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Critical Analysis: Colonial Encounters In The Age Of High Imperialism By Scott Cook

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Scott B. Cook's book is a short manuscript aimed without roundabout at the history undergrads. While colonial conquest have certainly existed in the more distant past, the scope of the book focuses on the phenomenon known as "high" imperialism the Cook argues to have occurred within the years between 1870 and 1914. Thus, it is essentially selective. The jumble for the entire continent of Africa is, of course, discussed, along with three expositions that Cook accurately describes as "case" colonies: King Leopold's Congo (Chapter 2), America's Hawaii (Chapter 4), and British India (Chapter 6). The book also provides a vivid, albeit relatively short, account of the French, German, and Dutch empires. But by including Hawaii and the U.S. in the major discussion, Cook's book transcends the longstanding tradition of ascribing imperialism (particularly classical imperialism) to Western Europe. To bring out fully the global nature of imperialism, future texts about it should somehow have to bring in Russia and Japan as well.

The seven chapters of this book are short but the author irrevocably succeeds in delivering colonial experience from the standpoint of native inhabitants (the colonized), as well as from that of the Europeans or Americans (the colonizers). In particular, the native perspective is chiefly that of those belonging to the elite classes: nationalist leaders, respectable classes of Bengal, and the royalty of Hawaii. This is nevertheless due to the radical novelty of subaltern studies in the body of knowledge of general histories, rather than from the mere lack of interest.

To put in insights and context into each individual case study, Cook also incorporates three thematic chapters: "Colonizing Technologies" (Chapter 3), "Imperial Diasporas" (Chapter 5), and "Women as Colonizers and Colonized" (Chapter 7). The author presented such complex, often multifaceted, socio-historical topics in a lucidly readable way expected to stimulate vigorous discourse among interested undergrads.

The last chapter on women is particularly indispensable in this regard, as it sums up some valuable feminist erudition into the study of colonialism and provides insights that fill the void within more traditional histories. The discussion centers on European women who inhabited or settled in the colonies and on the atmosphere of disgrace surrounding interracial sexual relations. Native women, including even the daughters and wives of the native elites during that time, were frequently concealed from view. Even in their public appearances, the native women were for the most part unseen by the whites. Thus, there is frankly very little information about the colonial experiences from the standpoint of native women, as the author apologized for.

Almost predominantly, Cook stretches enough rubber to offer a fairly fair perspective to all the characters. The British in India acted as conceited prigs, albeit with a moral sense; their contenders, the Indian intellectuals, were dazed a great deal by the self-acclaimed supremacy of the British; in Hawaii, the Anglo-Americans brought with them good intentions as well as deadly diseases, whereas the Hawaiian royalty held back in uncertainty between resistance and acceptance.

Only in the Congo's case does the author actually relinquish impartiality. This is most explicitly seen in the description of King Leopold as "scheming his way to dominance" (Cook, 1996, p. 33). One aftereffect of such self-aggrandizing action was to unleash "a nightmarish deterioration," subjugating "people in areas severely scarred by a ravenous rubber industry" (Cook, 1996, p. 33-4). In stark contrast to the embodiment of evil in Leopold, Tippu Tip, who conquered east-central Africa and sold slaves in bulk, is depicted as a personification of humanitarian capitalism: "successful military commander, skillful ruler, shrewd negotiatorÐ'...the greatest of the Swahili-Arab merchant princes in Central Africa," "a man of tenacity, charm, and guile, as well as nimble diplomacy" (Cook, 1996, p. 37-9). Following that short trip into the horrific world of "imperial darkness," the reader would find relief in the following chapters on American and British imperialism.

While the book only provides a relatively short account of the French experiences in Africa, it nevertheless offers excellent material about French colonialism that is accessible to undergrads. Teaching French history as colonial history certainly derives from the comparative account of imperialisms during the era covered by Cook in his book. Using this book as basis for teaching a course would encourage adoption of European expansionism as a focal theme

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