Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Burdens of History Essay Example for Free

Burdens of History Essay The British imperial history has long been a fortress of conservative scholarship, its study separated from mainstream British history, its practitioners resistant to engaging with new approaches stemming from the outside – such as feminist scholarship, postcolonial cultural studies, social history, and black history. In this light, Antoinette Burton’s Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915 represents challenges to the limited vision and exclusivity of standard imperial history. Burton’s Burdens of History is part of a budding new imperial history, which is characterized by its diversity instead of a single approach. In this book, the author examines the relationship between liberal middle-class British feminists, Indian women, and imperial culture in the 1865-1915 period. Its primary objective is to relocate â€Å"British feminist ideologies in their imperial context and problematizing Western feminists historical relationships to imperial culture at home† (p. 2). Burton describes Burdens of History as a history of â€Å"discourse† (p. 7). By this, she means the history of British feminism, imperialism, orientalism, and colonialism. Throughout the book, the author interposes and synthesizes current reinterpretations of British imperial history, women’s history, and cultural studies that integrate analyses of race and gender in attempts at finding the ideological structures implanted in language. In this book, Burton analyzes a wide assortment of feminist periodicals for the way British feminists fashioned an image of a disenfranchised and passive colonized female â€Å"Other†. The impact of the message conveyed was to highlight not a rejection of empire – as modern-day feminists too readily have tended to assume – but a British feminist imperial obligation. According to Burton, empire lives up to what they and many of their contemporaries believed were its purposes and ethical ideals. Burton based her book on extensive empirical research. Here, she is concerned with the material as well as the ideological and aware of the complexity of historical interpretation. Backed by these, the author particularly examines the relationship between imperialism and women’s suffrage. Burton brings together a remarkable body of evidence to back her contention that women’s suffrage campaigners’ claims for recognition as imperial citizens were legitimated as â€Å"an extension of Britains worldwide civilizing mission† (p. 6). Centering on the Englishwomans Review before 1900 and suffrage journals post 1900, the author finds an imperialized discourse that made British women’s parliamentary vote and emancipation imperative if they were to â€Å"shoulder the burdens required of imperial citizens† (p. 172). The author shows in Burdens of History how Indian women were represented as â€Å"the white feminist burden† (p. 10) as â€Å"helpless victims awaiting the representation of their plight and the redress of their condition at the hands of their sisters in the metropole† (p. 7). Responding both on the charge that white feminists need to address the method of cultural analysis pioneered by Edward Said and the imperial location and racial assumptions of historical feminisms, Burton explores the images of Indian women within Victorian and Edwardian feminist writing. In her analysis, the author argues that Indian women functioned as the ideological â€Å"Other† within such texts, their presence serving to authorize feminist activities and claims. By creating an image of tainted Oriental womanhood, and by presenting enforced widowhood, seclusion, and child marriage as â€Å"the totality of Eastern womens experiences† (p. 67), British feminists insisted on their own superior emancipation and laid claim to a wider imperial role. However, while feminists persistently reiterated their responsibility for Indian women, the major purpose of such rhetoric was to institute the value of feminism to the imperial nation. According to the author: â€Å"The chief function of the Other woman was to throw into relief those special qualities of the British feminist that not only bound her to the race and the empire but made her the highest and most civilized national female type, the very embodiment of social progress and progressive civilization† (p. 83). According to Burton, British feminists were, â€Å"complicitous with much of British imperial enterprise† (p. 25): their movement must be seen as supportive of that wider imperial effort. She sustains this argument through an examination of feminist emancipatory writings, feminist periodicals and the literature of both the campaign against the application of the Contagious Diseases Acts in India and the campaign for the vote. Indeed, the greatest strength of this book lies in the fact that Burton has made a n extensive search through contemporary feminist literature from a new perspective. In the process, she recovers some quite interesting subgenres within feminist writing. She shows, for instance, how feminist histories sought to reinterpret the Anglo-Saxon past to justify their own political claims and specifying some characteristic differences between explicitly feminist and more general womens periodicals. Certainly, Burton’s survey establishes the centrality of imperial issues to the British feminist movement, providing a helpful genealogy of some styles of argumentation that have persisted to the present day. Burdens of History is a serious contribution to feminist history and the history of feminism. In conclusion, Burton states that British feminists were agents operating both in opposition to oppressive ideologies and in support of them-sometimes simultaneously, because they saw in empire an inspiration, a rationale, and a validation for womens reform activities in the public sphere. Her arguments are persuasive; indeed, once stated, they become almost axiomatic. However, Burton’s work is to some extent flawed by two major problems. First, the author never compares the â€Å"imperial feminism†; rather she locates in her texts to other imperial ideologies. In addition, Burton does not subject imperialism to the same kind of careful scrutiny she turns on feminism. She does not define â€Å"imperialism† in her section on definitions, but uses the term – as she uses â€Å"feminism† – largely to denote an attitude of mind. Another problem is Burton’s failure to address the question of how feminist imperialism worked in the world more generally. It is true that feminists sought the vote using a rhetoric of cross-cultural maternal and racial uplift, however, one may ask: what were the effects of this strategy on the hearing accorded their cause, on wider attitudes toward race and empire, and, more specifically, on policies toward India? The author not only brushes aside such questions; she implies that they are unimportant. It seems that, for Burton, the ideological efforts of British feminists were significant only for British feminism. It can be argued that Burton’s difficulty in tracing the way Burdens of History works in the world is a consequence of her methodological and archival choices. The problem is not that the author has chosen to approach her subject through a â€Å"discursive tack† (p. 27), but rather that she has employed this method too narrowly and on too restrictive range of sources. While the author has read almost every piece of feminist literature, she has not gone beyond this source base to systematically examine either competing official documents, Indian feminist writings, or imperial discourses. Thus, Burton’s texts are treated either self-referentially or with reference to current feminist debates. Overall, Burton’s approach is useful in providing a critical history for feminism today, Certainly, it is as a critique of Western feminisms pretensions to universal and transhistorical high-mindedness that Burdens of History succeeds. However, if one wishes to map out the impact of imperial feminism not only on feminism today, but also on imperial practices and relations historically, one needs a study that is willing to cross the border between political history and intellectual history and to take greater methodological risks.

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