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National styles or imperial imperatives? British and French colonial administration, 1890-1960

By Gita Subrahmanyam

Abstract

Politicians and political commentators at the time, as well as historians and public figures today, have remarked on the distinct approaches that Britain and France adopted in administering their colonial territories in Asia and Africa after 1890. The concept of a national style of imperial governance enabled statements to be made about the character of each empire and was also formative of each country’s self-image. Yet when ‘objective’ quantitative indicators, such as public expenditure or employment figures, are analysed to assess the purposes and priorities of each country’s imperial administrative machinery in those regions, the differences between them seem minimal. Instead, we find that both countries encountered similar imperial imperatives, causing a convergence in their administrative practices. The need to provide low-cost, stable governance whilst simultaneously creating an infrastructure whereby future economic (and other) benefits could be maximised meant that the British and French empires emphasised corresponding areas in their allocation of public resources. My findings provide some insight into how two relatively small European countries were able to successfully govern vast populations in far-flung locations over long periods of time, and may even suggest an ‘imperial template’

Topics: JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lse.ac.uk:29096
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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