Indian sub-continent have been formed. Her study seeks to historicize cultural and epistemological dilemmas through the identification of a range of practices, ideas, and discourses of display. In her book Metallic Modern: Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka (2014), approaching objects ‘in practice’, dedicated to the arrival of the sewing machine in the colonies during the late 19th century, Nira Wickramasinghe argues that access to all types of objects and equipment by the indigenous population gave the latter the illusion of gaining some dignity and recognition in colonial society. In that perspective, a wide range of areas can be examined to identify and cross-reference the imperial cultural network that emerged in Victorian and Edwardian society and overseas. A number of themes have been identified as particularly interesting, but the list is by no means restrictive.

6Empire and image is one that easily comes to mind, as the profusion of new technological devices to produce good quality images emerged during the period, and the construct of Empire through the fixed or animated image (photographs, films, posters, postcards, paintings. . .) is undoubtedly one of the key issues in the propagation of an imperial spirit. What type of visual culture was propagated and what were its repercussions on the minds of viewers and consumers? The construct of Empire through photographs is a rewarding topic as the imaginative geographies of Empire which were projected through photographs interacted with other media such as travel-writing, cartography and painting (Ryan 225). Studying amateur traveller-photographers (Loiseaux) or professional ones such as Sallo Epstein in South Africa, or François-Edmond Fortier in Senegal (Moreau) enables us to approach as closely as possible the construction of the images of empires. We could also add picture postcards, another rich medium to bolster Empire studies, given that many of these postcards were a cross-class merger and could reach any part of the world, and therefore spread any message more easily than before. For example, the first important reproduction of paintings of foreign lands on postcards gave a stereotyped image of the colonies as a sort of ‘Paradise Regained’ and, (as Walter E. Houghton once put it) ‘shaped the Victorian frame of mind durably’ (Teulié para 4). Other forms of images, such as cartoons, boys’ and girls’ (own) magazines and early cinema (F. Lacassin), belong to this age. In what ways did the invention of cinematography, the brainchild of the ingenious spirits of the day, accompanied by its massive quantity of objects and machines but also edifices and sites, have an impact on the British and colonial minds? One possible answer is how Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin pleasantly puts it:

Unlike Human beings, the cinema found a way to transcend cultural differences. It is an eminent example of the meeting and merging of Asian and Western Worlds. The animated image in the early years was at the same time castigated and venerated, seen both as a source of decadence and a symbol of progress. The other feature of cinema is its art-and-commerce duality. No sooner had cinematography originated in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods with French, English and American inventors breaking new ground than the Indians quickly picked up the threads of the new art, accompanying the Pathés, Urbans, Lumières and Méliès with their own Madans and Phalkes. (Tampoe-Hautin 26)

7Ordinary people were in contact with ordinary objects, which Asa Briggs called ‘Victorian Things’. These objects permeated British society and were displayed in the Victorian and Edwardian ‘homes sweet homes.’ They were objects of commemoration, of celebration, of decoration. The huge market of ‘Victorian and Edwardian things’ is a field seldom tackled by academics, yet they are precious primary sources that can shed a light on the British frame of mind of the time. Indeed, Victorians produced massive quantities of objects which referred to the Empire, and the wars that were waged there, ranging from ceramics and porcelain (plates, services, tea-sets, mugs, tobacco jars), gold and silverware, glassware, busts and statuettes, (Staffordshire figures) to apparel and accessories for ladies (jewellery, brooches, hairpins, handkerchiefs. . .) and toys (puppets, dolls, model soldiers, uniforms for children. . .). Objects were either utilities or ephemera such as match covers, paperweights, pipes, tables, chocolate or tobacco boxes, photographs, maps, newspapers and magazines, cigarette cards, posters, music sheets, postcards, silk bookmarks, tapestries, and of course books. To what extent did they contribute to further whetting the Victorian penchant for material culture? Through the questions it raises, the idea of showcasing Empire is an opportunity to study society through the analysis of visual and tangible source material.

8Following the same pattern, we can argue there was a literary construct of Empire. ‘Read Britannia!’ became the motto of the time after the 1870 Education Act, which enabled more and more people to have access to different forms of literature. The latter term is to be understood in a wide sense, to counteract the trend which gave rise to an excessive concentration on canonical, famous and literary texts, now read ‘contrapuntally’ (Said 66). There is surely still a lot more to learn by looking at popular, mass market works. Diverse literary forms can be read in new ways, including drama, travel writing, children’s literature, and newspapers (Howe 170). Juvenile literature, for example, ‘functions therefore not just as a mirror of the age but an active agency constructing and perpetuating a view of the world in which British imperialism was an integral part of the cultural and psychological formation of each new generation of readers’ (Richards 3). So, like Paul Fussel, one may wonder how colonial literature framed young boys’ minds, to the point that they took colonial glory images with them to the Somme in 1916 (Fussel 135).

