Friday, 4 May 2018


The Inequality, Culture and Difference research seminar series presents: Imperialism at Sea: the spatial login of empire aboard the nineteenth-century colonial steamship Dr Jonathan Stafford Wednesday 15th November, 1-2pm, MAE101 – all welcome!

ABSTRACT: In 1842, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, or P&O, inaugurated the first regular steamship service to India and the Far East via Egypt. Using texts produced by the passengers who undertook the voyage East on what became known as the Overland Route, this paper will explore the colonial steamer as a distinctive cultural sphere, considering the spatial and social practices which developed aboard ship while in transit. Scrutinising the colonial steamship affords the opportunity to investigate a space which was neither imperial centre nor periphery, but which in acting as a link between the two, set up a transient microcosm. These ships can be seen as exemplary environments of nineteenth-century imperialism, both negotiating global space and also simultaneously refiguring imperial social practices in their own space.
Demarcated and objectified according to the complexities of class, race, gender and labour, the steamship exhibited in microcosm the logic of imperialism. During passage, a temporary community came into being which exemplified the contradictions at the heart of the imperial project, expressed in the way in which the movement of bodies through space was organised. The consequences of a departure from sail power gave rise not simply to a transitional society at sea on a new scale and at a greater velocity, but facilitated structural change which allowed for a new kind of specifically modern, idiosyncratically imperial environment, in which passengers – and the subaltern workers whose labour made the steamer’s unprecedented mobility possible – reinforced and recoded aspects of control through performative instances of imperialism.

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