October 20, 2019, by ahzsa

David Robinson’s new article on the mutual constitution of European and Imperial history

This month, we highlight David Robinson’s article, “Morals, Manners, and Marriage: Domestic Discourse in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth- century Italy and Britain,” which appeared in the January issue of the Journal of British Identities.  


David writes: “this paper has emerged from my PhD research, which compares British travel accounts of India with those of Italy, from around 1780-1840. Here, I consider some of the most influential and widely-read travel accounts by British male and female travellers to Italy, from the late-eighteenth to the early-nineteenth centuries. I argue that British travellers’ comments on Italian domesticity in the 1820s were powerful tools in promoting the role of domestic ‘virtue’ as central to assertions of British superiority abroad and supporting claims to middle-class civic and political authority back home.

Postcolonial historians have long noted that core and periphery, colony and the metropole, should not be considered separately, but within the same frame of analysis [the commonly used term is the “mutual constitution” of domestic and imperial/colonial history–ed.]. Travellers’ observations of India and Indians, from modes of governance to religious and cultural comparisons, all mirrored similar civic and political contestations and debates back home. Although Italy was not a British colony, British travellers’ comments about the peninsula and its inhabitants were often very similar to those made about India. Like Indians, Italians were allegedly effeminate, highly sexed, driven by passion rather than rationality and ‘naturally’ subservient to foreign and religious despotism. Moreover, travellers to India regularly drew on observations of Italy to configure and ‘understand’ India, and vice versa. Travellers constructed an imagined India, for example, based on Italian-set Gothic horror novels, and configured a version of Italy drawn from ‘oriental’ fiction. My thesis argues that, through travel accounts, India, Italy and Britain should be considered within a tri-partite analytical frame.

Many travellers noted that India’s ‘backward’ society was substantially the result of its morally degraded domestic institutions and customs. In this paper, I consider travellers to Italy and their observations of Italian domesticity.”

David Robinson is currently completing his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Ross Balzaretti and Dr. Onni Gust.


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