The Value of image & story as they pertain to conflict
Media and culture are mainstays in the imagination of any governing imperial force. Propaganda worked as a megaphone by which the parliament in place was able to communicate and shape the narrative(s) from abroad. In this way the public was shown a carefully constructed narrative view of the imperial story. This was not so much meant to deceive anyone; rather, it was meant to simplify a far more complex story. And through these dramatic simplifications, a more tolerable narrative was built. One that considers the “civilizing” context of Empire, wherein a surge for power was born, maintained and inevitably portrayed in newspapers, photographs, and propaganda…
- The English saw themselves as members of an ordered society
- They equated whiteness with civility & denoted that those who weren’t white were a lesser form of human existence
British newspapers had learned to “structure” the colonial narrative within it’s various printed medium(s). Thus, such outlets sought to portray events such as the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1901 and the Indian call for Home Rule (actualized in 1947) as product(s)of successful or well-intentioned English/Anglo civilizing. In fact, according to the British imperial imagination, citizens of India and other indigenous would seek independence as a natural byproduct (Darwinian in form) of their own education.
The colonial narrative as told from an imperial perspective has a tendency to oversimplify complex situations. For example, as the British Empire encompassed so much of the world it made great effort to appear tolerant, enlightened and giving toward its various commonwealth holdings. A beacon of civilization, the English were to lead – sometimes walking in solidarity – the various non-Anglo races were to walk hand-in-hand into a brighter future as a child following their parents down an uneasy road. This is, of course, the perception of any true Englishman: A white man’s burden to enlighten and lead. Yet, the reality of such situations may be far different than that reported in an imperial newspaper via image or story.
In addition, the Anglo-British imagination had undeniably perceived its colonial holdings as a necessary tool when dealing with the wars of Europe.
Public History and its Social Implication(s)
The media (as a British institution) saw the city of London as both their imperial capital and the center of empire: A hub wherein all other corners of the world felt connected and wherein the established rules of civility could be witnessed via their purest form. A strong physical allusion of cultural supremacy, the cityscape was riddled with posters and flyers that evoked a mighty “civilizing” construct. This position as a focal point of authority undoubtedly lead to an elevation of British cultural superiority amidst the global community.
To be British in this way would encompass all other cultures and so the Empire itself became a social experience. For this reason (and many more) there had been no need for the hierarchy of British authority to travel throughout their own Empire and so the majority of their racially motivated decision-making became inspired almost exclusively from historical texts or social theory.
The imperial “image” of London within itself can be viewed as an allusion to imperialism, nationalism, and urban space(s). Furthermore, public history has commonly been denoted as a diverse and accessible process by which the past can be incorporated into the world today. Truly this form of history calls for a bridge between the otherwise academic or political spaces in the world, challenging the general public to join in the discourse.
Whether it be through exhibition, library, or more immediately, via the mass media, such history inevitably echoes from age to age – sometimes changing over time, and other times remaining the same – the historian, therefore, is not its only purveyor. A newspaper editor or writer too may fill such a role. Therefore, this paper will seek to address both the divergent roles of “rule” versus “occupation” within the British imperial imagination, and subsequently call upon the nature of propagandist media (a feature of public history) as a tool to invariably censure the sensation of major events.
Likewise, that is the intention of our website HERE. To save the everyday person from falling into complacency and easy answers.
The Boer War & an Imperial Approach to Media
Literature is a product of environment – the where, how and why a nation and its people have come to experience the world. It is the written emotional position of an era, recalling the convergence of cultures, leadership both social and political, and the otherwise mundane moments of a writer’s daily experience. These are the facets of life that echo within the written expression – in this way, and true to both the non-fiction/fiction genres (including mass media), a relationship is built between writer and reader. A relationship of trust that requires nourishment; the author is writing of his or her own experience insofar as it conforms, elaborates, or enlightens the reader toward a similar sensation or introduces them to a sensation previously unknown within their current station. For example, the media that appeared within Britain around the first decade(s) of the 20th century could not help but examine conflicts inherent to imperial control; embodied violently and visually in the dramas of the Anglo-Boer War, 1899 to 1902.
In his text, “Department of War and External Affairs: The Anglo-Boer War and Imperialism,” Jonathan Wild examines the dynamic relationship between reader, writer and editor that grew in influence around the beginning of the 20th century. More specifically, he recalls how the rise in sales and publication of daily newspapers became an important signifier to the various media outlets that the people were indeed listening:
This magnitude of readership was viewed by the political bodies of Britain as a necessary tool to both uphold public order and subsequently, shift the topics of discussion toward a direction in their favor. Thus, when writing about the wartime experience(s) of Londoners amidst this period of Boer violence, Wild suggests that various novelists would feature citizens reading papers – their heads down while walking and eyes glued to words on the page. This process of readership became akin to a hybridized form of “viewership” – thus, the sentiment of wartime was captured in ink.
“The Other(s) as Elevated & Ready to Lead Themselves”
An article emerged within the The Times on April 29th, in 1947, stating: “The news of their presence [the Lord & Lady MB] spread like a fire through the crowd of perhaps 60,000 who rushed towards the over-bridge and gave Lord Mountbatten an enthusiastic ovation, shouting slogans like ‘Viceroy Zindabad’ or ‘Long life to the Viceroy.’”
Media hailed the viceroy as a champion of the occasion, but there was almost no mention of Gandhi or Mr. Jinnah facilitators of this gracious concession, a sacrifice of the British Crown. One sentiment that did hail the Indian position came from this same article and suggested that India had been such a good student of empire that perhaps it was ready to strive toward home rule.
A Legacy of Indigenous Racism & Oppression in India
The violence of Partition & Britain’s ability to deny involvement because they’d already gone: Darwinian thought has not disappeared. In fact, although eroded by time, an article entitled “Mutiny memorial trip sparks a new revolt,” was published via The Times on September 26, 2007 and disturbingly echoes an imperial imagination similar to that of long ago.
The article details a group of British citizens – all descendent(s) of British colonial officials stationed throughout the Indian nation – as they tour the various sites of their ancestor’s struggle to maintain imperial control: “Led by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, a British historian, it [the group] includes direct descendants of the generals Sir Henry Havelock, Sir Hugh Rose and Sir Henry Lawrence, who played significant roles in suppressing the mutiny.”
Ashling O’Connor. “Mutiny memorial trip sparks a new revolt.” Times [London, England] 26 Sept. 2007: 43. The Times Digital Archive. Web.
Chandrika Kaul, Communications, Media and the Imperia Experience: Britain and India in the Twentieth Century, (Scotland: Macmillan 2007)
David Gilbert and Felix Driver. “Capital and Empire: Geographies of Imperial London.” GeoJournal 51, no. ½ (2000)
Our Special Correspondent. “Power Handed Over In India.” Times [London, England] 15 Aug. 1947: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web.
Our Special Correspondent. “Viceroy Welcomed By Crowd At Peshawar.” Times [London, England] 29 Apr. 1947: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web.
Wild, Jonathon. “Department of War and External Affairs: The Anglo-Boer War and Imperialism.” In Literature of the 1900s: The Great Edwardian Emporium.