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Imaginary British Empire

About the project

Status: active

Project team: Alex Sherman;

Start date: Jan 1, 2020

Last updated: Feb 17, 2023

The vexed entanglement of colonial power’s cultural and material manifestations has been an important topic in anti-colonial thinking. I tentatively term this the problem of relating the imperial imaginary and imperial reality. This project focuses on the imaginary and real geographies of the eighteenth-century British maritime empire, using digital methods (custom named entity recognition) and mapping to compare place names mentioned in a selected corpus of maritime fiction and nonfiction to the movements of British Navy, East India Company, and slave trading ships. In Edward Said's terms, "structures of reference" are used to see the "structures of attitude" underpinning the material power of an increasingly global empire. While this project considers multiple relations between imaginary and real British imperial geographies, its focus is on whether and how imaginary imperial geographies were preparations for real conquest.