britishempire

The traditional approach to studying history has usually been from a western or ‘Eurocentric’ point of view, likely to be a result of their venturing out to found new found lands and becoming more progressive. There are flaws, however, when looking at the past in this way, not least being the application of ‘Western’ ways of thinking about events in non-western parts of the world; there was this belief that the non-European empires were not as important as theirs. Furthermore, this Eurocentric approach uses terminology like ‘Third World’ to group and describe de-colonized people from countries as distinct as Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America; an issue as this is can be seen as a form of segregation, highlighting the abstract poverty and assumed lack of development.

 

Postcolonial literature attempts to change the Western way of thinking about the past[1]. Taken literally, a postcolonial approach to history involves the study of a country’s state of affairs in the aftermath of a ruling imperial power. It refers to the discussion and analysis of the legacies left behind by Imperialist powers, and addresses issues such as postcolonial identity, which incorporates race, culture, religion and language. The theory also examines the exchanges that occur between the colonised and the colonisers, such as cultural, sporting and social. Interestingly, postcolonial literature is also not without its flaws since “its relationship with the metropolitan centre as it evolved over the last two centuries has been paradigmatic for post-colonial literature everywhere.”[2] In addition to this, some postcolonial literature can view history from an aggrieved position, whereby previously colonized countries blame past actions of the colonizer for present day problems without accepting any responsibility themselves for the events that occurred. This essay will seek to explore the positive and negative changes that postcolonial approaches have made to our understanding of the past.

 

The Eurocentric view of history was developed over time since the mid-sixteenth century, when European powers began to export their land in the new-found continents of America and Oceania. As such, their notions of superiority were backed up by the early forms of colonialism where they were. However, there were other non-western civilisations just as great as these, such as the Ottoman Empire, Safavids and the Mughals’[3], who were largely ignored by the Eurocentric approach, despite their importance. The reason why I think this is so is because the East was thought to be barbaric and irrelevant to the rest of the European powers[4]. Consequently, the Eurocentric approach gained prominence with its false interpretations of history and its longevity[5]. “The immediate backdrop to the voyages lay with Ottoman seizure of Constantinople in 1453, which triggered a major crisis in Christendom.”[6] This triggered a wave of fear that the Orient was more superior to the west, and they had to explore and find new ways to keep up and be superior.

 

 

According to Max Webber and Jared Diamond, there are four types of Eurocentric theory such as religion, the westernisation of Christian European, race – concerning the idea that European white people had an inherent right over other races, the environment – the natural element of Europe being apparently superior to all others, and culture – a more ancient civilisation of the west more progressive and innovative[7]. Basically this highlighted western superiority, and nothing came across remotely similar to this. Max Webber also talked about the rationality in the ‘west’ compared to the irrationality to the ‘east’, but that is a false statement because now we know that what they felt was irrational was more apprehension of unknown cultures and customs to the ‘west[8]’. These claims give us a different interpretation of the past.

 

Eurocentric is a more than a theory; it is a vast set of wide beliefs, a world model, and its superiority came by the production of great profits such as trade commerce and exchanging values for goods. The arguments of Max Webber say that the basis of the weather within the European area is at the right temperature and the climate is very good, and this in turn made Europeans more superior. Because the Orient and rest of the known world had a more extreme climate, this apparently linked to their slower technological advances, impoverished conditions and lack of living standards. Webber states the facts of the non-cultivations of lands of non-European as primitive, and needed to be worked on by someone with a higher authority such as the ‘westerners[9]’. This gave them the opportunity to go aboard and colonise countries, as well as helping them develop and became civilised. Webber also talks about the development of their ethnicities.

 

There are multiple advantages of post colonialism. One example is the infrastructure that the British left over in India. During their occupation, they laid certain foundations in education, the railway system, and an administrative framework which helped India progress toward modernity. Another positive is that there was some common ground between the colonisers and the colonised, allowing an understanding to develop between them, as well as foundations for future trade partnerships. Another positive the British left was a cultural exchange, such as different sports. A strong basis of the English language and law system was put in place.

