Decolonization, Amnesia & Nostalgia

Decolonizing Culture

An Introduction

The modern presentation, representation, and participation of decolonized regions around the world (the “Commonwealth”) can trace its Imperial history, or history of Imperial occupation, to centuries earlier. It was an age of industrial advancement and dramatic territorial expansionism; wherein a clamor for Africa, natural resources, and other driving forces culminated in what was then called, the “Civilizing Mission.” As decades passed and various countries began to develop, the modern perception of the empire was formed by resurgent waves of cultural and nationalist movements — this is the primary lens through which we have come to view the imperial endeavor.  Therein we must grapple with the fact that memories of Empire are often hotly contested.

Amnesia and nostalgia have cultivated, in some, a belief that Anglocentric narratives and experience matter most. However, exponential advancements in information and communications technology have provoked a tidal wave of change. Below you can see when countries gained independence from the UK (click the picture for country names).  Almost all, plus a few that were not part of Britain’s initial Empire, continue to form the Commonwealth of Nations.
Empires dissolved post-WWII; the US & USSR backed proxies throughout the Cold War

Formerly colonized people are increasingly finding their voices, able to offer their own perspectives on the past. In the 21st century, we are able to evaluate their once disregarded historical views of the past and subsequent narratives as counterpoints to Western historiography.

Exploring Decolonization through the ever-changing relationship of people to elements of the past manifest as public history is the next step in understanding the world as it is today and explaining the world of the past and future. Amnesia and Nostalgia are likewise modern hallmarks of the post-imperial world. In this way, the culmination of amnesia, nostalgia, and decolonization indicate that the modern sentiment(s) of imperialism are substantial relevant even in today’s otherwise progressive society.

The process of decolonization may have ended, but a profound sense of amnesia and nostalgia have persisted within the Anglo-British perception of identity.


Edward Said’s research into the phenomenon of “Orientalism” actively contends a reversal of the “negative binary” of the colonizer and the colonized peoples. Anti-colonial movements (often spurred by nationalist sentiment) have sharply rebuked the notion of imperialists as superior and modern, while the colonized remain perceived inferior and backward. The perception of “cultural superiority” inherent in Imperialism resoundingly influenced the depiction of such non-Anglo in literature, media, and subsequently the perception of English citizens. This systemic institutionalization of cultural inequality led to the justification of Western, ethnocentric imperialism.

In this way decolonization challenges the stereotypical and reductionist representations created by such imperialists and the Western lens by which the colonized started to view themselves (Moosavinia, et al. 1).

The Rastafari Movement in Jamaica is just one of many contemporary examples of this concept.  Identifying as members of the African diaspora, Rastafarians found inspiration in the figure of a black king in Ethiopia, amidst otherwise colonial rulers.  Officials for the British West Indies were not kind to Rastas, and even after gaining independence in 1962, Jamaica’s post-colonial government continued to persecute them.  Bob Marley introduced Rastafari to a global audience, but his life story is representative of a larger debate over what it means to completely decolonize.
Charity concert in 1976.

That said, issues of access, participation, and commemoration are necessary to consider, both when shaping and evaluating public history.  It is also important to remember that the past has been turned into history through many mediums, from textbooks, newspapers, pictures and movies, to diaries, music, and historical fiction.

Two other forms, family and oral history often strike us as restrictive, even unreliable, but the human instinct to breathe life into the past is telling of how we create and understand history. The way fact is mixed with fiction, belief, or ideals to compose seemingly comprehensive or comforting stories corresponds with the way public history is often mapped in a narrative style (Mantel).


2002 book, Indian Mutiny: Hanuman Singh, India, 1857-185 by Pratima Mitchell

During the imperial era British children’s literature was a means of perpetuating empire, it was used to reinforce imperial ideas as well as excite young children for their future as imperial leaders. As the Age of Empire rose and fell, so too did the levels of overt imperial ideology in both writing and curriculum. British Children’s literature transformed from a tool of Empire and emerging as a tool of multiculturalism and decolonization of British culture.

Decolonization of culture and institutions is an ongoing process that continues even though the decolonization period ended decades ago. The ongoing decolonization of and through British Children’s literature speaks to the ongoing debate about British identity in the aftermath of empire, both of which are legacies of the imperial era.

The issue of colonial education in India spans multiple generations and is a direct example of decolonization’s massive influence on the colonized country. Indeed, India still grapples with the decision of the British Empire in 1835 to make massive and far-reaching educational changes to India.


From the perspective of the British imperial endeavor, amnesia is a potent force in three distinct ways: De Facto amnesia features an over emphasis of the “civilizing mission” and ignorance of any downside to a particular group or colonial culture. Voluntary amnesia is far more deliberate; involving the willful ignorance  of the negative consequence(s) that occurred during an era of consistent British occupation. There is no justification to voluntary amnesia and the individual or group in question would likewise feel no need to apologize for the actions having taken place. A final category, involuntary amnesia, is experienced via the censorship or active revisionism of a history to avoid empire entirely. Therefore, someone learning history from a modern British perspective may not encounter any of the negative consequences attributed to the Empire itself.

