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Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire

Pramod K. Nayar

ISBN: 978-1-118-27900-7 August 2012 Wiley-Blackwell 272 Pages



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
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