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The promotion of British and French colonial heroes, 1870–1939
Author: Berny Sèbe

Imperial heroes embodied the symbolic implementation of the colonial project and performed a highly mythologized meeting between conquerors and conquered. They were a crucial element of the 'European encounter with Africa' that took place as part of the Scramble for Africa. The book explores systematically the multiple outlets through which heroes of the British and French empires were celebrated, how their reputations were made over several decades and who sustained them. It looks at the general socio-cultural and political trends prevalent in Britain and France, and considers micro-economic tendencies and technological developments in the cultural industry that the development of legends revolving around imperial heroes. The book allows the reader to grasp the variety of print and audiovisual media, genres and formats through which meanings were conveyed, allowing imperial heroes to reach a 'public presence'. Two major aspects invested imperial heroes with a role in society. First is the use of their image as political argument or their own political roles. The other is the values that they embodied through their own personal dedication above and beyond the call of duty. The book presents the micro-histories of the making of the legends surrounding the figures of Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand and the Sirdar Kitchener. It details how a war correspondent George Warrington Steevens, and a publisher, Blackwood and Sons, converted the fall of Khartoum to market 'With Kitchener to Khartoum' as patriotic writing.

Berny Sèbe

This chapter presents a case study that illustrates a crucial aspect of hero-making: the role of commercial interest alongside ideological convictions. It follows the process through which George Warrington Steevens, his wife Christina and his Scottish and pro-imperial publisher William Blackwood III consciously used, and contributed to, the fame of Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener in the months following the battle of Omdurman (2 September 1898). Steevens' With Kitchener to Khartoum was the first book on Kitchener's action to become a nationwide best-seller and it established the 'Kitchener legend'. This book owed its success to three main factors: a subject appealing to the public's taste, a war correspondent turned author who enjoyed renown as a consequence of his contributions to the daily press and a publisher who was in a position to promote and distribute the new book efficiently.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
Abstract only
Berny Sèbe

This book shows that imperial heroism was a phenomenon to be reckoned with when it comes to British and French popular cultures from the late nineteenth century onwards. The concept of 'hero-makers' is pivotal in reflecting the variety of stakeholders who contributed to the development of heroic myths linked to the empire at a time when the media became a fundamental structural component of heroizing processes. Late nineteenth-century imperial heroes rose to prominence in the era of the second Industrial Revolution, at the very moment when the wave of 'New Imperialism' took place, pushed forward by technological advancement and increased international rivalry. Britain and France offer an excellent parallel view of the phenomenon of mass-mediatized 'imperial heroes' at the time when Europe seemed intent upon swallowing the rest of the world.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
The values embodied by imperial heroes
Berny Sèbe

This chapter considers primarily the moral meanings given to the heroic reputations of imperial heroes by their promoters, more than their actual moral achievements. Imperial heroes of the forty-five years preceding the Great War contributed to the ethos advocated by the promoters of New Imperialism. By diverting all resources, media attention and hopes to the Western Front, the Great War caused a significant evolution in the way in which Africa and Africans were perceived by their white rulers. The role and perception of imperial heroes concomitantly changed. The chapter considers in more detail this shift towards the celebration of a bygone age. The Victorian era praised the work of another type of imperial entrepreneur, but of a religious nature this time: the missionary. The wave of New Imperialism coincided with the acme of British Protestant missionary activity.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
Berny Sèbe

This chapter discusses the development of the Marchand legend on the basis of the advancement of his military career and the reporting that was made of it by a coterie of acquaintances, friends or interested parties. The Marchand legend proved to be one of the most enduring heroic reputations of the so-called 'second' French colonial empire. It owed its initial success and subsequent longevity to the circumstances surrounding the Fashoda crisis as much as to the networks of patronage and influential supporters that spread it through various means. In the summer of 1899, anti-Republican and anti-Dreyfusard politicians perceived the appeal of such a 'saviour' at a moment when France was divided, weakened and unsure about its future. Marchand's desire to preserve the unity of the Republic explains why he ultimately refused to instigate a coup.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
The printed world
Berny Sèbe

This chapter describes the aspects of the market evolution of the press and the publishing worlds between 1870 and the Second World War that are relevant to our understanding of hero- making processes. The popular press appears as the key element of the story behind the widespread success of the genre of imperial heroes in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Celebrations of imperial heroes in the press could also result from specific events which provided unique opportunities to increase sales or produce special issues. If imperial heroes often featured prominently in the press on both sides of the Channel, French strategies of promotion and image- making in the press differend significantly from those prevalent in Britain. Publishers involved in the promotion of imperial heroes could some- times count on an established tradition in the field, which allowed them to anticipate the public taste.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
Berny Sèbe

The British and French public went through distinct phases, but in both cases the entry of imperial heroes into public space loaded them with political value for several reasons. Historical contextualization is key to the understanding of the place of imperial heroes in domestic politics. This chapter distinguishes between four major types of politically influential hero: indirect promoter of expansion, direct promoter of expansion, hero used as political argument, and proconsul turned hero. A British prototype of Marshal Lyautey, Lord Lugard conceived and implemented in Central, East and West Africa a policy of indirect rule which bore several similarities to the one Lyautey later applied in Morocco. The figure of Lyautey was obviously used as a means of strengthening the cause of the Franco-British entente, thus exemplifying another political use of imperial heroes.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
The audiovisual world
Berny Sèbe

Extensive historiographical work has demonstrated how the empire penetrated into metropolitan mindsets through a variety of audiovisual cultural products. In particular, images became one of the most powerful means of promoting a hero, as visual representation made the heroic deed gain in credibility and appeal. If British artists were prone to depicting a handful of select imperial heroes of New Imperialism, their French counterparts seemed to limit themselves to colonial battle painting, rather than imperial heroism. Songwriters found an easy market each time a heroic figure came to the limelight. In Britain, imperial campaigns often inspired composers in search of themes of current and national relevance. The variety of media involved in the promotion of imperial heroes further entrenched them in the imagination of many through a process of accumulation, but it also ensured that they reached diverse audiences.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa
British and French ‘heroic imperialists’ as sites of memory
Berny Sèbe

This chapter begins with an attempt to historicise the development of these 'heroic reputations', exploring the influence of the mass-media, and the socio-cultural and political circumstances in nineteenth century Britain and France. The concept of 'hero-maker' refers to a variety of cultural, economic or political intermediaries, often in a position of power within their own field, who contributed to the development of a heroic reputation. The chapter considers long-term memorialisation processes which turned what could have been fleeting celebrity episodes into persistent commemorations. It also considers the place of imperial heroism in the colonies before independence, and the post-colonial management of the symbolic and material legacy of these heroic reputations in newly independent countries. Pierre Nora's concept of site of memory offers a useful way of encompassing the various means through which imperial heroes became vectors of symbols and meaning in the collective memory of the two countries.

in Sites of imperial memory
British and French contexts
Berny Sèbe

The national hero is an iconic example, an 'Exemplar Virtutis', who provides guiding principles to society. The Scramble for Africa, one of the most evident expressions of the gigantic land grab that was later termed 'New Imperialism', was one of the defining moments of the end of the nineteenth century. It provided a context propitious to the rise to fame of a new generation of heroes. A unique set of conditions enabled the appearance of imperial heroes in British and French popular culture. The names of imperial heroes penetrated deeply into the fabric of British and French culture throughout the period, as they entered the public space in various forms. Geographical societies, the activities of which increased considerably throughout the nineteenth century, appear as key vectors of the reputations attached to imperial heroes.

in Heroic imperialists in Africa