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Producing the maritime landscape
Jonathan Stafford

With striking frequency, passenger descriptions of the maritime landscape viewed from the steamship employ the popular Victorian entertainment form of the panorama as a means of framing and articulating their perception of the Eastern landscape. P&O’s steamship service to the East was represented in one of the nineteenth century’s most successful spectacles of this type, the 1851 Overland Mail panorama. The popularity of this panorama was testament to the overland route’s place in the Victorian popular imagination, particularly situating the steamship line in relation to Britain’s global empire. While the Overland Mail panorama presented an aesthetic mode of engaging with the geographies of global space that had been made possible by P&O’s introduction of steam to colonial shipping, it also fed back into passengers’ experiences of the overland route itself. The mechanical form of vision facilitated by the panorama not only offered passengers a means of representing their experience of steamship travel, but also, I argue, presented a Western mode of viewing the Eastern landscape in which representation came to precede reality – travellers reported that the Eastern landscape viewed from the steamer resembled the panorama, rather than the other way round. Furthermore, passenger descriptions of these landscapes compare favourably with their accounts of disembarking and experiencing the imperial world first-hand, an experience often met with disappointment. This phenomenon supports the notion that the steamship offered Western travellers a means for viewing the Eastern landscape in a way that they found comprehensible.

in Imperial steam
Abstract only
Modernity on the sea route to India, 1837–74

Imperial Steam engages with an untapped wealth of nineteenth-century accounts of travel aboard the vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, or P&O, as the steamship line responsible for connecting Britain with its Eastern empire was known. It employs the subjective experiences of imperial mobilities found in these sources to explore the history of steam’s introduction to the sea voyage to the East through the cultural attitudes and experiences, shifts in perception, and social and material practices they give voice to. These sources exhibit a persistent concern with what can only be considered the steamship’s modernity: in perceptions of global geography; in the social life of the ship and its spatial organisation; in the temporal rhythms of shipboard life; in the steamer’s luxurious domesticity; and in descriptions of maritime landscapes, travel accounts are marked by attempts to articulate an idiosyncratic newness that characterised the steamship and its mobility. Marrying the most modern technological innovation with the workings of Britain’s expanding Eastern empire, P&O’s steamships provided a ready spectacle for the Victorian public imagination. The steamship provided a vantage point – both literal and literary – from which to view the imperial world. It was significant not just as a functional means to reach the East, but as a key discursive site for engaging with and encountering Victorian globalisation.

Abstract only
Jonathan Stafford

The introduction engages the reader with the book’s main themes, contributions and methodology, and gives some historical background on the steamship route to the East. It proposes that the wealth of texts which documented the overland route voyage to India provide a distinctive perspective on the history of Britain’s imperial world, an approach which is indebted to developments in imperial history which focus on ego documents and their insight into the subjective, imaginative aspects of life in the British Empire. It argues that the steamship provided a means for both passengers, and those who read their accounts, to encounter the imaginative geographies of British imperialism. Exploring the affective engagement with the logistics of imperial mobilities contributes to the important debates regarding the relationship between metropole and periphery. Establishing the breadth and tenor of the corpus of texts drawn upon, the introduction explores the nexus between steam’s mobilities at sea, travel writing and the imaginative geographies of imperial space, drawing attention to the vicarious nature of Victorian practices of textual consumption. Furthermore, it highlights the extent to which this discourse operated through the diverse imaginative investments associated with an idiosyncratic modernity which was ascribed to the steamship. It emphasises that the preoccupation with this modernity found in the archive of imperial steamship travel is at the heart of the book’s contribution to the historiography of the British Empire.

