Appropriation, dehumanisation and the rule of colonial difference
The countries of the British Empire at large became contingent sites of inter-racial contact and segregation, migration and ‘cosmopolitanism’, unrest and surveillance during the First World War. As belligerent soldiers and prisoners of war moved up and down the interstices of empire, their cohabitation in the tense space of post-war colonies gave rise to a variety of responses in their personal writings. This chapter analyses the fashioning of ‘colonial agency’ in the British Empire against the backdrop of the end of the First World War. Reading archival documents of private writings by British soldiers who were still posted in India, colonial Burma, Mesopotamia and North Africa between 1918 and 1920, it examines how these men performed colonial agency and imperial hegemony in their daily duties; how they observed the landscape and the (colonial) picturesque; how they recorded their interactions with colonial non-white soldiers as the latter demobilised; and how their imperial gaze permeated their othering of colonial subjects and their negotiations with the colonial space. Ultimately, the chapter argues that the hybridity in the volatile spaces of post-war colonial states rendered it necessary for the British soldier to refashion and perform colonial agency.