Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS: https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.801163
Title: Picturing the West India regiments : race, empire, and photography, c.1850-1914
Author: Bennett, Melissa
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2018
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Abstract:
Despite the enthusiasm of local studios, visitors to the Caribbean, and military officers for capturing images of the West India Regiments (WIRs), photographs have often been neglected as a source for the history the British Army’s first ‘official’ black units (established in the 1790s). Relegated to the covers or glossy middle pages of books, the insights that the contested image of the WIRs can provide have been ignored. The use of photographs of the WIRs solely for illustrative purposes has meant that their role in reflecting and shaping broader ideas about race and empire has not been fully explored. This thesis will argue that the varied and sometimes contradictory ways in which the rank-and-file of the West India Regiments have been represented visually reflect their ambivalent position within the British Empire’s racial hierarchies. Whilst as colonial subjects of African descent they were designated as ‘others’ with racialised physical and cultural traits, their place within the British military establishment provided them with opportunities to progress and enter spaces – both literal and figurative – that were usually reserved for whites. In some cases, photographs explicitly highlight the awkward middle ground that the men of the WIRs inhabited by demonstrating that they did not fit neatly into either black or white Caribbean society. In others, their representation employs more subtle clues, such as including them in celebratory portraits, only to exclude them from the accompanying text or captions, or by using them to represent the progress that could be made by men of African descent whilst at the same time demonstrating that they must remain under close supervision. This thesis, therefore, makes an important contribution to understanding the nature of the relationship between race and empire during a period that saw the mass circulation of images, the rise of popular militarism, and increasing support and ‘evidence’ for scientific racism. Chapters cover photographs of military parades and awards, including those of the WIRs’ Victoria Cross winners; the Morant Bay rebellion (1865), a seismic event in the Caribbean which played an important role in hardening attitudes to race; British expansion into Africa where the WIRs were also used to suppress unrest; and the development of a tourist economy in the Caribbean that was promoted through photography. By assembling the disparate photographic archive of the WIRs and attending to the content, material properties, and circulation of photographic images, this thesis analyses an abundance of visual evidence to demonstrate that British imperial ideas about race were flexible when necessary, and both shaped and were shaped by the ideology, economics, and logistics of imperial expansion.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.801163  DOI: Not available
Keywords: D501 World War I ; U Military Science (General)
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