in Imperial steam
Steamship domesticity
Jonathan Stafford

The revolution in global mobility facilitated by steam was repeatedly characterised by passengers as ordinary, everyday, articulated specifically through a distinctive homeliness ascribed to the steamer. Chapter 4 explores this domesticity as a set of social, material and representational practices which helped passengers to identify the steamship as a distinctly modern (Western) environment, acting as a corrective to the dislocation inherent in imperial mobilities. The steamship’s domesticity can be seen as a kind of cushioning of the passenger from both the industrial production of mobility (and the associated labour practices), the tribulations of travel at sea, and the unfamiliarity of the imperial world. Accounts of the steamship’s domesticity exist in a state of tension between descriptions of interior decoration and concerns regarding the level of comfort on board. Steamships featured opulent interior decoration, whose familiarity appealed to an increasingly discerning bourgeois consumer. Florid papier mâché ornamentation, oil lamps, walls hung with paintings and gilded mirrors produced luxurious shipboard interior spaces which helped to mask the trials of life at sea. Yet this décor was often seen by passengers as superfluous, inappropriate to the gravity and potential dangers of maritime travel, and to an imperial climate which tested the very limits of comfort. Descriptions of the inevitable discomforts of life on board foreground the embodied experience of steamship travel, for both the bourgeois consumers of mobility and the subaltern workers who made the ship’s mobility possible.

in Imperial steam
Steamship temporalities
Jonathan Stafford

Chapter 3 focuses on a striking concern in source materials with the steamship’s temporality: on passengers’ preoccupations with the passage of time, with temporal precision, and with the rhythms of shipboard life. The steamship had injected a new temporal urgency into the sea voyage to the East: no longer reliant on the whims of nature, steamships were not just faster than sailing vessels, but could travel to precise, repeatable timetables, unprecedented in global travel. This bureaucratic precision, temporal discipline and repetition which governed the steamer’s mobility was echoed in the passenger experience. From the steamer’s mealtimes to the popular pastime of gambling on the steamer’s insignificant deviations from its schedule, passengers appeared to be obsessed with the temporality of shipboard life. Yet while the steamship was lauded by contemporary commentators for the radical temporal abbreviation of the journey to the East, overland route narratives are marked by repeated references to the monotony of the voyage. These claims emphasise an acute sense of the passengers’ separation from the flow of time associated with their everyday lives on land. Suspended between the temporalities (both real and perceived) of the British and imperial worlds, this dislocation contributed to a sense of being ‘outside’ the passage of time in the modern world. The chapter engages with this shipboard phenomenon in the context of the wider rationalisation of the temporality of everyday life which characterised Western modernity.

in Imperial steam
Turning a ‘colonial science’ on Britain itself
Katherine Ambler

Anthropology struggled to escape its colonial heritage and find a place for itself in the era of decolonisation. Faced with losing access to colonial field sites, anthropologists at the University of Manchester sought to establish the applicability of anthropological theory to modern Britain throughout the 1950s and 1960s. They aimed to demonstrate how their expertise, which was derived from the study of Africa and other colonial regions, could be applied to labour, community or social relations in Britain. This work sought to position anthropologists as social scientific observers who could use their knowledge of different societies to provide guidance to the British government and public in a period of social change, industrial unrest and shifting ideas about national identity. It also reveals how the end of empire and the loss of the privileges of ‘colonial science’ forced scholars to find new ways to justify their expertise and to adapt their practices to win support from new patrons. This chapter focuses on the work of anthropologists based at the University of Manchester, analysing their research into factory-floor dynamics and rural communities. It connects recent historiography on ‘post-colonial careers’ and the links between imperial and domestic intellectual practices with work on the construction of knowledge within the social and human sciences, in order to highlight how social scientific ideas about modern Britain could make use of models developed to explain the social dynamics of the Empire.

in British culture after empire
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British anti- racist non- fiction after empire
Dominic Davies

