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Selling the Congo

A History of European Pro-Empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism

Matthew G. Stanard

Publication Year: 2012

Belgium was a small, neutral country without a colonial tradition when King Leopold II ceded the Congo, his personal property, to the state in 1908. For the next half century Belgium not only ruled an African empire but also, through widespread, enduring, and eagerly embraced propaganda, produced an imperialist-minded citizenry.

Selling the Congo is a study of European pro-empire propaganda in Belgium, with particular emphasis on the period 1908–60. Matthew G. Stanard questions the nature of Belgian imperialism in the Congo and considers the Belgian case in light of literature on the French, British, and other European overseas empires. Comparing Belgium to other imperial powers, the book finds that pro-empire propaganda was a basic part of European overseas expansion and administration during the modern period. Arguing against the long-held belief that Belgians were merely “reluctant imperialists,” Stanard demonstrates that in fact many Belgians readily embraced imperialistic propaganda.

Selling the Congo contributes to our understanding of the effectiveness of twentieth-century propaganda by revealing its successes and failures in the Belgian case. Many readers familiar with more-popular histories of Belgian imperialism will find in this book a deeper examination of European involvement in central Africa during the colonial era.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. i-ii

Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-vi


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p. vii


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p. viii

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pp. ix-xii

In 1984 my family moved to Brussels, Belgium; my brothers and I attended an international school in Waterloo where we could see the Butte du Lion — the monument to Wellington’s victory over Napoleon — from some of the school’s top-fl oor classrooms. One day, my science...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-26

One July afternoon in 2000, a group of people, including former colonials, walked through the Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels and halted before the simply named Colonial Monument. The monument’s foreground depicted a...

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1. The Inheritance: Leopold II and Propaganda about the Congo

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pp. 27-46

The Kingdom of Belgium, independent in 1830, saw Leopold II ascend the throne to become its second king in 1865.1 He was an intelligent and ambitious dynast who became a colonial genius in 1885 when the European powers recognized his authority over the vast...

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2. Denying African History to Build the Belgian Nation: Imperial Expositions

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pp. 47-88

In some ways expositions of the Congo in Belgium changed little over the several decades of Belgian involvement in central Africa. In 1897 King Leopold II organized a huge display of empire in the village of Tervuren, just outside Brussels, in conjunction with the World’s Fair that year. At...

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3. Curators and Colonial Control: Belgium’s Museums of Empire

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pp. 89-134

When Frans Olbrechts became the fi fth director of the massive Musée du Congo Belge in Tervuren in 1947, a position he was to hold until his death in 1958, he brought a fresher, more worldly, and arguably more learned background to the position than those of his...

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4. Educating the Imperialists of Tomorrow

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pp. 135-166

From the vantage point of 1908, the idea of someone writing a history of Belgian imperial propaganda in the classroom a century later would appear strange, for why would the state or anyone else need to educate Belgians about the Congo? Leo pold II had established an empire...

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5. Cast in the Mold of the eic: The Colony inStone and Bronze

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pp. 167-202

Scholars agree that Leopold II was the driving force of Belgian imperialism, and most would concur that in general Belgians were reluctant imperialists at best during the eic period from 1885–1908. During that time — an epoch of monument building in Europe — probably not more than...

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6. Projected Propaganda: Imperialistic Filmmaking in Belgium

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pp. 203-240

Film as a means of pro-empire propaganda during the New Imperialism is different because motion pictures represented an entirely new medium. Whereas monuments, museums, expositions, and education had histories of signifi cant state involvement dating back to the nineteenth...

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pp. 241-270

As Frederick Cooper, Gary Wilder, and others have shown, the histories of Europeans and overseas imperialism are inextricably linked to the history of the world beyond Europe; therefore, before concluding, a note on Congolese reactions to pro-empire propaganda and the role they...


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pp. 271-332


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pp. 333-378


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pp. 379-387

E-ISBN-13: 9780803239883
E-ISBN-10: 0803239882
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803237773
Print-ISBN-10: 0803237774

Page Count: 408
Illustrations: 10 illustrations, 1 chart
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 809317578
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Selling the Congo

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Congo (Democratic Republic) -- History -- 1908-1960.
  • Congo (Democratic Republic) -- Colonization.
  • Propaganda, Belgian -- History -- 20th century.
  • Belgium -- Colonies -- Africa -- Public opinion -- History -- 20th century.
  • Public opinion -- Belgium -- History -- 20th century.
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