 

“As a result, it was Indian labour which created much of the overseas wealth of the empire by exploiting the raw materials of the tropics”[10]. This shows how vital the colony of India was to the British Empire, and there were many advantages to both engaging and exchanging cultures and materials. “make India English[11]” “English rule without the Englishman[12]” this quote indicates that the British were going to use their former colonising structures and way of living as a model for the new-found independent country. British dominance in India was a different kind of colonial and colonised relationship because they exchanged cultures and a unique style of building. This is also relevant in the post-colonial legacy that was let behind in India, because they decided to keep elements of their new lifestyle.

 

 

There are also some disadvantages to post-colonialism, for example, apportioning blame to Imperialist powers for the dominance of India; the unintentional withdrawal from India lead to some problems, such has a renewal of the racial hate between the Muslims and the Hindus. There were disputes between the newly-independent India and Pakistan over the land of Kashmir[13]. This led to the Civil War within India and the obstacles left were for India and Pakistan to progress into a stable modern society.

 

 

Post colonialism has changed my understanding of the past in terms of the struggles between the colonizers and colonised. To see how the West were able to colonise most of the non-European lands by the means of trade and commerce or by the diplomatic ties that happened is impressive, and to learn of the narratives that were left behind, as well as the cultural and economic status, and the reinvention of old imperial history into a modern day thinking of postcolonial ideas and theories, is equally as influential.

 

 

In the past there were many ways to understand the colonial ideology, such as momentous triumph of material culture, architecture and many other aspects of day-to-day living. What they have gained from each other, and the different characteristics between the colonised and coloniser is notable, as case studies of India and the interaction of a separate entity highlight its importance as a colony. Ghandi advocated work on ‘Englishness’ for India, and felt that they would be able to use the social and economic forms in the independent state ‘and lead rise to the ‘Indian nationalism’[14].

 

The factors of euro-centrisism argue that the true imperialisms of western supremacy started around 400 to 600 years ago with the rise of newly founded lands. And due to the factors of the conquests of the old Roman Empire, the easts unintentionally drove them to seek new lands and to search out and make ‘supremacy’ beyond the borders of Europe, such as America, Africa and the Orient[15]. So it is not due to the factors of the geography and being a supreme race, it is the idea of being progressive and Enlightenment and engaging in modernity[16]. This helps give more of a clear picture of seeing the progression of the ‘west’ in the 1500s, and another interpretation of the industrialisation played an important role in the advancement of post colonial empires and search for new lands.

 

You could say due to the political and economic instability in the middle ages and earlier periods they couldn’t rival the Orients in supremacy in some of the factors. Due to the progressive advancement in the ‘westward’ strode to make them supreme in the long run. According to Edward Said, there was an interruption of the post colonial theory: “Power and discourse is possessed entirely by the coloniser”[17]. This quote refers to the incident of the west leaving a legacy within the ‘oriental’. Said also talks about ‘them’ and ‘us’, referring to India as them and Europe as us, causing further distinctions between the two. Edward claimed that the Eurocentric views are false and produce the wrong interpretation of the Middle East and India. Another claim is that the Orient helped define its ‘self’ image because of the interactions and between the west and east[18].

 

According to Dipresh Chakrabraty, there was a growing study of the Subaltern in the south of India[19]. The subaltern studies made the point of Indian nationalism post structuralism, and was a new radical social changing of a non-elite perspective of history, showing the changes of improvements of the peasantry within India and how they showed their social and political uprising from the history from below[20]. This was an important factor for Indian modernity between the colonisers and colonised, showing the kind of relationships they had pre-independence. This lead to Indian nationalism in the late 1880s and early nineteenth century, showing the building of the peasantry and the elites, as well as the lead up to the rebellions and the political agendas for a free democratic state of India. This shows the decolonisation period of India to gain their independence from there ‘coloniser’. Another point to mention is that this gave an insight of how the deconstruction of post colonial legacy was left behind before the progression to ‘modernity’. Guha examines the cases between ‘1783 and 1900’, known for the multiple peasant rebellions within British India; “was a political struggle[21]”. There were many class struggles and up rises in the peasantry of India, as well as numerous unwritten accounts.

