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Note: This is the first in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.


"Comprehensive map of the Four Seas (Si Hai Zong Tu)". A copy of an ancient Chinese explorer map that had survived to the 17th century and found in the 1730 book “Records of Sights and Sounds of Overseas States” (Haiguo Jianwen Lu) authored by Chen Lunjiong"

Last year while I was researching for my dissertation, I came across a footnote that mentioned that the first Africans who reached ancient China (the particular period was not specified) were two slaves given as gifts to the Emperor by an envoy of Arab traders. I found myself wondering what happened to them, were the slaves male or female, were they killed immediately or did they go on to serve the Emperor, did they have children (it was possible!) etc.

It keeps on popping up, one or two sentences or a footnote that quickly says something about Africans in ancient China, whether in Peking or Canton but there is never enough information. To be honest I’d like to know more. If I could, I’d travel back in time just to see the daily lives of those Africans in ancient China. I’ve read that most of them were slaves of Arab traders and lived among the Arab settlements in Canton…things will become clearer from here on, I promise.

Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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For the last post of the year, I'm enjoying a post-holiday recoup and a some good steampunky links. Featuring some oldies but goodies, great vids, the launch of SteamCast in Brazil, and pretty steampunk art after the jump.

Read more on BeyondVictoriana.com
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One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about steampunk was with Crimean Palais, who claimed steampunk was his life, but ironically, did not feel like he belonged with the steampunks he met at the Steampunk Empire community. Crimean Palais, from the Ukraine, explained why:

In fact, first I also felt myself a bit misplaced, when I joined the Empire:
You must understand: When YOU in UK or USA wear such weird glasses, its just for fun and to "play" dress-up. When people here wear such glasses, they simply WORK ;-)



The same goes for some weird instruments or machines: For people here in Ukraine, such "self-made" machines are not "a hobby", but they simply build their own apparatuses, because they don´t have the money to buy a new one... (original emphasis kept)

Another example that brought up steampunk, technology and the non-West was during the Great Steampunk Debate, where the poster Piechur pointed out an African slum as a “real-life DIY steampunk community” that he thought was quite tragic:


What both examples have in common is the fact that, while most of the steampunk community would identify as middle or upper class from highly industrialized nations, many people who actively incorporate those “steampunk values” -- re-purposing junk or found items, the importance of tactile-based technology, ingenuity based on necessity, sustaining one’s lifestyle using older technological methods -- are from places other than rich communities in highly industrialized societies. The technological nostalgia we feel lacking in our lives is the reality of many communities today.



In the steampunk community, coupled with that sense of technological nostalgia is the cherished idea of innovation. Indeed, when people talk about technology, its usually in reference to when something was invented and by whom. Interestingly enough, the technological history of innovation and the history of use (who uses these innovations and where) are not usually associated with one another, but both are embraced in steampunk subculture. What is often taken for granted in discussions about the history of technology in steampunk, however, is the premise that old technologies are so interesting because they are not generally recognized by Western-European societies as something intrinsic to our way of life. On the other hand, however, as we have seen in the two examples above, older technologies are very much in use today in the non-West and in the developing world (for those are the places where they have having their own industrial revolutions). Moreover, the history of use becomes a key perspective that reevaluates the importance of older technologies: not just from a hobbyist’s perspective, but from a greater economic and social standpoint that concerns entire populations and countries around the world.



David Edgerton, a UK historian, writes about the impact of the history of use in his book THE SHOCK OF THE OLD: Technology and Global History Since 1900.



Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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#30 Anti-Racism in 19th Century Britain–Guest Blog by Sandrine Thomas

Ida B. Wells-Bennett. African-American activist who worked with anti-racist
British Quaker Catherine Impey. Image courtesy of eqadams63. Click for
source.

 

The concept of the British Empire arouses pride, pomp, and nationalism, but the darker side of the spread of English customs and mores across the globe was the specter of racism. Though British society focused more on class than race as their home-grown minority population remained small, and the relationship between the ruled and the rulers ran more towards paternalistic respect, racism and race prejudice cannot be denied. Much of the conditioning to promote and advance Imperialism had the tinge of social Darwinism, and the growing interest in eugenics (1890s-1900s) further enhanced the notion that race was biological, and whites were biologically superior to “savage blacks and yellow.” Since post-colonial studies are more interested in breaking through the influence (bad or good) the British had on their colonial possessions, it ignores the existence of people who actively fought not only slavery but racism.

