The Project

Snapshots of Empire is a new project based at the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. This project is the first attempt to examine, within specific sample periods, all the incoming and outgoing correspondence of the Colonial Office and the East India Company/ India Office. Analysis of the chosen ‘snapshots’ from 1838, 1857, and 1879 will be a key component in the writing of a new historical geography of empire.

This project will explore constructions of imperial governance with particular reference to the following five themes:

  1. Simultaneity – In adopting a comprehensive approach, this project will shed light on global themes and connections between the various offices and spheres of empire. Our project wants to recognise that officials often envisioned themselves as managing multiple systems all at the same time; once this is recognised, surprising resonances become apparent.
  2. Agglomeration – This project will examine the potential significance of the co-location of the Colonial and India Offices in Whitehall. We will take note of the extent to which officials took advantage of this proximity, and ask what the consequences of this intimacy were, and how the local geographies and bureaucracies of the capital changed the way that the empire was governed.
  3. Triage – By including both so-called ‘trivial’ and ‘important’ correspondence in the study, the project will analyse the ways in which policy priorities were formulated and put into practice. What was deemed most important? Why?
  4. Heterogeneity – The empire was not governed all the same, and nor did every part of the web spring with equal ease to the order of the centre. Colonies, dominions, and protectorates were founded upon forms of government as multifarious as suzerainty, representative government, direct and indirect rule. This project will ask how this diverse array of imperial governmental forms comprised a global imperial administrative system.
  5. Inter-imperialisms – The British Empire was not the only imperial body operating in the nineteenth century. This project will integrate British imperial history with the histories of other empires, examining the everyday exchanges between British and foreign imperial representatives and how they affected the day-to-day business of running an empire.

Through these objectives, we hope to glimpse the processes, procedures, and relationships that enabled the development of global modes of governmentality.

Snapshots of Empire is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Grant.