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Jim Hulbert

History, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

Before High Imperialism: Exploring the trans-imperial nature of British colonial violence in Australia, South Africa and India, 1857-1884

This project will examine the trans-imperial nature of British colonial violence and its importance to the maintenance of colonial rule in Australia, India and South Africa in the formative period 1857-1884. I will explore how colonial violence intersected and constituted a distinct and recognisably British character, despite the barriers of geographical distance and differing forms of colonial administration. This represents an ambitious trans-territorial approach, examining the flow of ideas and practices across imperial spaces and contributing to an ‘entangled history’ of British colonial violence. By applying a trans-territorial approach to British colonial violence, this thesis will explore what distinguished it as British and colonial, examining transmission of ideas across the huge distances and differing administrative contexts that differentiate my case studies. The role of the state in violence in settler colonial Australia, non-settler India and the ‘hybrid region’ of South Africa will be considered together to explore the extent of a distinctively British form of violence, alongside different forms (counter-insurgency, industrial, structural, symbolic) within that framework. The extent and impact of intra-imperial knowledge transfers will be examined, alongside the application of the principles of genocide studies beyond the settler colonial context. This ‘entangled’ approach, or histoire croisée, offers an overdue counterpoint to historiographical focus on episodic violence. By recasting the debate in a transnational, pan-imperial context, the reception and learning effects produced can be examined. This project will contribute towards this emerging historiography, laying the foundations for additional scholarship on British colonial violence in its global setting.

The timeline 1857-1884 delineates a distinct phase of colonialism prior to the onset of High Imperialism. Following the 1857 Indian Rebellion, violence became ‘one of the founding narratives of the colonial state’ (Wagner, 2019). The 1884 Berlin Conference and Scramble for Africa catalysed a new era of colonial violence driven by inter-imperial competition. This project focuses on the distinct preceding period, beginning with the 1857 Rebellion. It combines archival research with the methodologies of trans-imperial connection and genocide studies. This includes recent publications such as Dierk Walter’s Colonial Violence, Michelle Gordon’s Extreme Violence and the British Way and Jonas Kreienbaum’s Sad Fiasco. Identified archival collections at The National Archives and British Library, including legal documents, private papers and digitised materials, allow access to primary sources pertaining to my case studies. This project’s entangled approach will contribute to a deeper discussion on the nature of violence in the British Empire, and by exploring the extent of a distinctive form of British colonial violence across the geographical expanse and administrative complexity of the Empire, will contribute to contemporary questions around how we should consider and react to its legacy. In this introspective moment, an empirical study addressing the distinct character of British colonial violence is timely.


Research Area

  • Cultural History
  • History