The Indian Eye on Railway Life: Modernity, Empire and Mobility
Recorded on 17 March 2022
Speaker: Alicia Barnes (Surrey)
By the second half of the nineteenth century, a growing number of travellers from the Indian subcontinent visited Britain and published books and articles detailing their experiences. This travel writing tended to serve as a guide to other visitors wishing to experience the imperial capital, providing an overview of what and who they might find there. Among the various sights and interests recounted, the British railway proves to be of particular interest to many of the writers. It offers an opportunity to observe a vast sample of the British public, compare travelling practices to those in India, and consider the infrastructures and mobility of Empire.
The importance of railway building, both physically and ideologically, to the construction and maintenance of the British Empire does not go unnoticed by these travel writers. Travelling from a country under the imperial rule of the British Raj, their insights into British railway culture offers an exciting reversal of the imperial ‘gaze’. This paper considers how the railway was perceived by these travel writers as complexly implicated in the imperial mission. Their commentary ranges from excitement at the very British modernity they encounter, to disillusionment at the hypocrisies within said modern civilization.
IHR Seminar Series: Transport & Mobility History