Science, race relations and resistance

Britain, 1870–1914

This study of the ‘colour question’, 1870-1914, offers a new account of the British Empire’s most disturbing legacy. Following contradictions within the ideology of empire, the book provides a revisionist account of race in science, and an original narrative of the invention of the language of race relations, and of resistance to race-thinking. Constructions of race in both professional and popular science were rooted in the common culture, yet were presented as products of nature. Ironically, science only gained a larger public when imperialism, not nature, created a global pattern of racial subordination and conflict. Though often overlooked, the longer term legacy of Victorian racism grew out of the newly invented language of race relations. Originating in the abolitionist movement, this language applied to the management of the historically unprecedented multi-racial communities created by empire. A dissenting minority of abolitionists and persons of African and Asian descent championed racial egalitarianism and colonial nationalism in resistance to the dominant discourse. By 1910, they suffered a crushing defeat in contesting white power in South Africa. As a consequence, in the new twentieth century, visions of a colour-blind empire belonged to a sentimentalised, archaic abolitionist past. Under the guise of imperial trusteeship, a new lexicon of race relations gave legitimacy to the institutionalised inequalities of an empire bifurcated by race.

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‘A great strength of Science, Race Relations and Resistance is its refusal to generalize or simplify British ideas about race in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through systematic analyses of a wide variety of sources, from popular science works, to humanitarian journals, to writings by scholars and administrators interested in the 'colour question', Lorimer shows that there was always a multiplicity of views about how best to manage race relations.'
Elise Juzda Smith, University of Warwick
Journal of the Historical Association

‘Science, Race Relations and Resistance impresses with its exploration of racial rhetoric, and convincingly unravels the tangled relationship between scientific racism and the real problems posed by the 'colour question'. It thus manages to align imperial history and anthropological history in a new and credible way, and will undoubtedly be valued by scholars in both fields.'
Elise Juzda Smith
The Journal of the Historical Association, Volume 101, Issue 347
September 2016

‘Ultimately, Lorimer's Science, Race Relations and Resistance, 1870–1914 is a wide ranging and important survey of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century 362 Book Reviews debates on race and race relations that will be of interest to historians of Britain, imperialism and racism.'
Sadiah Qureshi, The University of Birmingham
The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
March 2015

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