9At the root of the word ‘showcasing’ stands the very concept of live performance. The Empire was indeed a show, at Home and Abroad, performed in ceremonies, pageants, pantomimes, dramas and ethnographic displays. On stage, ethnological shows would often be enacted against the backdrop of a moving panorama, a new technology enabling vicarious journeys (Altick 210) and participated in the popularization of the new science of ethnology, in an age of flourishing popular scientific exhibitions (Kembler, Plunkett & Sullivan). Looking at the material history of these ‘human showcases’ (Greenhalgh 82), historian of science Sadiah Qureshi’s seminal work questions the very notion of ‘spectacle’ which ‘often implies a distanced, and possibly passive, consumption of visual experience’, substituting it with the concept of ‘encounter’, as ‘recasting the shows’ histories in terms of encounter foregrounds the active participation and critical engagement of managers, patrons and performers in producing, managing, performing, and promoting the shows’ (Qureshi 198). The fantasised ‘human museum’ of Victorian ethnology was performed on stage, as well as in the streets of the imperial metropolis, where social exploration encouraged a reading of the city as a microcosm of Empire (Robles 139). Ultimately, the physical museums, especially those devolved to anthropology, showcased the civilizing mission for educational purposes, giving way to a long-lasting imperial legacy. In his provocative book, Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution (2020), Dan Hicks, curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, urges European anthropology museums to ‘acknowledge the ongoing status of the museum as weapon’ of the colonial enterprise, ‘so that violence, dispossession and loss can be not erased but cancelled out, so the thing itself can come back into view outside both the lens and the shadow of the museum as thief’ (Hicks 28, 32).

10Of course, inter-action and comparison with other Empires is necessary as the British Imperial project did not unfold out of the blue, but in close relation to other European projects, hence the importance of trans-European perspectives on cultures of imperial display. For example, one may wonder ‘Were French and British imperial actions justified in ways fundamentally different from concurrent diplomatic interventions beyond the confines of empire? If so, when and why this began to change?’ (Thomas & Toye 1). The visual representation of imperial possessions was a widespread phenomenon shared all over Europe, especially as the ‘new Imperialism’ was reaching its climax and the greatness of a country was expected to translate into large expanses of the world painted in national colours. Old colonial powers such as Spain or France, or recent ones such as Belgium, Germany and Italy, all took pride in celebrating their overseas ‘achievements’, and a sustained comparative effort with Britain is necessary to understand not only the European colonial experience, but also the specificities of British imperial traditions. Drawing on recent historiographical experiments around the concepts of ‘inter-imperialism’ (Tuffnell), ‘imperial argument’ (Thomas & Toye) or ‘cosmopolitan approaches to Empire’ (Sèbe), this theme explores how comparative or transnational approaches can be usefully applied to the realm of visual displays of empire.

11This volume on showcasing empire does not aim at praising colonial endeavours or imperial ideas, as one aspect of the definition of ‘showcasing’ according to the OED implies. Its objective is to analyse the cogs of the wheels of imperialism, a task which naturally leads us to the concept of propaganda. As John M. Mackenzie stated in one of his ground-breaking books, propaganda enables us ‘to explore the centripetal effects of Empire, in creating for the British a world view which was central to their perceptions of themselves’; he also adds ‘Even if they knew little and cared less about imperial philosophies or colonial territories, nonetheless imperial status set them apart, and united a set of national ideas which coalesced in the last three decades of the nineteenth century’ (Mackenzie 1990, 2). John Darwin underlines that propaganda started before the heyday of empire, in that it dealt with what he calls the ‘business of migration’ in the early years of the 17th century, which, according to him ‘could hardly have thrived except in a climate of intense public awareness and interest’ adding further that ‘British society was deluged with “news” about immigrant prospects’ (Darwin 98–99).