 

Read here.


***

Beyond Victoriana #31 Wounded Range, Part 1 -- Guest Blog by Noah Meernaum


Note from Ay-leen: This is the first of a two-part essay from Noah Meernaum of the Steampunk Empire about the history of Weird West. Part Two of this essay will be posted next Sunday.

Wounded Range: A backtracking survey into the outlandishly penned or set trail of the Weird Western in American popular culture proposed to readdress its multicultural representations, taking in its past shadowed forms cast of lone two gun heroes, (or antiheroes), curious carriages, disfigured renderings, dying curses, sundered souls, vengeful spirits, and other unnatural varmints sifted from lost lore to the ragged pages of dime novels, pulps, and other two bit books. A notorious twisted trail turned inward with an outlook toward its past and present course.

 

Read here.

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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Kicking off my crazy February schedule, this week is Beyond Victoriana's small contribution toward Black History Month.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated in February, but in England, this month is in October, so I guess I'm giving away my biases a bit, eh?  Now, a linkspam about African/African-American history would be easy to do. And there are many great black figures who lived during the Victorian Era who should be mentioned right now.

But instead, I'll review an interesting book about a view of black history that I don't hear about as often: a series of essays about the lives of both extraordinary and everyday Black Brits in Victorian England called Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina.

Book Description:

Black Victorians/Black Victoriana is a welcome attempt to correct the historical record. Although scholarship has given us a clear view of nineteenth-century imperialism, colonialism, and later immigration from the colonies, there has for far too long been a gap in our understanding of the lives of blacks in Victorian England. Without that understanding, it remains impossible to assess adequately the state of the black population in Britain today. Using a transatlantic lens, the contributors to this book restore black Victorians to the British national picture. They look not just at the ways blacks were represented in popular culture but also at their lives as they experienced them-as workers, travelers, lecturers, performers, and professionals. Dozens of period photographs bring these stories alive and literally give a face to the individual stories the book tells.

The essays taken as a whole also highlight prevailing Victorian attitudes toward race by focusing on the ways in which empire building spawned a "subculture of blackness" consisting of caricature, exhibition, representation, and scientific racism absorbed by society at large. This misrepresentation made it difficult to be both black and British while at the same time it helped to construct British identity as a whole. Covering many topics that detail the life of blacks during this period, Black Victorians/Black Victoriana will be a landmark contribution to the emergent field of black history in England.

Also check out her book Black London as well.

My Review:
The essays in Black Victorians/Black Victoriana are varied and fascinating, ranging from the everyday lives of African Brits to the portrayal of blackness by the British, and, in turn, how the British defined themselves by their whiteness. The topics of these essays are divided into three general areas: the black experience in Britain, the interaction between Africans, African-Americans, British, and African-Brits, and representations of being black in Victorian culture. I enjoyed the essays that focused on aspects of the black experience--nevermind Victorian-- that I had never even considered before. Joan Anim-Addo's "Queen Victoria's 'Black Daughter', examines the life and circumstances surrounding Sally Bonetta Forbes, a young orphaned West African child whom the King of Dohomey presents to Queen Victoria as a "gift" in 1850. Sally was the first of a long line of Empire adoptees who entered the Queen's household as "properties of the crown" and were raised as the Queen's proteges. Other interesting essays included about the black experience is a profile on Pablo Fanque, a black circus proprietor who ran the most successful circus in England for 30 years, and the biracial classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The conclusions each of these essays make about race relations during Victorian England vary, even contradict each other. Fanque, for instance, is widely respected and defended by the general public as a performer, and Coleridge-Taylor's historical biographers skid more about his white mother's illegitimate parentage and servant class than his Nigerian father's background. On the other hand, other pieces such as "Mrs. Seacole's Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands and the Consciousness of Transit" (titled after her memoir of the same name), focuses on the prejudice the Crimean War heroine and nurse Mary Seacole faced from the British medical establishment --and from Florence Nightingale's all-white company of nurses--when on the front lines. And the essay "The Blackface Clown" explains the roots of blackface in England, framed around the concept of "blackness" as the racial Other onto which white Brits transposed everything they considered "unBritish."

