Simon Schama opens his exploration of the relations between environment and the imagination, Landscape and Memory (1995), by remembering travelling across the River Thames as a young boy:
When I took a boat trip with my father from Gravesend to Tower Bridge, the docks at Wapping and Rotherhithe still had big cargo ships at berth rather than upmarket grillrooms and corporate headquarters. But my mind's eye saw the generations of the wharves, bristling with masts and cranes as if in a print by Hollar, the bridges top-heavy and overhung across their whole span with rickety timber houses, alive with the great antswarm of the imperial city.
Schama's admittedly nostalgic view of the Thames in terms of its imperial traffic gestures to the colonial facticity of London, its central role in the pursuit of Empire, as well as the ways in which one always looks at the city through previous representations made of it. As a child, his view of the Thames looked backwards romantically to the generations of nautical traffic which brought people and goods from overseas to fill the wharves. In remembering that childhood moment from the vantage of the 1990s, he adumbrates the Thames as it appears to him at the end of the century no longer as a centre for shipping but the site of dockland developments and corporate headquarters. In looking simultaneously at the past and the present, Schama layers on top of each other a number of images of the Thames from different moments which suggest some of the changes which have happened in London as it has turned from an imperial metropolis into a globalized world city. What of the future?
The views of London which we have encountered in Postcolonial London portray the fortunes of the city through the representations and impressions made by a diverse body of writers with links to such places as Australia,