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Uncertain Dimensions

Uncertain Dimensions: Western Overseas Empires in the Twentieth Century

Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Uncertain Dimensions
    Book Description:

    World War I battered the Western imperial systems and destroyed one, that of Germany, but it did not sound the death knell of an empire. The “scramble” for overseas territory ha reached a virtual conclusion shortly before the war; afterwards, the main business of empire was to ensure a pax colonia: the often contradictory goals of a stable government and economic development. It is with the years between world wars - the brief age of administrative empire - that Raymond Betts is chiefly concerned in this book. An unsettled time, when individuals coped with empire of uncertain dimensions, the interwar years nonetheless left a material legacy - railroads, motor roads, public buildings - and an ideological one - the voices of protest that led to independence after World War II. Preeminently a cultural history of the era rather than a political narrative, Uncertain Dimensions centers upon the regions we now call the Third World - Subsaharan Africa and Southeast Asia - and the major colonial powers, Great Britain and France. Betts has structured this book as a group of closely linked interpretive essays, each devoted to a specific aspect of the late colonial experience: World War I and the postwar mandates, colonial administration, the European economic imperative and “technology transfer,” urbanization, anti-imperial protest, and decolonization. Throughout, he draws upon the work of novelists, poets, and theoreticians - Aime Cesaire, Claude McKay, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and many others - and recognizes the deep irony at the heart of modern imperialism: that contact between Western and Third worlds was mostly confined to two minorities, the alien European and the socially uprooted African or Asian.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8206-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xvi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. xviii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Setting
    (pp. 3-11)

    “It takes quite a lack of humor to build an empire.” This summary statement, offered by the historian Carlo M. Cippola, would be difficult to match.¹ Hidden behind the stark words lie all sorts of implications about human conduct. Certainly there was a seriousness, both deadly earnest and petty, about empire-building and governance. An abundance of material is available to illustrate this point well. For instance, British imperial strategy was modernized in the interwar period by the “inverted blockade.” This activity consisted of evacuating a rebellious tribe under threat of aerial bombardment, dropping a few bombs on the settlement for...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Empires at War
    (pp. 12-46)

    In the early afternoon of February 1, 1921, the Prince of Wales unveiled the Chattri that had recently been constructed in Brighton, England. The correspondent ofThe Timescovering the event commented: “The Chattri is impressive because of its architectural originality—or, at the least, the unfamiliarity of the whole design—and all the more so because of its situation on the Sussex Downs.”¹

    The unfamiliarity was an outcome of World War I, and of the contribution made by the soldiers of empire to that essentially European conflict. The Chattri was a war memorial, in the design of the Indian...

  6. Chapter 2 Colonial Rule and Administration
    (pp. 47-75)

    Few of the world war’s effects on imperialism were so swift and complete as that which occurred in the European compound of Tientsin, China, when news of the armistice arrived at 7:05 P.M. on November 11. A German statue, erected in commemoration of the Boxer Rebellion and deriseively known as “Tin Willie,” was pulled from its pedestal with one heave by British, French, and other celebrants. The mutilated form was dragged through the streets until it finally reached the grounds of the French Club where the remains were hacked into pieces for souvenirs.¹ The immediate disappearance of German influence in...

  7. Chapter 3 Imperial Designs: Technology and Economic Development
    (pp. 76-113)

    Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, paid a visit to the movie set of “Scipio Africanus” in January 1937, where he watched Libyans playing the role of Hannibal’s soldiers.¹ It was an obvious example of political propaganda and a historical evocation that twentieth-century technology made both possible and monumental. There were no Hollywood musicals about empire, but the drama of large-scaled expansion, the heroic role it invited sturdy men to play—these were part of the film director’s imagination and the appeal to avid moviegoers, of whom Mussolini was one.

    If empire had a heroic phase, which is doubtful, it was...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Colonial Cities
    (pp. 114-146)

    The decision made by General Hubert Lyautey in 1912 to establish the official French residence in Rabat, Morocco, was dramatic in setting and gesture. As he halted his horse on the heights overlooking the future city site and, beyond, the ancient villages of Rabat and Salé set against the Mediterranean, he declared that there, and nowhere else, would the French capital be situated. The three fig trees that marked the spot were made the center of the patio of the residence.¹ From this magnificent and spacious building, with its administrative offices clustering around it, the modern city of Rabat later...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Voices of Protest
    (pp. 147-177)

    The American press took notice when Marcus Garvey addressed approximately 25,000 of his followers in New York’s Madison Square Garden in the evening of August 2, 1920. The event was spectacular, in part made so by the vivid green, purple, and gold academic regalia in which Garvey was dressed, but even more by the tone and content of his speech. After the fiveminute ovation he received upon appearing at the speaker’s lectern, Garvey began reading aloud the telegram he had sent to President Eamon de Valera of the Irish Republic, which stated in part: “We believe that Ireland should be...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The End of Empire
    (pp. 178-210)

    Nineteen and one-half hours after their departure from Heathrow Airport in London, the royal couple landed at Nairobi, Kenya, the first official stop in a planned tour of the Commonwealth, which was to cover 30,000 miles over a five-month period of time.¹ As Princess Elizabeth and her consort, Prince Phillip, alighted at Nairobi, the correspondent forLifemagazine observed the welcoming scene and described it:

    There were stiff-starched officials whose medals tinkled in the sun, proud gaunt spearmen who had done lions to death in single combat, clerks who had spent their lives doing nothing bolder than lick envelopes franked...

  11. Aftermath
    (pp. 211-220)

    Years after the French had departed, many of the street signs in Algiers still displayed the incompleteness of change. Old French names enameled in white on a blue background had been partially covered by new Arabic names painted in black. The “revolution of expectations”—a popular term employed during the years of transition—was never fully realized in the former colonial regions. The concern, even the anguish, over this condition has been part of the public debate on decolonization. Europeans have often insisted that they were required to leave too soon, before the good government they desired was ensured by...

  12. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 221-228)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-264)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)