12The emergence of a wider readership and the press and other media technological improvements in the last three decades of the 19th century alluded to by John Mackenzie, led to an overflow in Britain of information from the most remote parts of the Empire: ‘It formed a vast database of imperial knowledge on which the British could draw’ (Darwin 268–69). The imperial substrate was therefore ready to welcome all initiatives, whether political, cultural, economic or ideological, which would promote aspects of the imperial project and the colonies on an everyday basis, as was seen in the explosion of memorabilia produced in Britain after the relief of the town of Mafeking in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer war. Talking about John M. Mackenzie’s career and achievements and how he changed the way British Imperial history is conceived, Stephanie Barczewski posits that ‘the evolution from the understanding of the British Empire as something that the dominant metropolis imposed upon the colonial periphery to something that had, via culture rather than political or military power, a massive impact upon that selfsame metropolis, has been enormous’ (Barczewski 3). This is maybe why the Empire is still in people’s minds today and is considered by some as one of the most popular themes in history (Kwarteng 1).

13Some of the chapters in this volume deal with the Empire in terms of its legacy. Indeed, understanding such a modern phenomenon as ‘Brexit’ needs to ponder on the heritage of the Empire in British people’s minds, at least for the Brexiters. The imperial idea has shaped British identity, its foreign policy and the external aspect of its national security (Rodriguez 24–25). Therefore, ‘Brexit’s perspectives include that of recovering control over borders, integration, the welfare state, and national security, based on a Global Britain that would seek to return to its imperial roots’ (Rodriguez 28). In his book published in 2006, The Dream of Rome, Boris Johnson advocates a strong leadership for Europe like that of Julius Caesar. An Empire led by a strong head has become for him the nec plus ultra of leadership. Understanding some aspects of the Imperial legacy in modern Europe is one of the issues of this volume of the French Victorian and Edwardian Journal (Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens).

14This volume follows the track set by John M. Mackenzie who has delineated the boundaries of British Imperial history. This is naturally why the introductory article of this volume is a fascinating reflection by Professor John M. Mackenzie on his pioneering expedition into academic Imperial no man’s land in the 1960s. He reminds us that studying Imperialism and its culture was not only non-existent, but it was considered an offence to even think about it. Returning to the Porter-Mackenzie debate about the interest of the British population in its Empire, he underlines the importance of not just relying on archival sources and not being subservient to high-culture thinking but of paying attention to non-written documents, such as architecture, paintings, memorabilia, every-day objects produced by the new consumer society, cinema, and theatre performances, etc. John M. Mackenzie argues, through examples, that it is easy to have a one-sided vision of things, such as that missionaries were devoid of any imperial spirit and that although participating in the process, they resisted any attempt at collusion with the colonial power. Refuting such allegations, he explains that breaking free from the only-written-archives-as-historical-sources pattern was what enabled him to open up new avenues into imperial history. This chapter also sheds light on the importance of the historian’s personal background, as the places he lived in had an impact on the way his mind was framed, and how he looked at history, as illustrated by his own keen interest in oral history and archaeology. These landmarks were at the core of the beginnings of an ‘alternative imperial history’.

15Amid the cultures of display holding up a mirror to imperialism, the Egyptian Museum provided literary examples evocative of Derridean hauntology (Derrida). Nolwenn Corriou posits that there is such a thing as a mummy’s gaze in the genre of mummy fiction in Victorian and Edwardian fiction which mirrors the imperial gaze on the colonies, opens a path to the colonizer’s frame of mind and reveals his psyche. Imperial doubts are present in the fin-de-siècle literature on the colonies, and the museum becomes an opportunity to display imperial anxieties and doubts through the way the mummy looks at the museum visitors. This form of the ‘return gaze’ or ‘the empire gazes back’ is an interesting reflection by the proponents of a more thoughtful attitude to the archaeological looting of the colonies’ past and the subsequent showcasing of those findings and artefacts in the British Museum or Imperial exhibitions in Europe. Nolwenn Corriou underlines the impact of Victorian and Edwardian mass tourism in Egypt on the showcasing of Empire in the British private sphere, since mummies (often fake ones) were displayed in private houses for the sake of social prestige. Leaning on two ‘mummy genre’ novels by Bram Stoker and Henry Rider Haggard, this chapter explains the mummy-comes-back-to-life thrill of the time as the manifestation of the end of the century fear of degeneracy of the British race and the collapse of the Empire. Questioning imperial oppression is also what is at stake in those novels as when a European is deprived of the imperial power of sight (such as when locked at night in a museum full of mummies) and is examined by mummies who ‘analyse’ him. This reversal of the imperial gaze magnifies the repressed anxieties of the colonizer through the Mummy’s eyes.