On 10 June 2020, three days after #BlackLivesMatter protesters toppled the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race topped the UK non-fiction bestseller chart. It brought with it a wave of books marketed as guides for readers – especially white readers – wishing to educate themselves about the effects of structural racism on individual lives. Many of these titles place notable emphasis on the value of personal anecdote and experience, blending memoir with often detailed and cogent anti-racist critique to create a kind of anti-racist life writing that has a long history in African American literary culture. While the genre is less widely known in Britain, this chapter argues that a similar suturing of individual biographies into the structural contours shaping social, cultural and institutional life in Britain after empire has been deployed by a number of Black writers in recent years, often to persuasive and powerful effect. This 'anti-racist non-fiction’ genre blends memoir with social and historical commentary to build similar connections between individual experiences and structural conditions, often (though not always) without conforming to the individualising inclinations of identity politics that are otherwise so pervasive in our neoliberal era. To demonstrate its arguments, the chapter focuses on two of the most rigorous and best-selling of Britain’s anti-racist non-fiction titles: Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking and Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.

in British culture after empire
African Caribbean women, belonging and the creation of Black British beauty spaces in Britain (c. 1948– 1990)
Mobeen Hussain

This chapter explores the creation of Black British beauty spaces for and by African-Caribbean women in postwar Britain between 1948 and 1990 by scrutinising physical spaces and the literary narratives that represented them – previously overlooked in discussions about postwar migration and multiculturalism. In doing so, it considers how negotiations of beauty, often multilayered and divisive, became resources for fashioning Black British identities. African-Caribbean women mediated Eurocentric beauty ideals, using elements of both conformity and subversion, to create innovative beauty spaces. As part of wider anti-racist community building, quotidian beauty consumption played a formative role in nurturing spaces of belonging for African-Caribbean women in Britain. Configurations of hair and skin colour were navigated in salons, Black businesses, beauty contests, and media outputs. I interdiscursively read visual and textual outputs in two pioneering Black-owned newspapers, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean news (1958–1964) and The Voice (f.1982), alongside the early novels of Andrea Levy. This interdisciplinary approach, supplemented by anecdotal evidence and testimonies from The Heart of the Race (1985), accentuate the importance of Black beauty discourse in identity formation in modern Britain.

in British culture after empire
Daljit Nagra at the diasporic museum
John McLeod

This essay considers the space of the museum as a dissident of location of postcolonial critique, inspired by Daljit Nagra’s poetic sequence ‘Meditations on the British Museum’ (2017). It fully acknowledges the Western institution of the museum as complicit in articulating colonial perspectives, but also challenges the views of those who regard museums as forever compromised by their indebtedness to empire. To this end, the essay combines recent thinking in museum studies concerning ‘diasporic objects’ with the critique of origins central to critical adoption studies in order to query the problematic nativism and unexplored passion for the patrial that sometimes underwrites ‘decolonial’ attitudes to object provenance and legitimate heritage. Drawing, too, upon Nicholas Thomas’s work regarding ‘curiosity’, it reframes the museum as a site of postcolonial critique where emergent relations might be struck through uncommissioned encounters between the museum’s visitors and its galleries. The new constellations of meaning created as a consequence empower us not only to admit but also redeploy our contact with colonialism’s plunder for purposefully resistant ends. A cognisance of exactly these possibilities resides at the core of Nagra’s poetic sequence, which imagines a diasporic visitor to London’s British Museum wandering at will among its myriad objects drawn from, but not confined to, a plethora of empires, ancient and modern. In his exploration of the museum as a space of generative opportunities for resistant thinking, Nagra curates in his poetry a generative encounter between the present’s enduring coloniality and the contestatory constellations yielded by unchartered diasporic curiosity.

in British culture after empire
Race, decolonisation and migration since 1945

British culture after empire is the first collection of its kind to explore the intertwined social, cultural and political aftermath of empire in Britain from 1945 up to and beyond the Brexit referendum of 2016, combining approaches from experts in history, literature, anthropology, cultural studies and theatre studies. Against those who would deny, downplay or attempt to forget Britain's imperial legacy, these contributions expose and explore how the British Empire and the consequences of its end continue to shape Britain at the local, national and international level. As an important and urgent intervention in a field of increasing relevance within and beyond the academy, the book offers fresh perspectives on the colonial hangovers in postcolonial Britain from up-and-coming as well as established scholars.