ABSTRACT

During the twentieth century, colonial territories won independence and the Empire-reconfigured as Britain and the Commonwealth, continued to generate a visual legacy across the world. This chapter considers its value to historical studies in the twenty-first-century global context. Traditional European concepts of history reflected the asymmetries of Empire. Hegel’s racist vision of a progressive European history, leading non-Europeans out of static non-history, persisted into the modern age. Long views privileged the recent over the past and the European over the locations in which most Empire history took place. In the twentieth century, the artefacts made under the conditions of Empire that populate historical texts tend to be those valued by European elites and embedded in Euro-centric narratives. Such artefacts manifest conditions and cultures specific to the time and place of their makers, however, and those made outside Europe preserve and reveal new Empire histories. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, local arts and crafts were revived to express nationalist narratives: In Britain, these were allied to colonialist projects, while in British territories they often supported resistance and movements towards independence. Modern art promoted nationalist identities and internationalist ideals on a world stage and, in many cases, challenged imperial visual culture.