16North African territories have been the locus of many literary colonial projections, as Sonia Lamrani argues, as she sheds new light on the well-known text by Thomas Edward Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922). Himself a product of the Victorian and Edwardian society Lawrence would earn the symbolic distinction of being nicknamed ‘of Arabia’, an unofficial title which put him on an equal footing with Lord Roberts of Kandahar or Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. He must have given satisfaction to readers who expected a continuity in the imperial project and an epic account of the self-made imperial man who achieved personal glory through his own personal qualities as an officer and a gentleman. Yet Sonia Lamrani posits in her article that he was not the arch imperialist that his exploits suggest. Indeed, she shows that through his travel writing, he had an ambivalent representation of the Orient, and thus never completely fitted the stereotype of the racist, condescending colonialist. She shows the keen interest Lawrence had to represent the Orient he liked when he was roaming the Middle East in search of the crusader strongholds which he studied for his Jesus College, Oxford University PhD. By demonstrating Lawrence’s ambivalence, this article comes back on some aspect of Edward Saïd’s famous analysis of Orientalism and uses postcolonial literary criticism to do so. The article explores Lawrence’s paradoxical aestheticization of the Orient: sometimes praising the beauty and hieratic composure of ‘oriental’ people but also demeaning them, while giving a lyric description of a landscape that fascinates him. The imperial gaze was complex.

17Moving from the English to the French colonial and postcolonial literary corpus, Amina Zarzi unfolds the importance of the Sahara Desert on French authors and the French national psyche. Leaning on Berny Sèbe’s concept of ‘Saharomania’, she posits that showcasing emptiness during the colonial era enabled the French imagination to develop a strong attraction for the redemptive wisdom of the desert. Away from negative and demeaning colonial stereotypes, Amina Zarzi sheds light on the legacy of the colonial ‘Saharomania’ of French colonial and postcolonial authors fascinated by the theme of emptiness. The many examples given by Amina Zarzi certainly prove that French military campaigns in Northern Africa at the turn of the 20th century embedded the desert in the French imperial mindset. She also explains that visual culture was paramount to spreading the image of the desert landscape as a threatening, but also a creative space. Missionary work is at the heart of this article as it demonstrates that the spiritual and mystic elements associated to the desert often stem from the experience of being lost in the wilderness. The concept of an ‘intimate desert’ emerges, suggesting that the legacy of Empire lies in the continuity of ‘Saharomania’ from colonial to more modern times, and enabling the author of this article to elaborate new thoughts on Orientalism.

18If what was perceived as natural ‘emptiness’ allowed (and still allows) for the projection of Western spiritual fantasies, the showcasing of the world’s flora and fauna could also serve as a pre-text for the literal and symbolical erasure of indigenous human presence, following the logic of what Guillaume Blanc describes as ‘the invention of green colonialism’. The anthropomorphising of wild animals was part and parcel of that (post)colonial attempt at writing the imperial narrative onto the animal realm (Blanc 72–74). Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill delves into Victorian visual culture to look at the way Victorian ‘beasts of prey’ were used to showcase formal and informal empire, as part of complex visual rhetorical strategies. She offers a case study of animalization as a tool for political commentary in Punch cartoons, spanning from the United States to India, by way of Ireland, Turkey and Russia. The tiger, lion, crocodile/alligator and bear operated as signs whose previous cultural associations were now applied to and transformed by the evolving needs of British interests abroad. Irina Kantarbaeva-Bill considers both symbolical and actual animals, reminding us that the ‘Bengal’ tiger was considered a nuisance by the East India Company as they planned on replacing forest land with plantation crops. This articulation between the rhetorical and physical use of animals is further explored in the second part of her paper, in which she offers a detailed state of the art of Victorian animal studies. Looking at the most recent trends in the literature, she presents studies dealing with other forms of management of Victorian animals in the British empire as well as in others, the human-animal relationship in the perspective of ecological imperialism, the recovering of animal agency achieved by the re-consideration of animals as historical (colonial) subjects, and the useful input of comparative and transnational studies.