 

Even though the postcolonial approach has its strengths and weaknesses, I believe that it is important because it gives a different interpretation of the east and west. It shows the aftermath of the colonised countries and the effects that colonisation and decolonisation had on both them and the colonizer. The approach also highlights the shared views between the colonised and the coloniser and gives us more of a wider social insight into the past, and how they interacted from the ground upwards in colonial history. I think it is also integral to showing how both the colonizer and colonised needed each other to implement a sense of structure, good interaction and an understanding of values and shared cultural beliefs. The biggest fundamental change with the postcolonial approach is that it gives a ‘distinctive regional’ voice to historical events emphasizes difference between the previously colonized countries and ‘the assumptions of the imperial centre’ [22].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bibliography

Books

Said ,B, Edward , Orientalism, (London: Penguin Group,1991)

Young Robert , White Mythologies Writing history and the West, (Routledge: London, 1990)

Tosh John, The Pursuit of History, (Pearson Education Limited: Harlow, 2010)

Ashcroft Bill, Griffiths Gareth and Tiffin Helen. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. (London:Routledge,1995)

Charkrabarty Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.).

Hobson m. John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004)

Blaut M . J, Eight Eurocentric Historians.(New York : The Guilford Press,2000.)

 

 

Journal Articles

Shohat Ella, Notes on the “Post-Colonial”, Duke University press, No.31/32,(1992) pp99-113

Chakrabarty Dipesh , ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for “Indian” Pasts?’, Special Issues: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories, N0. 37 (Winter, 1992), pp1-26

M.Blaut James, ‘Environmentalism and Eurocentrism’, Geographical Review, Vol.89,No3(Jul.1999) pp 391-408

 

 

 

 

Online resources

(e.g. The Best of the Web: Internet Sources for History. Available from http://humbul.ac.uk. Accessed 3 April 2007.)

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Charkrabarty Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.).p.31

[2] Shohat Ella, ‘Notes on the “Post-Colonial”’, The World and Post-Colonial Issues, No.31/32 (1992), pp.99-113 .p102

[3] Hobson m. John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004).p156

[4]ibid.p.8

[5] Blaut M . J, Eight Eurocentric Historians.(New York : The Guilford Press,2000.)p.1

[6] Hobson m. John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004).p.135

[7] Ibid.p.313

[8] ibid.p.15

[9] M.Blaut James, ‘Environmentalism and Eurocentrism’, Geographical Review, Vol.89,No3(Jul.1999)pp.406

[10] Hobson m. John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004).p273

[11] Chakrabarty Dipesh , ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for “Indian” Pasts?’, Special Issues: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories, N0. 37 (Winter, 1992), pp1-26 .p.8

[12] P.8. Chakrabarty Dipesh, ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for “Indian” Pasts?’

[13] Charkrabarty Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.).p.31

[14] Chakrabarty Dipesh , ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for “Indian” Pasts?’, Special Issues: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories, N0. 37 (Winter, 1992), pp.8

[15] Hobson m. John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2004).p134

[16] ibid.p.162

[17] Ashcroft Bill, Griffiths Gareth and Tiffin Helen. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. (London:Routledge,1995)p.60

[18] Said ,B, Edward , Orientalism, (London: Penguin Group,1991)p.6.7

 

[19] Charkrabarty Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.).p11

[20] ibid.p35

[21] Charkrabarty Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.).p.14

[22] Shohat Ella, ‘Notes on the “Post-Colonial”’, The World and Post-Colonial Issues, No.31/32 (1992), pp.99-113 .p102

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