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Title: "So many applications of science" : novel technology in British Imperial culture during the Abyssinian and Ashanti Expeditions, 1868-1874
Author: Patterson, Ryan John
ISNI:       0000 0004 5372 8951
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis will examine the portrayal and reception of ‘novel’ technology as constructed spectacle in the military and popular coverage of the Abyssinian (1868) and Ashanti (1873-4) expeditions. It will be argued that new and ‘novel’ military technologies, such as the machine gun, Hale rocket, cartridge rifle, breach-loading cannon, telegraph, railway, and steam tractor, were made to serve symbolic roles in a technophile discourse that cast African expansion as part of a conquest of the natural world. There was a growing confidence in mid-Victorian Britain of the Empire’s dominant position in the world, focused particularly on technological development and embodied in exhibition culture. During the 1860s and ‘70s, this confidence was increasingly extended to the prospect of expansion into Africa, which involved a substantial development of the ‘idea’ of Africa in the British imagination. The public engagement with these two campaigns provides a window into this developing culture of imperial confidence in Britain, as well as the shifting and contested ideas of race, climate, and martial prowess. The expeditions also prompted significant changes to understandings of ‘small wars’, a concept incorporating several important pillars of Victorian culture. It will be demonstrated that discourses of technological superiority and scientific violence were generated in response to anxieties of the perceived dangers posed by the African interior. Accounts of the expeditions demonstrated a strong hope, desire to claim, and tendency to interpret that novel European technology could tame and subjugate the African climate, as well as African populations. This study contributes to debates over the popularity of imperialism in Victorian society. It ties the popularity of empire to the social history of technology, and argues that the Abyssinian and Ashanti expeditions enhanced perceptions of military capability and technological superiority in the Victorian imagination. The efficacy of European technology is not dismissed, but approached as a proximate cause of a shift in culture, termed ‘the technologisation of imperial rhetoric’.
Supervisor: Black, Jeremy Martin Sponsor: University of Exeter College of Humanities ; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: British Imperial ; British Empire ; British Africa ; Ashanti ; Abyssinia ; Napier ; Wolseley ; Victorian Newspaper ; Victorian military ; British military ; Military technology ; History of technology