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Imperial Emotions
The Politics of Empathy across the British Empire


Part of Critical Perspectives on Empire

  • Author: Jane Lydon, University of Western Australia, Perth
  • Date Published: September 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108735759

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About the Authors
  • Emotions are not universal, but are experienced and expressed in diverse ways within different cultures and times. This overview of the history of emotions within nineteenth-century British imperialism focuses on the role of the compassionate emotions, or what today we refer to as empathy, and how they created relations across empire. Jane Lydon examines how empathy was produced, qualified and contested, including via the fear and anger aroused by frontier violence. She reveals the overlooked emotional dimensions of relationships constructed between Britain, her Australasian colonies, and Indigenous people, showing that ideas about who to care about were frequently drawn from the intimate domestic sphere, but were also developed through colonial experience. This history reveals the contingent and highly politicised nature of emotions in imperial deployment. Moving beyond arguments that emotions such as empathy are either 'good' or 'bad', this study evaluates their concrete political uses and effects.

    • A useful introduction to emotions theory and a substantive history of imperial emotions, linking emotions research and imperial history
    • Provides a new cultural perspective on imperialism differing from a previous concentration on its economic, political or policy dimensions
    • Reveals how emotions achieve political impact, and powerfully shape governance and law
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Jane Lydon offers a scintillating and innovative analysis of the role of the emotions in binding together dispersed imperial communities, a connection critically reliant on who was excluded from the empathy at the heart of this endeavour. Attentive to a broad body of scholarship, Lydon's is a fresh and persuasive take on empire and on the history of emotions.' Philippa Levine, University of Texas, Austin

    'This brilliant book will change the way you think about the history of the empire. In crystal-clear prose, Lydon reveals how emotion propelled the making of the British empire, while also offering a deeper understanding of how some of its worst legacies might be unravelled.' Ann McGrath, Kathleen Fitzpatrick ARC Laureate Fellow, Australian National University

    'Emotion is a big category and, in Lydon's hands, it's a capacious hold-all as well. Though empathy gets a lot of attention at the front end of the book, the anger and fear arising out of the violence and precarity of white settlement cannot but take centre stage. Lydon teases out how and under what conditions 'imperialist nostalgia' serves as a container for the good, the bad and the ugly in all their many temporalities.' Antoinette Burton, Aboriginal History

    'In this dense and beautifully crafted monograph, Jane Lydon argues that emotion played a constitutive role in creating, as well as contesting, group identity and difference in the British Empire. Imperial Emotions takes a wide chronology, spanning the late eighteenth century to the present day, while the distinct case studies primarily focus on the circuits of communication between Australia, North America, New Zealand, and metropolitan Britain.' Onni Gust, Journal of British Studies

    '... the book that Lydon produces is both masterly and thoughtful. Rigorously researched and beautifully written, Imperial Emotions delivers a balanced historical appraisal of the benefits and limits of feeling for others.' Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, History Australia

    '… intriguing and engrossing … Imperial Emotions is a history of the compassionate emotions that also engages with and tells a range of other histories, including of imperial reading and visual cultures, anti-slavery discourses, humanitarianism, and masculinities … an important entry point into histories of the emotions across empire that I have no doubt will encourage further research in a range of new and different directions.' Sarah Pinto, Australian Historical Studies

    'The book is well-crafted around a series of relatively discrete though related case studies, which take us from the period of Australia's colonisation to contemporary debates over republicanism.' Alan Lester, The American Historical Review

    'A valuable book … Most importantly, Lydon's book mines a deep-seated political framing of colonial context as domestic realm, replete with figurations of family, parenthood and childishness that were made to serve the natural and cultural dominance of the metropole and of whiteness over Indigenous ways of life.' Rob Boddice, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

    '… the book will naturally be welcome; it is very serviceable, also, as an introduction to the high politics of the first three decades of the nineteenth century.' Alex Middleton, Chirst Church

    'Imperial Emotions offers trenchant examples of how the politics of empathy has unified new constituencies while excluding the most marginalized. The legacies of this history remain relevant to the ongoing project of recognition and reconciliation in Australia today.' Ellen Boucher, Journal of Modern History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108735759
    • length: 235 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    Introduction: emotions and empire
    1. Children of empire: British nationalism and colonial utopias
    2. Colonial 'blind spots': images of frontier conflict
    3. Australian Uncle Tom's Cabins
    4. The homeless of empire? Imperial outcasts in Bleak House
    5. Christian heroes on the new frontier
    6. Charity begins at home? Philanthropy, magic lantern slides and missionary performances
    7. The Republican debate and popular royalism: 'a strange reluctance to actually shout at the Queen'

  • Author

    Jane Lydon, University of Western Australia, Perth
    Jane Lydon is Professor of History and Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at the University of Western Australia. Her research centres upon Australia's colonial past and its legacies in the present. She worked as an archaeologist before becoming a historian, and retains an interest in diverse forms of evidence for the past, especially photographic archives.

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