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Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c.1800-1947



Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c.1800-1947

E. M. Collingham

ISBN: 978-0-745-62370-2 July 2001 Polity 288 Pages

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This innovative volume demonstrates that the body was central to the construction and maintenance of British authority in India. Imperial Bodies explores ways in which the transformation of the British presence in India between 1800 and 1947 involved and relied upon changes in the way the British in India managed, disciplined and displayed their bodies. The move from commerce to control, and then to imperialism and Empire corresponded to a shift in bodily norms. As the nineteenth century progressed, an openness and interest in India gave way to a ban on things Indian. The British rejected curries for tinned ham, cool white clothing for black broadcloth and Indian mistresses for English wives. By the twentieth century, the British official had been transformed into an upright, decent representative of British virtues whose task was to bring civilization to India.

By the late nineteenth century, racial theory focused attention on the physique to such an extent that the body became a distinct category within official discourse, regarded as an instrument of rule. The body was used symbolically during Raj ceremonial, and even the pith helmet worn by officials was turned from a reminder of British vulnerability in the tropics into a symbol of British power.

Through an in-depth discussion of texts and practices, the body is introduced into the historical account as an active social principle: a force in the construction of social inequalities along lines of race and class. Drawing on a wide range of sources including government records, newspapers, private letters, medical handbooks and cookery books, E.M. Collingham paints a vivid picture of the life and manners of the British in India.

This important contribution to both British and imperial history will appeal to students and scholars of cultural and colonial history.

List of Plates.




Part I: The Nabob, c.1800-1857.

1. The Indianized Body.

Rule as an 'Indian Idiom'.

Survival of an 'Indian Idiom'.

The Dangers of Indianization.

The Limits of Indianization.

The Depth of Indianization.

2. The Anglicization of the Body.

Rule in a British Idiom.

The Ban on the East.

Survival in a British Idiom.

3. The Limits of Anglicization.

The 'Baba Logue'.

The Bungalow.

The Household Servants.

Part II. The Sahib 1857-1939.

4. The Sahib as an Instrument of Rule.

The Competition-Wallah and the Ideal Official Body.

Imperial Ceremony and the Symbolic Body.

The Bureaucratic Body.

Prestige and Physical Violence.

5. The Social Body.

Social Life and Conformity.

The Fragility of Domestic Space.

Prestige in the Bathroom.

Degeneration and the Regulation of Sexuality.

Race and Sociability.

Epilogue: The Dissolution of the Anglo-Indian Body, 1939-1947.





'I am deeply impressed by the assurance, craftsmanship and historical judgement displayed by Imperial Bodies. It represents the new fusion of colonial history and body history at its very best.' Roy Porter, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine

'Collingham's work on the physical experience of the British is a remarkable piece of research and analysis. Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the work is her section at the end of the book on the "Social Body" where she describes the new tasks (mostly not undertaken) that confronted the British understanding of their bodies as the moment of Independence of India and Pakistan loomed.' Gene Irschick, University of California at Berkeley

"its ambition is to be applauded" Mark Harrison, University of Oxford

'Lively and insightful.' Times Literary Supplement

'A first-rate read ... What makes Imperial Bodies such fun to delve into is the mass of fascinating social detail that its author has uncovered and assembled; by turns medical, biological, culinary, sartorial, sexual, even scatological, drawn from sources as diverse as advertisements for soft flannels in The Englishman, Chota Sahib's Camp Recipes for Camp People (Madras, 1890) and the Whipping Bill of 1864. In sum, a fine body of work.' The Spectator

'Beautifully written, this history of the body during the Raj is a telling antidote to the traditional imperial histories of the British occupation of India. Weaving analytical and empirical knowledge E.M. Collingham produces a very readable and at times shocking history of British arrogance and ignorance of Indian cultures and histories ... It is a remarkable book, one that reaches well beyond an academic audience to all of us concerned with the trends behind the cultural and social inequalities and confusions with which we continue to struggle.' Development

'Using this evolving parade of the colonial presence, Cambridge academic E.M. Collingham provides a fascinating sweep of Anglo-Indian society and its attitudes to a variety of topics, among them the home, dress, food, cleanliness, sexuality, and servants.' The Natal Witness

"I found this book more illuminating than any previous postcolonial history, both because it sees the world that children saw - which is not far from a world that an observant doctor sees - and because it goes further in accounting for it and explaining its unique mix of lovable and repellant features than anything else I have read." International Journal of Epidemiology

"Readers will find much that is original and of interest in this book." Victorian Studies

"This is a highly readable and lucid account of a relatively new topic in imperial history and historiography and should prove of value to historians as well as scholars in a number of other disciplines." Kleio

"Well researched, clearly argued, and full of rich and interesting detail, this is a book that will be of interest to anthropologists, culture historians and scholars working in the field of colonial and post-colonial studies." Joseph S. Alter, Journal of The Royal Anthropological Institute

A Cutting edge treatment of the body in an historical and colonial context
A Addresses a neglected but extremely interesting aspect of the British experience in India
A Written in a clear and accessible way
A Includes 20 illustrations