France and Britain – colonial rivals, or co-imperialists?

Martin Thomas and Richard Toye
University of Exeter

‘The struggle of races and of peoples has from now on the whole globe as its theatre; each advances towards the conquest of unoccupied territories.’ Tempting as it might be to ascribe such inflated rhetoric to Friedrich Nietzsche or Adolf Hitler, its originator was Gabriel Charmes, a disciple of leading late nineteenth-century French republican, Léon Gambetta.

In September 1882, Charmes was trying to persuade his fellow parliamentarians that France’s recent seizure of Tunisia was ethically imperative. Similar rhetoric could be found across the political spectrum, in Britain as well as in France. In 1888, the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury described small imperial wars as ‘merely the surf that marks the edge of the advancing wave of civilisation’. But if Britain and France both claimed to be the spearhead of civilizing influences, what happened when their interests clashed, and what new arguments emerged to rationalize the struggle for power between rival ‘civilized’ nations?

That is one theme of our new book, Arguing About Empire, but in order to answer the question we need equally to ask what happened when Anglo-French interests appeared to coincide. How did the two countries’ respective elites justify their mutual collaboration in the face of challenges from other powers and, increasingly as time went on, from domestic anti-colonial critics and local nationalist opponents too? Continue reading “France and Britain – colonial rivals, or co-imperialists?”

“Playing Indian”: Exeter Rugby in a Postcolonial Age

Exeter chiefs3

Rachel Herrmann
University of Southampton
Follow on Twitter at @Raherrmann

On any given weekend, you might find yourself on a train platform, surrounded by sports fans wearing “Native American” headdresses and “war paint,” and waving inflatable tomahawks. They’ll be wearing apparel purchased from the team’s online store (the “Trading Post”), where you can also buy a “Little Big Chief” mascot. During the event, supporters will chant the Tomahawk Chop to get into the spirit of things, and afterward, perhaps they’ll rehash the game on the team’s message boards (“The Tribe”).

No, this isn’t the Atlanta Braves. It’s not the Washington Redskins. This is a rugby match for the Exeter Chiefs. And it evokes Britain’s forgotten imperial American past. Continue reading ““Playing Indian”: Exeter Rugby in a Postcolonial Age”

What can a First World War Adventure Novel Tell us About Empire?

buchanjoetext9639stp10Richard Toye

The Guardian recently ran a piece calling for Britons to confront their colonial past by way of now-forgotten empire adventure stories. Professor Richard Toye has done just that, uncovering the imperial side of a stirring adventure tale, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915).

John Buchan’s 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, with its dashing hero Richard Hannay, is just a bit of fun – isn’t it? Well, it’s fun all right, but behind it there lays a pretty clear political agenda. Most obviously it’s anti-German, with the plot revolving around a devilish Teutonic plot to steal British military secrets. But there’s also a strong imperial dimension. Continue reading “What can a First World War Adventure Novel Tell us About Empire?”