Journal of World History 15.1 (2004) 101-103
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Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies. Edited by Gregory Blue, Martin Bunton, and Ralph Croizier. Armonk, N.Y., and London: M. E. Sharpe, 2002. 372 pp. $65.95 (cloth); $26.95 (paper).
This interesting volume contains fifteen articles that were originally presented as papers at the World History Association meetings in Victoria, British Columbia, in June 1999. The collection features a varied cross section of recent works on colonialism, from studies of gender politics to analyses of imperial science. Case studies focused on German, [End Page 101] Dutch, French, and British colonies and set variously in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and Australia are included, as are reflections on the impact of colonizing discourses and practices on Europe itself. Only one article, an analysis of Japanese urban policies in Changchun, China, treats non-European colonialism. Partly reflecting the emphasis on the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, the collection contains no works on the Portuguese empire or Spanish America.
True to its subtitle, "Selected Studies," the book offers a diverse sampling of studies whose common perspectives at first appear difficult to locate. The editors have grouped the articles in topical sections, but some sections hold together better than others. Overall there is an eclectic feel, to some extent the necessary condition of conference volumes. Here the editors' decision to provide an introduction but to forego comments setting up each section adds to the sense of conceptual looseness.
Gregory Blue's introduction provides some of the needed contextualizing but is cautious in outlining the book's objectives and strengths. Blue timidly claims that the volume will "give an impression of some of the concerns and approaches evident in one of the most vibrant fields of world history scholarship" (p. 4). He does suggest that the volume's articles collectively promise to move colonial history beyond an understanding of colonial rule as uniformly hegemonic and opposed by indigenous forms of resistance.
Thankfully, the studies provide more than merely a sampling of the field. Several theoretical and methodological trends of colonial history are well represented and, in a few cases, significantly advanced. Readers willing to mine the volume and in some cases construct their own connections among the articles will find their efforts well rewarded.
The promise of innovative approaches to colonial history is already fulfilled in the book's first two articles, both of which aim to disrupt theusual assumption that colonial history can be captured by studying the relation of metropole to colony. Thomas Metcalf argues that colonial India acted as an important imperial subcenter and that the colonial politics and policies of India had a strong influence on the surrounding region, from East Africa to Burma. Edmund Burke III suggests a plausible link between French colonial policy in Algeria and the French experience in subjugating Brittany. These are tantalizing themesthat are only indirectly picked up by other studies in the book. But later articles do explore the complexity of metropole-colony interactions by analyzing discursive and institutional patterns that make up what Nicholas Thomas has called "colonial projects" stretching from Europe to its colonies. Fine examples are Robert W. Rydell's article on representations of empire in science fairs; Susanne Klausen's interesting [End Page 102] study of Marie Stopes's influence, from her base in England, on South African birth control clinics; and a fascinating article by Abidin Kusno on the formation of a hybrid school of Dutch-Indonesian architecture.
A second important strand in the book is the suggestion of new ways to study colonial institutions. In particular, several articles explore the ways in which colonial legal institutions were constructed out of complex inter-group conflicts. Bruce Kercher's brilliant article on native title in New South Wales illuminates the long-overlooked early legal cases in the colony and shows that judges did not immediately embrace the doctrine of terra nullius, the notion that Australia constituted "empty" and unclaimed lands, but arrived at confirmation of the doctrine only after ruling in ambiguous and contradictory ways in prior...