19The ‘King of Beasts’ was often at the centre of the imperial culture of display, as illustrated in the pageantry of the Raj. Simon Deschamps reminds us that freemasonry was an important element of the circulation of the idea of Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in India. Rather than focusing on the great display of Imperial grandeur through the Delhi Durbar of 1877, he advocates a more thorough analysis of colonial India’s everyday life which had a greater impact on people’s apprehension of the imperial cult. In that sense, Freemasonry permeated Indian colonial society and had an impact on the social rituals that marked the Anglo-Indian community. This chapter of the volume examines the early interactions of Masonry with the surrounding society before its development led to some sort of framing of the community and finally to the showcasing of Empire as the epitome of the shared values between colonisers and colonised. The former were obsessed with the image they gave of themselves, hence the will to display in a very ritualized way their organisations and institutions. Symbols were displayed, processions were launched, banquets were organised to develop a ‘visual occupation of the space’ that fixed representations in colonised people’s minds. Simon Deschamps states that Masons were keen to promote the Victorian codes they adhered to, including the celebration of masculinity and the praise of the hero. He goes on to ponder the reception of such imperial display within the Indian community, which leads him to investigate the way Initiated Indians might cope with both cultures, but also to the idea that if Indo-European languages originated from India, then maybe traces of forms of Freemasonry might be found in the Indian past.

20Remaining in South Asia but moving from the live performances of Empire to the display of Empire on screen, Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin focuses her attention on Sri-Lankan cinema and more particularly on the material culture linked to that industry. With her family background embedded in the cinema business in Sri Lanka, since her grandfather was a film producer and her father a film maker, she was immersed in that milieu from an early age. Her mother’s connections enabled her to have access to all the people that developed that industry and opened all the doors that needed to be opened for her research work. Her chapter in this volume aims at encouraging academics to examine the technical devices and innovations that helped to promote the Empire on the screens of the world’s cinemas. She demonstrates that the most remote parts of the world could be showcased everywhere as adventurous image seekers could travel far with just the basic cinematographic equipment, a bullock-cart and ‘a rifle’ to display amateur films to populations who had maybe never seen any moving image before, not unlike the reputed French audience who, watching one of the first Lumière Brother films (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat) fell off their seats for fear that the train was going to run into them. She also emphasises the importance of the movie theatres, whose architecture was also a tribute to the grandeur of the Empire. From these ‘non-textual’ archives Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin moves on to wonder how the empire was displayed on celluloid, particularly as far as documentaries are concerned. The fascinating case of Sri-Lankan cinema is an open invitation to discover other former British colonies’ cinematographic industries and the way the ‘margin’ was able to adopt and use the media to answer back to ‘the centre’.

21If Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin focuses on films and movie theatres as ‘spatial/functional’ ‘postcolonial realms of memory’, to borrow from Achille’s, Forsdick’s and Moudileno’s useful rewriting of Pierre Nora’s concept (Achille, Forsdick, Moudileno 9), Berny Sèbe delves into the immaterial heritage of the Empire. His chapter aims at demonstrating that the British Empire had such an enduring impact on British society that it later came out as a proponent of a new form of ‘ruling Britannia’ and efficiently participated in the choice of the Brexiteers. The British collective unconscious was thus permeated by the idea of Empire. The popular culture that was generated during the imperial heyday testified that the Anglo-Boer War was a climax in British glorious imperial endeavours. Yet, this ‘last of the Gentlemen’s wars’ had brought ‘no end of a lesson’ as Rudyard Kipling once put it; it should have been a forerunner of things to come, which sealed the doom of empires. Imperial popular culture durably fixed the nostalgic image of a long gone past into many British minds, imprinting them with a somewhat biased image of their relation to Europe and their future without her. For our understanding of this phenomenon, Berny Sèbe reaches out to the development of the idea of Britishness as concomitant with that of the imperial project. He then summons the idea of British exceptionalism and the Empire in which, he argues, lay some of the roots upon which Brexit grew. Leaning, among other things, on figures such as the number of copies sold of Seeley’s series of lectures on Empire, this chapter convincingly unearths the sources that led British people to think that with such an impressive and glorious Empire, their present situation should match that magnificent past and that Britons, therefore, should not be subservient to any other nation or supra-national entity such as Europe.

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Fanny Robles et Gilles Teulié, « Introduction »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 93 Printemps | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2021, consulté le 18 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Fanny Robles

