China and India: From Colonies to Global Powers
Political History | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
Description or Abstract
Imperialism exists in tandem with colonialism. Empires seek out colonies for their resources so they can take the wealth in those countries for their own. Rarely do empires admit this, so they require a language with which to reframe their practices. The British Raj in India exemplifies this. A narrative of exploitation is at first hard to discern, because while the British drained India of its resources and broke down its industries, they appreciated Indian art and objects too, to the point of clothing themselves in Indian textiles, as in the case of the titular Peacock dress. But this appreciation was framed through the lens of British imperialist culture and without proper accreditation to the Indians who created those works, which makes it an appropriation of Indian craftsmanship, not appreciation. By the time Lord George Curzon became Viceroy of India in 1899, this imperialist program was well ingrained. But the question remains: what was the language of this program? This paper is meant to examine how the British Raj, rooted in an imperialist language of representation and civilization, used exploitative appropriation of distinct Indian craftsmanship to continue their denigration of Indian industry and culture. Thus, I will first explain how the work of postcolonial theorist Roxanne Doty offers a framework through which to view the imperialistic appropriation of the British Raj. Then, I will use Curzon’s tenure as a case study for this exploration of imperialist language because of how entrenched it had become; Curzon himself epitomizes this, since he had claimed since his days as the British Under-Secretary of State for India that Britain was on a ‘civilizing mission,’ a deeply racist perspective. Furthermore, the treatment of the textile industry by both Lord and Lady Curzon shows not only how the British took from India, but how they rationalized it.
Digital USD Citation
Onken, Rebecca, "The Peacock Dress: The Language of British Imperialism in India, 1899-1905" (2021). Copley Library Undergraduate Research Awards. 11.