Illustrating Empire: A Visual History of British Imperialism

By Barringer, Terry | African Research & Documentation, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Illustrating Empire: A Visual History of British Imperialism


Barringer, Terry, African Research & Documentation


Illustrating Empire: a visual history of British imperialism, by Ashley Jackson and David Tompkins. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2011. 212 pp. ISBN 978-1851243341. £19.99.

Ashley Jackson's previous book, Mad Dogs and Englishmen: a grand tour of the British Empire at its Height 1850-1945 (Quercus, 2009), reviewed in ARD 110, pp. 66-68, established him as a knowledgeable, reliable and engaging collector and interpreter of imperial ephemera and iconography. He was an obvious choice to work with curator David Tompkins on this selection from the Bodleian's amazing John Johnson Collection, the opening volume of a new series of 'Visual history from the John Johnson Collection', which will sit alongside a series on 'Propaganda Postcards' which already has some half dozen volumes. John de Monins Johnson (1882-1956), Printer to the University of Oxford was an insatiable collector of printed ephemera - over a million items from the dawn of printing to the twentieth century, grouped under 700 subject headings and presented to the Bodleian in 1968. For more on this remarkable collection see www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/johnson.

Illustrating Empire is divided into eight sections: Empire, settlement and emigration; Imperial authority: civic and military; Exploration and knowledge [this section includes missionary and religious material]; Imperial trade, commerce and marketing; Empire, leisure and popular culture; Jubilees and exhibitions; Empire and Politics. Each section gives a selection of beautifully reproduced illustrations, over 200 in all, with a few pages of introductory text, a readable but scholarly digest of the best and most recent writing on the cultures, ideologies and impacts of Empire. …

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