Tag Archives: colonialism

Victorianism without Victoria: on Mexican Steampunk – Guest blog by Hodson & Translated by Miguel Ángel Manzo Martínez

Note: This article is also available to read in Spanish on El Investigador’s website / Este artículo está disponible para leer en español. Thanks go out to El Investigador’s Editor-in-Chief Araceli Rodríguez, and magazine writers Hodson and Miguel for their time and effort in getting this piece together for Beyond Victoriana.

There are many reasons why the Victorian era is considered the Golden Age of the British Empire. Not only the economic and social stability came at a time where social inequalities were as big as scientific advances, but the huge explosion of advances in production, communications and transportation allowed the existence of a global colonial government facilitated by the ability to improve the response time of all regional governments.

At a time when the great modern empires grew and spread across five continents populated by man, Victorianism quickly became the spirit of the time. The idea of progress and mastery of time through greater efficiency in transport and production was a constant among all the nations of the world, and those who had the power to launch big technology and conquest ventures, had secured a bright future in the international area.

The Victorian era was undoubtedly the light bulb that shines light upon this century. It was the time when big government combined a vision of the future and the present into an immediate moment that inspired prosperity and development.

For those living in First World countries, it is easy to imagine a glorious past that never ceased to be, and it is done through an alternate technological advanced reality. Whether it’s a world of steam or of world war, to imagine that moment of past glory is not a particularly difficult endeavor.

But I dare to say that for those who live this kind of retro-futurism from the Third World, must be a little more difficult to imagine a glorious past drawn from the very distant past of their own 19th century. Just remember that the Victorian era was the era of colonialism. The steampunk retro-futurism of the Victorian era in England is diametrically different from Latin American’s Victorian era, for example, at least conceptually.

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#87 Fascinating Women: Cornelia Sorabji–Guest Blog by Evangeline Holland

Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Cornelia Sorabji

Though Indian (Parsi) and a woman, Cornelia Sorabji accomplished the unimaginable in becoming the first woman to practice law in India and Britain. Sorabji was born into a large family of nine children, her father, Reverend Sorabji Karsedji, a Parsi Christian, and her mother, Francina Ford, an Indian who had been adopted and raised by a British couple. Sorabji’s mother was devoted to the cause of women’s education, and made her mark upon Indian society with the establishment of several girls’ schools in Puna (then known as Poona). It was through her mother’s contacts that opened the door for Sorabji to become the first woman to take the Bachelor of Civil Laws exam at Oxford University in 1892.

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#74 “War, Steampunk, Bulgaria”–Guest Blog by Harry Markov

Bulgarian soldiers from the 19th century

My post’s title says it all–or at the very least I hope it does. At one point I figured that I’d like to write about the probability of Bulgarian steampunk developing as a genre niche and war, more or less, found its way into my writing. I believe that war is crucial for steampunk as it’s crucial for Bulgaria, in its different manifestations.

Speculative fiction fuels itself with war. The most dynamic stories are born in troubled times, as epic fantasy has shown readers time and time again. Urban fantasy thrives on shadow wars led in the dimly lit streets and hidden underground worlds, while science fiction marches its fleet in the great cosmos. Steampunk is no different. Steampunk runs on war. It’s the “punk” part. It’s the mechanical force that propels the cogs of the genre onward.

Whether it be used as a dramatic background in order to showcase a human story as done in Boneshaker by Cherie Priest or as a force behind the plot as demonstrated by Westerfield in his World War reimagining, war and unrest and upheavals give readers that adrenaline spike, that sense of dire severity and intensity, which can hardly be achieved at times of peace. It’s also the factor that makes us hiccup in adoration at the corset-bound, revolver slinging femme fatales and automations, which can as easily destroy as they can create. It’s why I consider Bulgarian steampunk to be a fruitful pairing.

It’s impossible to mention Bulgaria, look it through the prism of the past and not discuss war.

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#73 Occupation, Empire & Rebellion: A History of Libya–Guest Blog by Lorenzo Davia

The current war fought in Libya in these days is drawing attention on that country and its history. This article is about the history of Libya from ancient times until World War II.

