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Empire And Race Notes

History Notes > British History - 1832-1911 Notes

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British History VI (1815-1924) Empire and Race Was the British Empire justified in increasingly racial terms in the late Victorian and Edwardian period?
- 1880-1914 Race and Empire in British Politics: P.B. Rich
- The debate about race and inter-racial contact began to gather pace in the last quarter of the 19th century.
- There was a sense of imperial duty and 'trusteeship' held in Britain towards colonial possessions.
- Racial thinking in Britain in the late Victorian period was shaped by imperial expansion overseas and industrial growth and class conflict at home1.
- Blacks were portrayed simultaneously as savage and bestial, in need of control, and passive and helpless, in need of care and protection.
- The anti-slavery movement that achieved its aims in the early Victorian period gave way to racial hostility.
- There was a necessity to instil British labour practices on non-Western societies.
- The late-nineteenth century also saw the emergence of anthropological and scientific foundations for racism, with texts such as R. Knox's The Races of Man (1859) claiming the British superior over native races.
- Anthropologists in Britain, who has argued over racial differences throughout the nineteenth century, reached agreement on the cephalic index in 1886, seemingly re-enforcing ideas on racial classification.
-It was felt that understanding of other races was a necessary precursor to making them trading partners for Britain: 'the half-clothed a human being capable of being educate...into a customer for British trade.'2
- It was felt likely that, given the apparent suitability of native peoples to work in tropical climates, British white colonialists would be reduced to a supervisory and managerial capacity.
- The popularity of such thought supressed dissenting liberal voices as the European powers entered the most ambitious phase of imperialism in Africa3.
- At the turn of the twentieth century there emerged in some circles the view that 'backward' nations were taking the place once occupied by unskilled workers within developed nations, and that the world was becoming divided along class lines4.
- The desire to spread British 'freedom' and 'justice' to undeveloped nations underlined a sense of imperial mission.
- Dilke, in Greater Britain, saw imperialism as the expansion of Britain onto an international basis.
- By the end of the Edwardian period more subtle anthropological analysis of race was beginning to emerge.

1 Race and Empire in British Politics: P.B Rich 2 The Living Races of Mankind: H.N. Hutchinson 3 Race and Empire in British Politics: P.B Rich 4 Race and Empire in British Politics: P.B Rich

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