The most interesting essay in the collection is Neil Parsons' "No Longer Rare Birds in London," a record about the travels of four different African envoys to England. Representatives from these African kingdoms visited England in order to petition for various reasons, from protesting British occupation to appealing for protection against other European powers. Parsons gives a detailed itinerary account of what each group experienced. Some incidents during their journey were very telling of the conflicting views of black and Africans in Victorian England. For instance, when King Cetshwayo of the Zulu visited in 1882, he was whisked away in a special train because the colonial ministers didn't want the public--who were only familiar with "Zulu warriors" as depicted by mostly African and African-American circus performers and from the news of the crushing British defeat by the Zulu nation in 1879--"to make a spectacle of him." The king, however, was unexpectedly received by cheering crowds and enjoyed being recognized in the streets as the leader of the battle. The envoys reactions to England are also intriguing. Many compared the packed urban sprawl of London to locusts and the Ndebele envoys remarked how the British "worshiped the god of money while they spoke of the God of Love" and how "the hands of the European never tire of making things. It is for this reason that white men's faces are often so fatigued and sad. They wage war with each other not for virile glory or to test their strength, but for things."

Overall, a fascinating book and highly recommended for scholars and history buffs alike.

***

Another treasure came at the suggestion of Miriavas from the Steampunk Empire: Okinawa Soba's collection of nineteenth-century photos. He features three collections portraying different perspectives on the black experience during this time period.  Below is a sampling from each collection, but I encourage you to go through his galleries yourself.

Click here for the pics )

Haunted

Jul. 7th, 2009 11:57 pm
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Robert McNamara passed away this week, may he rest in peace. Reuter's titled this article "McNamara dies, haunted by Vietnam war." Poor man, one of the most publicly remorseful men of that era. I'm not being sarcastic. If I directly contributed to the lives of millions of people dead and gone (thousands of Americans, millions of natives), then I'd be angsting for the rest of my life too.

But part of me, as Vietnamese-American, is tired of seeing America's greatest neurosis in the media once more.

I cringe a little every time I see a Vietnam War exhibit or see another New York starving artist making a statement by using images of villagers running away into the rice paddies or hear about the tragedy of Mai Lai or see the girl who ripped her burning clothes off during the naplam attack mentioned as the perpetual victim. Because I'm reminded, again, of what my family went through, of the cost my motherland paid. But I'm also reminded that this is all most fellow Americans see of my ethnic culture -- that is, not my culture at all, but a sad history lesson. When they ask, "But where are you REALLY from?" in one of those inevitable, awkward conversations (another topic for another day), and I finally reply, "My family is from Vietnam," I can see the little "Ah...aw..." connection, like a light switch in their faces. A little passing flinch. But it only lasts for a second, and the conversation moves on. Quickly.

Whenever it comes up, it's like the movie Groundhog Day, except instead of a repeated day, I get repeated emotions and thoughts that I can never escape because the guilt of others won't let me escape them. It was a mistake. They shouldn't have gone there. The government lied to them. And they feel bad.

I'm sorry you feel bad, but why must you always feel bad when we were in the middle of talking about something else entirely? Am I a poster child for America's failed war? Do you feel atrocities painted on your face by looking at mine? Even for a split moment, I was your object of national guilt, an earmark of historical shame, and knowing that made you feel even worse, didn't it? Well, it puts me in a bad spot too. I don't walk around moping about my family history 24/7, though I suspect I think about it more often than other people do, especially when it comes up in politico talkinghead comparisions or a certain revivial comes to Broadway.

It's like when I visited the Vietnam Memorial by myself when my family visited DC, in secret, because I was too embarrassed ask them to take me. There should be no shame in seeing a memorial for soldiers who died in war. But when you come from a family who doesn't talk about the war this memorial acknowledges (out of sight, out of mind, thinking forward, thinking about the future, not the past, that is the survivor mindset), it becomes embarrassing. When I ask to see an American monument for soldiers who failed my family's former country (and my current country too -- double-whammy there), what do I say? What do I feel when I see a monument dedicated to those who died, when other Vietnamese war dead will never be commemorated? How am I suppose to I feel staring at this monolithic black stone (American guilt, Vietnamese silence)?

Eventually, I'd like to see our own memorial in America. Athena Tacha designed a model for a Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia Memorial, representing all the war dead, Asian and American.

But for now I remain, haunted by other people's guilt.

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