Only in recent times has the term “Libya” been in use, indicating the territories between Tunisia and Egypt; before its colonization, the area was called Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, two territories that had a separate historic development for centuries.

Libya before Italian Occupation: A Brief History

Tripolitania was initially under the control of Phoenicians while Cyrenaica was under the control of Greeks, who between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE founded Cyrene, Arsinoe, Apollonia, Tolemaide and Berenice: this territory was called Pentapolis, for the five cities present. Tripolitania passed from Phoenician influence to Carthaginian and after the Punic war, during the 1st century BCE, under Roman control. Cyrenaica, on the other hand, was under Persian influence (6th century BCE), then became a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and afterwards, was put under the Hellenistic Reign of Egypt.

In 75 BCE, Romans took possession of the Cyrenaica, creating the province of Creta and Cyrene. In 46 BCE, Tripolitania was organized in the Africa province.

Arch of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD 146–211) in Leptis Magna.

Roman domination was limited only to coastal regions where cities had a relevant development. It is to be noted that Libya, for the Romans, was an integral part of the Republic/Empire and not a colony in foreign land: from that part of the Empire came emperors, philosophers, and Popes.

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#71 “African Fabrics”: The History of Dutch Wax Prints–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn’t necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn’t necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they’ve always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother’s friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

Vlisco model. Click for source.

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#69 Period Film Review Princess Kaʻiulani–Guest Blog by Evangeline Holland

Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Princess Kaiulani Movie

Released in 2009 (though with a fair share of controversy over the admittedly tasteless title, “Barbarian Princess”), with limited run last year and a DVD release in September, Princess Kaiulani is a gorgeously-shot tale of an unjustly forgotten figure in American history. Though the writing isn’t as nuanced as it could be, and there are many holes in the tale which require further reading after viewing the tale, for a movie which sheds light on a dark, yet fascinating period not often told outside of Hawaiian history, Princess Kaiulani is an excellent addition to the library of any history buff and period film aficionado. The film follows Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn (to give her full name) from shortly before her mother’s death to her own premature death at the age of 23. In between that regrettably short time span, we are shown the tenuous state of Hawaii’s royal family and its inhabitants.
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Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note from Ay-leen: This essay is cross-posted from Eccentric Yoruba’s Dreamwidth journal and describes the story of the international slave trade from a unique vantage point: where historical hardship becomes a tourist commodity at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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#43 Bombing Victoria: A story of Fenian Dynamiters and British Intelligence–Guest Blog by Kevin Mullins

Illustration of the Fenian Dynamite Campaign

The main period that steampunk covers is the reign of Queen Victoria (1838-1901). At conventions and meet-ups, we see people dressed in spiffy waistcoats, stylish petticoats and top hats. People have high tea, create characters and personas of mad scientist, airship captains and Victorian dandies. There is nothing wrong with emulating Victorian high society; at the same time, however, during this much-admired period, the British government instituted its control over half the globe and soaked a large portion of it in blood. What, then, are our responsibilities as people who use this time period as a historical base for our worlds? This was an age of Social Darwinism, of belief in white, Christian supremacy, and the idea that it was the godly imperial duty of all good Englishmen to help extend their world view to the darker parts of the world, and if they meet resistance, it was to be crushed. Does the same vicious and racist world view come through in our worlds? If not, what is the history of people left unconquered by Western Imperialism?

Victoria’s vision of a global British empire didn’t go unchallenged. Throughout her rule, from Dublin to Khartoum, people took up arms to see the British (and other western powers) removed from the places they had come to conquer. Thus, the following questions should be asked: Who were the “rebels” of the Victorian era? Who were the people that were responded to what they saw happening all around them? The list is actually quite long: they were the Irish, the Zulus, the Boers, the Luddites, the mutineers in India, the guerillas in the Sudan, the working class of all nations, and the children living on the streets of London. These were the true rebels in Victoria’s empire, and we should pay them more attention and respect as we evolve as a subculture and literary movement. As we look for the modern “punk” in steampunk, we should become aware of the rich history that lies in all the colonies, not just the United States. Their struggles and the tactics they chose, though not always universally acceptable, make perfect fodder for the worlds and stories we wish to tell. The following is just one example of resistance to the British state from a colonized population and how the British responded. It is the story of acts of resistance that was aimed not just at Victoria’s empire, but at the queen herself.