Fanny Robles is a lecturer in Anglophone cultures at Aix-Marseille Université, specialized in Victorian colonial shows and their use in contemporary European and African theatre, dance and performance. She has co-edited Sexualités, Identités & Corps Colonisés (Blanchard et al. eds., CNRS Editions, 2019) and written articles and book chapters on Victorian ethnology, museology, and literature, among which ‘Dickens and His Urban Museum: The City as Ethnological Spectacle’ (in Dickens and the Virtual City: Urban Perception and the Production of Social Space, Estelle Murail and Sara Thornton eds., Palgrave, 2017) and ‘When “The Present European Family” Contemplates “The Phases of Human Existence”: The Court of Natural History at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 1854-1866’ (in Meet Me At the Fair: A World’s Fair Reader, Celia Pearce, Laura Hollengreen, Rebecca Rouse, and Bobby Schweizer (eds.), ETC Press/Carnegie Mellon University, 2014). Her work on contemporary performance includes ‘From Reverse Ethnography to Cultural Performance: Reenacting Colonial Shows in Today’s France’ (in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 2018), and ‘Marilyn Nance—Remembering FESTAC’ (in Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, 2018). She has published several bilingual interviews on
Fanny Robles est maîtresse de conférences en cultures des mondes anglophones à Aix-Marseille Université, spécialisée dans les spectacles coloniaux victoriens et leur utilisation dans la performance, la danse et le théâtre contemporains, en Europe et en Afrique. Elle a co-dirigé Sexualités, Identités & Corps Colonisés (Blanchard et al. eds., CNRS Editions, 2019) et rédigé des articles et chapitres d’ouvrage sur l’ethnologie, la muséologie et la littérature victoriennes, parmi lesquels « Dickens and His Urban Museum : The City as Ethnological Spectacle » (in Dickens and the Virtual City: Urban Perception and the Production of Social Space, Estelle Murail and Sara Thornton (eds.), Palgrave, 2017) et « When ‘The Present European Family’ Contemplates ‘The Phases of Human Existence’ : The Court of Natural History at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 1854-1866 » (in Meet Me At the Fair: A World’s Fair Reader, Celia Pearce, Laura Hollengreen, Rebecca Rouse, and Bobby Schweizer (eds.), ETC Press/Carnegie Mellon University, 2014). Son travail sur la performance contemporaine comprend « From Reverse Ethnography to Cultural Performance : Reenacting Colonial Shows in Today’s France » (in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 2018), et “Marilyn Nance - Remembering FESTAC” (in Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, 2018). Elle a publié plusieurs entretiens bilingues sur

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Gilles Teulié

Gilles Teulié is Professor of British and South African Studies at Aix-Marseille University. He has written extensively on South African history and the Victorian period. He has published a book on the Afrikaners and the Anglo-Boer War: Les Afrikaners et la guerre anglo-Boer 1899-1902. Etude des cultures populaires et des mentalités en presence (Montpellier University Press, 2000) and another one on racial attitudes in Victorian South Africa: La racialisation de l’Afrique du Sud dans l’imaginaire colonial (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2015) as well as a History of South Africa (Paris: Tallandier 2019). He is the editor and co-editor of several collections of essays among which: Religious Writings and War (2006), Victorian Representations of War (2007), War Sermons, with Laurence Sterritt (2009), Healing South African Wounds with Mélanie Joseph-Vilain (2009), L'Afrique du Sud de Nouvelles identités? with Marie-Claude Barbier (2010) and Spaces of History, History of Spaces with Matthew Graves (E-rea on-line 2017) and Another Vision of Empire. Henry Rider Haggard’s Modernity and Legacy with Patricia Crouan-Véron (E-rea on-line 2020). He is currently working on war memories as well as the mediatisation of European Empires through early picture postcards.
Gilles Teulié est Professeur de civilisation britannique et du Commonwealth à Aix-Marseille Université. Ses travaux portent sur l’Afrique du Sud et la période victorienne. Il est l’auteur de plusieurs ouvrages dont : Les Afrikaners et la guerre anglo-Boer 1899-1902. Étude des cultures populaires et des mentalités en présence (Montpellier University Press, 2000), La racialisation de l’Afrique du Sud dans l’imaginaire colonial (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2015) ainsi qu’une Histoire de l’Afrique du Sud (Paris : Tallandier 2019). Il a édité et co-édité plusieurs ouvrages dont : Religious Writings and War (2006), Victorian Representations of War (2007), War Sermons, avec Laurence Sterritt (2009), Healing South African Wounds avec Mélanie Joseph-Vilain (2009), L'Afrique du Sud de Nouvelles identités ? avec Marie-Claude Barbier (2010), Spaces of History, History of Spaces avec Matthew Graves (E-rea on-line 2017) et Another Vision of Empire. Henry Rider Haggard’s Modernity and Legacy avec Patricia Crouan-Véron (E-rea on-line 2020). Il travaille actuellement sur la mémoire des guerres ainsi que sur la médiatisation des Empire européens au travers de l’industrie des cartes postales.

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