Infantilization of the Colonial Other

Speaking today at the Warwick Coin Day, “Currencies between Cultures”. Here are two slides cut from the presentation and their accompanying script.


“One of the most common visual metaphors of American and European imperialism is the infantilization of the colonial Other.  We’ve already met it today in Lewis’ speech to the Sioux about the symbolism of the medallions. We’re most familiar with the image from various comic renderings of the ‘White Man’s Burden’. Notice themes of feeding, teaching, and nurturing.  And, in fact, in Kipling’s 1899 poem about America joining the ranks of the imperial powers through the take over of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War the last stanza ends with the characterization of the colonial subjects as half devil and half child.  At first glance, this is not a particularly classical conception of empire, even if a classical personification of liberty does show up occasionally.   …


…However in its more romanticized version we can easily see how Roman models are once more adapted to meet the ideological needs of Colonial Europe. Beyond the obvious visual parallels and basic elements such as hierarchy of scale, also notice parallels in language in the legends. We have Gallia Tutrix in the upper left hand picture and in the middle right Lepidus the Tutor of the king, tutor meaning guardian in Latin.  The middle left image from Augustus’ ara pacis is probably not a personification of Empire but rather of the earth and harmonious bounty she can produce under the Roman peace.  However that peace conceptualized as a gift of empire and the later European adaptations simply take out a conceptual layer by making the female figure the personification of the imperial power in her own right.  And of course we have our now very familiar our palm trees and huts and rays of light.  This idea of motherhood rather than fatherhood as a metaphor for the colonial relationship is of course not restricted to medallic art. This is a postcard making a joke about the popularity of the French 1931 colonial exposition, what has been called by some commentators a human zoo. And This is an Onion article lambasting today’s voluntourism and its propagation of colonialist values from this past January.”

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