European empires and the people

Popular responses to imperialism in France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy

The European scramble for colonies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was driven by rather more than the interests of an elite, aristocratic and bourgeois. This book is about the 'colonisation of consciousness'. It surveys in comparative form the transmission of imperial ideas to the public in six European countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book offers six case studies on France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy, providing parallel studies of the manner in which colonial ambitions and events in the respective European empires were given wider popular visibility. The book demonstrates the inter-war years that saw the stepping up of imperial propaganda throughout the surviving imperial powers. Inspired by the directions of research pioneered by John MacKenzie, specialists of the French Empire started to combine methodologies from social and cultural history to revise the perception of French popular imperialism. Germany's imperialism is analysed along the axes of mobility and migration, 'race' and the sciences, commodities and markets, the missions and imperialist social formations, and the vast field of popular culture. What sets popular imperialism in Belgium apart from others is the remarkable yet ironic reverence reserved for Leopold II. Power rivalries, ingenious if tricky diplomacy, and Leopold's tenacity resulted in recognition of his rule over much of the Congo around the time of the Berlin conference. So far as the peoples of Europe were concerned, the imperial experience helped, paradoxically, to further 'Eurocentrism' and install the naturalisation of Europeanness as 'whiteness'.

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