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#42 The Great Game and Empire in Central Asia, Part III–Guest Blog by Matt Delman

Note from Ay-leen: This the third and final part of a series of guest posts from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique’s Show of Wonders.

The rise-fall-rise of Dost Mohammad was one of the most central facets of the Great Game as it was played in Afghanistan. His son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, had already proven that the Afghanis could send Britain packing from their mountainous nation when his campaign to restore his father to the Emirship succeeded in the early 1840s. Mohammad Akbar Khan, however, died in 1845, removing one of the most anti-British figures of the past few years from the playing field.

It took more than a decade after the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War before the British made overtures to renew relations with Dost Mohammad. In 1854, they made the opening moves at Kabul, and in 1855 the Afghans and the British signed the Treaty of Peshawar. The two nations agreed to respect each other’s territorial boundaries and to make friends with each other’s friends and enemies of each other’s enemies.

In October 1856, the Persians attacked the city of Herat for the second time that decade (1852 was the first). The British came to Afghanistan’s aid, in keeping with their policy of maintaining that nation’s territorial integrity. After only three months of fighting, the Persians were expelled from Herat. Soon after the end of that conflict, in 1857, the British and Afghans signed an addendum to the Treaty of Peshawar that allowed the British to station a military mission at Kandahar.

During the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, certain officials in British India suggested restoring Peshawar to Afghanistan in return for Dost Mohammad’s assistance during the mutiny. However, the idea was rejected because several officials on the northwest frontier thought Dost Mohammad would see such a gift as weakness on the part of the British government in India.

In 1863, the British finally allowed Dost Mohammad to retake Herat and add it back into the Afghani national territory. By this time, a series of Liberal governments in London regarded Afghanistan as a Buffer State against Russian interests in Central Asia. The southern border of the Russian Empire was on the opposite side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, and even stopped at the Syr Darya, which runs through modern Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, throughout much of the 1860s.

The path of the Syr Darya, with modern country names. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. (click for link)

On the map above, you can see Toshkent, also called Tashkent, slightly inside the border of Uzbekistan. It’s the black dot beneath the H in Chirchiq, if you’re having problems seeing it. By 1865, the Russian Empire had formally annexed Tashkent. This expanded the border of the territory Tsar Alexander II controlled across the entire length of the Syr Darya. Within a few years, Russian forces would move through Uzbekistan and the mountainous Central Asian khanates subduing one after another with ease. The Emir of Bukhara signed a treaty with Russia in 1868 that placed his nation under Russian protection, after a brief war that the Russians handily won. Russia took control of Samarkand, an important city in Bukharan territory, and five years later would make Bukhara a protectorate of the Russian Empire.

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#41 The Great Game and Empire in Central Asia, Part II–Guest Blog by Matt Delman

Note from Ay-leen: This the second in a series of guest posts this week from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique’s Show of Wonders.

The Crimean War

The Crimean War of October 1853 to February 1856 is so named because much of the land-based engagements took place on the Crimean Peninsula, which juts out into the Black Sea and in modern times is an autonomous republic within the Ukraine. The battles didn’t only occur on the peninsula; the naval conflicts occurred in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the White Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Some additional land battles also happened in Western Turkey.

The Crimean Peninsula (VictorianWeb.com, click for link)

Ostensibly, the conflict was over who had the right to protect Christians and Christian holy places in Palestine: France, who had protected Christians and the Holy Places since two treaties in 1690 and 1740, respectively, which acknowledged Roman Catholic responsibility in the region; or Russia, who spoke for the Eastern Orthodox Church that claimed most of the Christians in the area as devotees.

Perhaps most interesting about this situation is that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church declined between 1740 and 1820. There simply were not that many Roman Catholics in the Holy Land; the Christians that did live in Palestine were more likely to be Eastern Orthodox, and thus under the protection of the Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas I also saw himself as ordained by God to lead the Orthodox Church and protect the adherents of that church in the world. By 1840, Russian pilgrims were flocking to the Holy Land, which gave the Tsar the excuse he needed to demand greater say in the Holy Land from the Ottoman Sultan.

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