The experience of Empire: the cultural turn and the impact of imperialism on the periphery

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European and nationalist approaches

Europeans have seen colonialism in a positive light than the indigenous people on the periphery. Since independence, many people on the periphery have been given greater freedom to challenge imperialism more directly. Criticism of colonial rule served to unite people and was a crucial component for a common identity.

Patterns of work

The British valued hard work and believed the introduction of more strenuous labour demands would benefit the moral character of indigenous people. Britons were often crucial of the perceived laziness of ‘natives’. Anthony Trollope believed that this work ethic was important in distinguishing Africans from Aborigines e.g. Source D, page 73. Historians nowadays know that subordinate groups are likely to feign laziness and stupidity as they were safe methods of challenging the powerful.

Subsistence farmers and the global economy

The British wanted to integrate colonial territories into the world economy. Policymakers encouraged local people to produce goods for the global market which was often done through the taxation. In order to pay the taxes, subsistence farmers were forced to grow commercial cash crops or send family members away in search for paid employment. Taxation had the advantage of making a colony more self-sufficient; however indigenous people often resented it.


There were five major drought-related famines in India from 1860 to 1900, which resulted in the deaths of about 14.5 million Indians. British governments were criticised by post-independence Indian politicians for not doing enough to help famines and some blamed them for causing food shortages, by encouraging and supporting the production of cash crops until there was a loss of the supply such as rice. Poor harvests were often because of severe weather conditions.
Famine Commissions (1867 and 1878-90) and a Famine Disaster Fund (1881) were set up to help cope with the famine crisis, since from 1908 to 1942; drought and famine did not really plague India at all.

Technological progress

In non-self-governing colonies, especially India, local people were not keen on technology such as railways and waterways as they were worried about the financial costs. They viewed infrastructural development as an unwanted imposition from greedy businessmen in the metropole.
some contemporaries believed ‘progress’ failed to have a positive effect on the periphery because indigenous people were incapable of using new technology productively, source F.
Colonial attempts to improve river and canal transport in India were heavily criticised by the Indian and Pakistani governments following independence (1947).
Lack of progress was understandable given the financial providers, the Public Works Department of India relied on income gained from user fees paid by cultivators. It was not until the Colonial Development Acts of 1929 and 1940 that British governments directly financed colonial projects through grants.
Technological understanding was limited, particularly in respect to the storage of water that Indian irrigation systems required. In fact ‘the fundamentals of hydraulic science and practices of irrigation engineering came out of the great irrigation works of India itself’ and had a positive effect on other parts of the Empire,


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