- Colonialism and Modernity
With this recent work, Colonialism and Modernity, Paul Gillen and Devleena Ghosh produced a handbook mostly targeting students and the general public. The book addresses such topics as the rise of European powers and the concept of modernity (from 1450 to the aftermath of World War I) and how Western modernity is linked to colonialism. Their opus is divided into two parts, the first (“Histories”) giving a chronological approach of both empire spreading and the rise of European modernity, while the second (“Themes”) focuses on six topics (“Debating the Ethics of Colonialism,” “Nationalism,” “Culture,” “Race,” “Gender,” and “Modern Time”). A short chronology follows that lists major events in colonization/decolonization (though independence movements of Western and Central Africa states have been forgotten) and dates of major cultural production, like specific paintings and philosophical or literary works. Each chapter includes double pages about a case study or a specific focus on a place or a cultural topic, for example, modernity, (post)modernism, acculturation, and neocolonialism.
The chronological span (1450–1989) considered by the authors in the first part (pp. 8–85) is quite wide, enabling the reader to move easily from one period to another, following the intricate links between colonialism and various effects of modernity on societies. The writing style is helpful, precise, and concise, preferring mostly short to medium sentences.
In part 1, chapter 1 focuses on the rise of the West European empires (mostly Spanish and Portuguese) and their economic and religious systems down to the turn of the mid seventeenth century. The second chapter mostly deals with the Enlightenment and its key features, as well as the changes it caused (in terms of scientific progress, state-organization, and so on). Chapter 3 focuses on the nineteenth century at large, through a thematic approach connecting the various aspects of industrialization in Europe; the French, British, Danish, Belgian, German empires; and the scramble for Africa. Chapter 4 addresses on the twentieth century, the war efforts from the colonies, the independence movements, and their effects.
Nevertheless, such a broad scope, spanning such a large period of time, may offer some weaknesses at first sight. Despite the thorough examination the authors offer in terms of scope and bibliography, this lengthy period cannot be dealt with in detail. The various specificities, [End Page 605] both local and global, and the various forms empires have taken through time may not come across clearly enough. This first part may therefore be considered as a substantial digest, providing the readers with the keys to understand the historical and cultural shifts, and about which one may, or may not decide to dig more, through other readings. It might have been interesting to lengthen chapter 4: a specific focus on the raw natural resources networks between (former) colonies and Western firms would have been in order, as well as the role played by India and the unaligned nations during the last half of the twentieth century, and the evolution of the Commonwealth or tentative economic unions between North and South.
The second, thematic part of the book echoes the various centuries and geographical areas considered in the first part. These chapters might be more useful to broaden some highly contemporary issues and connect them with historical facts and concepts. Chapter 5, “Debating the Ethics of Colonialism,” subsequently deals with philosophical, religious, social (including abolition of slavery), literary, and political views that underlayered (or not) the critics of the colonial systems at work. Chapter 6 —coauthored with Mark T. Berger—deals with nationalism and how Western colonialism helped shape both European nationalist imperialism and anticolonial resistance, as well as the aftermath of both former metropolis and colonies after the latter became independent. In chapter 7 (“Culture”), the authors address both the cultural influence and consciousness at stake during the colonial rule. Chapter 8 contextualizes the “race” issues debated during the colonial period: the authors deal with such themes as a (very short) history of race stereotypes or religious reasons from the colonial era justifying the concept of race...