felix driver on walter crane, socialist utopias and the imagery of settler colonialism

01Jul10

Felix Driver, ‘In Search of The Imperial Map: Walter Crane and the Image of Empire’, History Workshop Journal 69 (2010)

Crane’s commitment to a gendered, pastoral iconography of labour – epitomized by his celebrated May Day scenes – is clear in his design for the 1886 map. The vision of empire as a means of realizing the ambitions of socialism may fit awkwardly within our own histories of imperial and anti-imperial politics, but it does pose an important question about the extent to which intellectuals and workers in the English socialist tradition – especially in its arts and crafts manifestation – were able to connect a strongly pastoral vision of socialism with a sense of allegiance to the heroic values of labour in the settler colonies around the empire, at least before the 1890s. The significance of globalization in general, and white settler colonialism in particular, for the gendering of socialist iconography surely deserves more attention than it has been given in the pages of this journal. A Crane image used for the frontispiece of the American edition of News From Nowhere (1890), for example, clearly suggests an unacknowledged link between colonial and socialist iconography. Comparing this to the 1886 map is instructive. In the 1890 image dedicated to the solidarity of labour, the masculine brotherhood has triumphed, leaving only freedom represented by a woman, while Equality has – unsurprisingly – replaced Federation. However, Africa – like America and Australia – appears to be represented by a white male settler. On the other hand, we have already noted the unlikely appearance of the cap of liberty in the 1886 map, and Crane scholars have commented on his penchant for infiltrating such potent political emblems into his commercial work as an illustrator of children’s books. The figure of Atlas holding the globe on his shoulders in the 1886 map wears a band around his chest with the words ‘human labour’, providing another none-too-subtle pointer to Crane’s brand of socialism. If this is the labour theory of value, it is a theory in which empire is potentially a vehicle and not an obstacle to socialism. The banners to freedom and fraternity, the caps of liberty, the fruits and garlands, the sturdy male bodies and languid female forms all betray the fact of Crane’s authorship – though, remarkably, few if any Crane scholars or map historians recognized this until very recently.

Very interesting point, and a useful paper. Check it out.



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