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  • Introduction
  • Steven D. Martinson

The topic, mapping empires, calls up questions of power and domination, difference and resistance, the desire for independence and revolution, as well as problems related to the inscription of a nation, identity-formation, gender, and ethnicity. Not only are there numerous empires. There are also numerous ways in which to chart them.

One of the strengths of Matthew Edney’s book, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997), is its illumination of the fact that mapping an empire is not simply an instrument for orienteering. It is also a means to consolidate power. The map can therefore serve as a kind of master trope for domination. As such, it can also gratify the desire for power. Our reviewer, Lisa Blansett, has put it well: “The power relations encoded on a map are simple: we came, we saw, we measured.” In short, mapping empires is a problem, both politically and psychologically. As Hassan Melehy has said in reference to Descartes, “a map produces signification, adds layers to readability, such that the subject may inhabit the territory that, as its habitation takes form, it calls its own” (Writing Cogito: Montaigne, Descartes, and the Institution of the Modern Subject [Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1997], 115). The problem of representation and the uses to which it is put are thus ingrained in the parchment of mapmaking.

While most Indians were being excluded from mapping their own country through the Britishers’ employment of sophisticated means of measurement, European travel writers, including missionaries, were busy projecting an-other, clearly European image onto the native inhabitants of India. In India Inscribed—European and British Writing on India 1600–1800 (Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), Kate Teltscher considers identity formation and the effects of visual relationships, especially between Indian women and European men, that created a more unstable sense of self among Europeans. Our reviewer, Kamakshi Murti, further problematizes Western ideologies of humanity since the European writer’s framing of Indian women perpetuated “the kind of obedience and courage demanded of the ‘virtuous’ woman as framed by the European querelle des femmes.” [End Page 111]

To be sure, the American War of Independence and the founding of a new nation undermined British self-confidence. The question of the rightness and virtue of imperial conquest now began to plague English national consciousness. As Kathleen Wilson has described the situation in her article for ECS, “Citizenship, Empire, and Modernity in the English Provinces, c. 1720–1790,” “this disjunctive moment gave many English people pause, forcing a confrontation between their history and their future, a moment intimated by Edward Gibbon’s magisterial jeremiad on Roman decline and reworked by scores of commentators thereafter” (29 [1995]: 87). Rosamond McKitterick’s and Ronald Quinault’s edition of essays, Edward Gibbon and Empire (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997), explores the question of what value Gibbon’s history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788) might still have at the time of the bicentenary of Gibbon’s death. In general, Gibbon’s History is considered, on the one hand, “in the light of modern research on eighteenth-century intellectual history and on late antiquity, Byzantium and the Middle Ages on the other” (3). Patricia Craddock’s seriously playful review discloses some inherent weaknesses in the project while pointing to the positive value of many of its contributions, especially the one by John Robertson on Gibbon’s conception of empire. For Robertson, in brief, Gibbon’s disdain for the universal monarchy of the Roman Empire informed the writing of his History (263). Gibbon’s distinction between a territorial empire and the universal empire of the seas is here viewed as being more helpful than injurious “because it encourages the interactions of nations and peoples without really allowing an individual to control the world tyrannically” (Craddock re Richardson’s thesis).

In Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), Frederick Whelan revisits the Warren Hastings impeachment trial in full view of Edmund Burke’s experience in British-Indian political affairs. Though perhaps overly zealous in his pursuit of bringing...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
1998-10-01
Open Access
No
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