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“the untrammelled fancy of the scenic artist”: imagining and encountering Zanzibar in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century

Longair, Sarah (2015) “the untrammelled fancy of the scenic artist”: imagining and encountering Zanzibar in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In: Britain and the Narration of Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Texts, Images, Objects. Routledge (previously with Ashgate), pp. 209-224. ISBN 9781472458353

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Item Type:Book Section
Item Status:Live Archive


Though few people had actually visited the small island of Zanzibar, its name was common parlance in late Victorian London to describe the distant exotic. The island’s prominence in the Indian Ocean spice and slave trade perpetuated this image. Music hall songs, musicals and the visit of Sultan Barghash to England in 1875 embedded the island’s reputation in the public mind.
This chapter first explores these preconceptions and their impact upon the reactions of those who travelled to the island. Actual encounters shattered some illusions and reinforced others. It explores earlier travel accounts and later colonial government reports to suggest that British colonial officers, for both political and personal motivations, participated in and maintained the island’s reputation as a Western fantasy of ‘the East’. It demonstrates how this constructed concept of exoticism became a mechanism of colonial power but one which was also subject to criticism. Contemporary accounts indicate that adherence to the music-hall image undermined the colonial mission, offering telling insights into the fragility of this political performance which was itself based upon a metropolitan fantasy. As such the chapter explores the complexity inherent in the construction and reception of ideas about ‘others’ and their potential impact on colonial governance.

Keywords:Imperial History, Travel writing, East Africa, Orientalism
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V250 African History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:24098
Deposited On:22 Sep 2016 16:49

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