Britain and India relationship post-colonization era:

The modern relationships between Britain and India can be classified as strong alliance, but there is still feud and tension between the two nations. when it come to the colonization, both countries share the same history, but both have different results and conclusions toward the post-colonization era. For India, the colonization had great impact toward their country, it changed their own culture, religion and political system. In another word, India still struggle to forget its colonization by Britain.

For Britain, India was a precious jewel that produced goods, labor and power. They managed to left India’s industry to a higher level by having better agriculture and transportation industry. An interview with Indian MP Shashi Tharoor on channel 4 news, explains the amnesia and effects of post-colonization toward the Indian nation.

In reference to the British Empire, this is especially prevalent in their erasure of colonial histories, such as those destructive legacies left in India and Africa. Pages that focus on the subject of the impact of Amnesia include the following:

Indian Caregivers During The Raj Era

Queen Victoria and Public History

KOH-I-NOOR: A Diamond’s Battle


Nostalgia often begets a feeling of pleasure mixed with slight sadness when recalling events of the past. For some, this word may echo a romantic sentiment by which an individual or community can reflect or more appropriately, remember the predominantly positive attributes of a person, place or thing.

In reference to British Imperialism, however, nostalgia more often feature a hyper-romanticized version of the “civilizing mission.” A narrative by which Anglo-supremacy readily defined the experience of commonwealth nations: In this way a modern celebration of the imperial past has seemed to remember themselves at the height of world power, while having forgotten the ill-got gains of violent expansionism.

Within this section can be found some examples that do well to reconcile the position of British “authority” over former commonwealth nations within a modernized and nostalgia-driven context: They include a visual examination of British Imperial propaganda and media coverage of the Anglo-Boer war alongside the refusal to return a famous Indian diamond, the Kooh-I-noor.

A Young Boy and a British Balloon

 British Imperial Propaganda  (c. the late 19th & early 20th century)

Likewise, literature and media were essential in establishing Britain’s colonial holdings, in particular India, which became known as Britain’s “jewel in the crown.”  Rudyard Kipling was one author whose work on India was a fundamental player in establishing this narrative in the British Imperial imagination. To this day Kipling’s work continues to be admired and remade although it is now also open to criticism for its pro-imperial sentiment and emphasis of white racial superiority.

That being said, it’s important to understand the effect of public history and the future of empire.

To briefly delve into the interesting and perhaps unintentionally oblivious manner modern Britain has come to understands its place amongst the Common Wealth today, it is valuable to observe the interaction of state officials during public ceremony. And of course, there has been a change in how empire is remembered – in large part this has taken place due to the vast expansion of a multicultural London (the center of what was the world’s largest Empire), but also within Britain herself – a linger of nostalgia remains. A romantic flare, whereby the Englishman of today may remember a past of proud supremacy only to look around and realize that the world is now a different place; perhaps not so different.

For example, whilst in Myanmar British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was caught on video reciting Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 pro-imperialism poem entitled “Mandalay,” a poem which depicts the nostalgia of a former British imperial soldier for his days of service in Britain’s exotic colonies. (Booth)

Video captured by Channel 4: Boris Johnson nostalgically reciting Kipling’s “Mandalay,” a pro-imperialism poem.

It would appear that many of the modern sentiments surrounding the a call to depart from the European Union can be traced to an older generation of British citizens. They would be individuals perhaps capable of recalling (whether in person or via the stories of their parents) the glory that once held the Crown above most of the world. Accordingly, a sentiment emerged during recent years that may have passed by too quietly: “Empire 2.0.” And despite not garnering much longstanding public attraction, it is alarming that a modern sensation of romanticism and nostalgia would think of returning to a time when a “multi-cultural” London would have been viewed from a less than appreciable perspective.

After all, let us not forget Rhodes:

Commanding officers of the Rhodesian volunteers, B.S.A. (British South Africa) Police, with escorts of native troops in the center.

Thank You: Please Enjoy and Explore Our Site!

Colonial Education: Empire in India, Manifest

Queen Victoria and Public History

KOH-I-NOOR: A Diamond’s Battle

The Rastafari Movement in Jamaica

British children’s literature

 British Imperial Propaganda  (c. the late 19th & early 20th century)

A British soldier in the trenches of WWI (1918).
Indian colonial troops in France are greeted by a French child (1940’s).

Responsibilities & Tasks Accomplished on Landing Page

Sean Silva: World War Photography at the page’s top/beginning

Tim Vassallo: Co-Wrote the Introduction and Decolonization / Nostlagia / Edited most of Page.

Marie Quintana: Paragraphs under the media section (Now nostalgia): India and British newspapers/Indian Mutiny, Literature/Rudyard Kipling, and British Empire remembered/ Boris Johnson; video: Boris Johnson/ parts in the decolonization section / Sources and further reading

Ghosoun Alhasawi: the “Britain and India relationship post-colonization era” section, and video : Shashi Tharoor interview

Dylan Ramos: From ‘Edward Said’ to the Commonwealth map, bibliography, draft links to individual pages

Katelyn Afshar: Definitions of Amnesia and Nostalgia and media.

By Katelyn Afshar, Dylan Ramos, Marie Quintana, Ghosoun Alhasawi, Tim Vasallo, and Sean Silva