thomas metcalf on colonialisms and comparativism


Thomas R. Metcalf, ‘Afterword: All Сolonialisms May Be Different, But in the End All Are the Same’, Ab Imperio 3 (2012).

In his afterthoughts written in dialogue with the editors of Ab Imperio, Thomas Metcalf recollects how, in the course of his academic career and observations of the changing world of the 1950s, he has learned to appreciate the importance of studying British imperialism of the second part of the nineteenth century, when classical liberal imperialism had to be adjusted to the reality of a growing imperial state. The firsthand observation of decline of European colonial empires and the rise of the new superpower, the United States, also contributed to Metcalf’s choice of research specialization. In recent years, he has been more active in the fields of global and comparative histories, while retaining his main focus on imperial polities and colonial regimes. Metcalf talks about the importance of a comparative approach, which allows one to make sense of multiple claims of uniqueness and exceptionalism. However, a comparative view acquires additional significance in light of the fact that imperial regimes of the second part of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries pursued mutually connected and dependent policies of imperial governance and legitimation of power. In the last part of the interview, Metcalf discusses how one can pursue a comparative history of modern empires, while avoiding the threat of simplification.


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