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Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3856-0
272 pages
May 2012, Wiley-Blackwell
Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire (1444338560) cover image


This accessible cultural history explores 400 years of British imperial adventure in India, developing a coherent narrative through a wide range of colonial documents, from exhibition catalogues to memoirs and travelogues. It shows how these texts helped legitimize the moral ambiguities of colonial rule even as they helped the English fashion themselves.

  • An engaging examination of European colonizers’ representations of native populations
  • Analyzes colonial discourse through an impressive range of primary sources, including memoirs, letters, exhibition catalogues, administrative reports, and travelogues
  • Surveys 400 years of India’s history, from the 16th century to the end of the British Empire
  • Demonstrates how colonial discourses naturalized the racial and cultural differences between the English and the Indians, and controlled anxieties over these differences
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Introducing Colonial Discourse 1

2 Travel, Exploration, and ‘‘Discovery’’: From Imagination to Inquiry 12

Imagining Multiple Worlds: The Fantasy of ‘‘Discovery’’ 18

The Narrative Organization of Discovery 29

‘‘Inquiry’’ and the Documentation of the Others 41

Conclusion: ‘‘Discovery’’ and Wonder, ‘‘Contracted and Epitomized’’ 49

3 The Discourse of Difference: Constructing the Colonial Exotic 55

The Colony and Imperial Wealth 57

The Exotic in English Culture 59

The Colonial Exotic: Aesthetics, Science, and Difference 60

The Sentimental Exotic 62

The Scientific Exotic 79

Conclusion: From the Indian to the Colonial Exotic 95

4 Empire Management: From Domestication to Spectacle 104

The Domestication of Colonial Spaces 106

Administering Colonial Spaces 121

‘‘Raising the General Credit of the Empire’’: The Spectacle of Empire 140

Conclusion: Imperial Improvisation and the Spectacle 145

5 Civilizing the Empire: The Ideology of Moral and Material Progress 161

England’s Age of Improvement 164

Discipline and Improve 170

Imperial Lessons 174

The Salvific Colonial 178

Rescue, Reform, and Race 183

Conclusion: From Improvement to Self-Legitimization 194

6 Aesthetic Understanding: From Colonial English to Imperial Cosmopolitans 201

The Self-Fashioning of the Scholar-Colonial 204

Antiquarian Aesthetics and Colonial Authority 213

‘‘Consumption, Ingestion, and Decoration’’: Colonial Commodities 219

The ‘‘Empire City’’: Pageantry and Empire 226

Conclusion: From Colonial English to Imperial Cosmopolitan 229

References 235

Index 260

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Author Information

Pramod K. Nayar is a member of the English Faculty at the University of Hyderabad, India. He has been Smuts Visiting Fellow in Commonwealth Studies at the University of Cambridge, the Charles Wallace India Trust–British Council Fellow at the University of Kent at Canterbury and Fulbright Senior Fellow at Cornell University. His many publications include States of Sentiment: Exploring the Cultures of Emotion (2011), An Introduction to New Media and Cybercultures (2010), Postcolonialism: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010), English Writing and India, 1600–1920: Colonizing Aesthetics (2008), and Writing Wrongs: The Cultural Construction of Human Rights in India (2012). Forthcoming is a book on new media.

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"Nayar makes the field of 'colonial discourse studies' irresistible to anyone seeking to explore the complex relationship between textual production, (South) Asian Orientalism, and the politics of empire building."
- Walter S. H. Lim, National University of Singapore

"Drawing on an enormous range of writing, Dr. Nayar provides a lucid and nuanced analysis of British representations of India as a continent to be discovered, controlled, ‘civilized’, and incorporated. This important book by one of India’s leading scholars gives students and scholars a significantly new understanding of the complex nature and history of colonial discourse regarding India."
- C.L.Innes, University of Kent

"A theoretical and historical perspective on colonial discourse…an impressive demonstration of the nature and power of discourse using an array of texts from the archive of British India."
- Nandana Dutta, Gauahati University

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