‘to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them’

Samuel Madden, Robert Walpole and anti-Craftsman satire @ BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series

There is something mysterious in the history of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, an early speculative fiction novel published anonymously in London in 1733. Thanks to a testimony by the publisher William Bowyer, it is known that out of one thousand copies commissioned by the author, some nine hundred were eliminated fresh out of print.

Written by Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies, the novel consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, the novel’s logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present.

Madden had discussed with Robert Walpole the advisability of using satire against the government’s opposition, around about the same time as the idea for the Memoirs was presumably taking shape. In a letter to the de facto prime minister, he had proposed launching a satirical counterattack against the Tories united around The Craftsman.

Drawing on limited but eloquent documentary evidence available, and locating Madden’s political reflections in its original context – British political debate in the late 1720s – this paper will discuss the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Memoir’s print run.

Join the BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series 2021, June 24th.

All sessions take place on the last Thursday of the month between 3-4pm GMT/BST.

See the programme at this EXTERNAL LINK

Register at http://bsecs-pg-ecr.eventbrite.com

Satirical head of Sir Robert Walpole yawning, 1743. Engraving by George Bickham the Younger. Inscription content: With title in upper margin, and in the lower margin ‘Lo! What are all your schemes come to?’ followed by two stanzas of seven lines of verse from Pope’s ‘Dunciad’: ‘More he had said, but yan’d … And Navies yawn’d for Orders on the Main’. Signed in lower right below image ‘Publish’d by G.Bickham in May’s Buildings’ and on the left ‘1743 Dec 3’. The British Museum Collections Online, © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Savage Languages

Introducing a series on eighteenth-century vocabularies of Native American languages, between proto-ethnographical curiosity, temporal conceptualisations, and colonial exploitation

This post inaugurates a series on vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century.

Ever since their first contacts with the peoples of North America, the accounts of European travellers included vocabularies, dictionaries, and lists of words and/or phrases of common use as sections within the text, or as appendixes.[1] Whether they were explorers, missionaries, traders, colonial administrators, surveyors or policymakers, from Jacques Cartier’s Relations (published from 1545) and Gabriel Sagard’s Grand Voyage (1632), the habit of including in travelogues a vocabulary of ‘savage languages’ was continued in following centuries.[2]

Eighteenth-century examples include Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages (1703), John Lawson’s New Voyage (1709), Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (1727), Jonathan Carver’s Three Years Travels (1778), to the account of James Cook’s third voyage (1784), George Dixon’s A voyage round the world (1789) and John Long’s Voyages and Travels (1791). These lists of French or English words, with their respective translations in languages such as Huron, Iroquois, Tuscarora or Woccon, under a typographic presentation designed to project an idea of objective registration, eloquently reveal the cultural attitudes with which European observers perceived and portrayed their Native American interlocutors.

The primary aim of this series is to consider what these compilations tell us about the nature of European encounters with individuals and societies seen as less civilised than the writers’, presenting a fascinating Other that could encourage the observer to problematise his own culture. The choices that our writers made to include or exclude specific terms and semantic spheres, work as epiphenomena of a conception of historical time in which societies were hierarchised.

New ideas of time emerging in the eighteenth-century European mind led to the ‘savage’ being considered as an example of a universal humanity, though distinct from the more refined, ‘civilised’ European. This series will analyse the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, looking at time both in terms of a frame in which historical and diachronic gaps and differences were located, and as a cultural construct framing human experience.

Especially when phrases and expressions accompany the list of words, these vocabularies offer insights into communicative exchanges which are less mediated than the ones presented by narrative accounts, where a more conscious thematisation of the writer’s subjectivity and a more controlled self-representation are usually to be found. Furthermore, they throw light on translation practices and cultural mediation processes, whereas in accounts and letters the good interpreter is usually invisible.[3]

The focus will be on a selection of texts written in English by colonial administrators and policy makers, explorers and traders in eighteenth-century North America, against a cultural backdrop in which secondary sources written in other languages, such as Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages, were widely known to (and sometimes borrowed by) British and American-British writers, in the original versions or through English translations. The source base is shaped by a primary interest towards a secularised culture, considered as a vantage point from which to observe the functioning of ideas of historical time increasingly far from Biblical eschatological and parousistic perspectives.[4]

By placing at centre stage the relationships between travel relations and linguistic compilations, and devoting specific attention to intertextual genealogies and connections, eighteenth-century testimonies will offer a rich case study to foreground the interaction between pre-existent cultural notions and first-hand observations, allowing for a better understanding of how ideas about history and time work in cultural practices different from antiquarian-historical and philosophical-historical writing.

Linguistic and traductological aspects lie at the intersection of a multitude of issues characterising European contact with North America since its early stages. Scholars have called attention to the role of interpreters as cultural brokers, have traced the debates regarding the problematic translation of Christian faith and doctrine in cultural-linguistic contexts far from the European one, and have highlighted the gradual exclusion of Central and Meso-American languages by the Castilian and Portuguese monarchic authorities.[5] Along with studies interested in language and rhetoric in relation to the construction and projection of imperial power, the linguistic aspects of the European encounter with the New World have been subject of inquiry especially as regards the historical debates surrounding the admissibility of native languages and systems for tracing and registering the past – e.g. Inca quipus, and logogrammatic-syllabic writing systems or systems based on glyphs – as legitimate tools for transmitting knowledge of the past and of the ‘new’ continent’s inhabitants, and for evangelising.[6]

The relationship between language and civilisation processes, as well as conjectural histories of languages, and the role played by languages in disputes over the origins of humanity in America have also received much scholarly attention in recent years.[7] Existing studies have investigated how travel accounts were used in treatises about the origins of language by Rousseau and Lord Monboddo, or in John Locke’s natural history of man. The vocabularies, however, have received far less consideration.[8] Historical linguistics has produced some useful analysis of these lists of words and expressions, regarded not so much as trustworthy samples of the languages they were supposed to be recording, but as testimonies of contacts, often documenting borrowings, trade jargons, pidgins, and short-term accommodations.[9]

Complex negotiations often took place in journals and travel accounts between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes, between experience and written sources of knowledge, and between scientific ambitions, and colonial and imperial cultural agencies interacting in a specific political-geographical context. The close reading of a number of ‘savage vocabularies’ scarcely considered by existing scholarship will take place against this backdrop.[10]

The next post in this series will offer some elements for a periodisation of vocabularies compiled between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century.


[1] For general background on European cultural encounters with the ‘new world’: Guido Abbattista, ‘European Encounters in the Age of Expansion’, in EGO – European History Online, <http://ieg-ego.eu/en>; Guido Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness: Diversities and Transcultural Experiences in Early Modern European Culture (Trieste, 2011); John Elliott, The Old World and the New: 1491-1650 (1970; Cambridge, 1992); Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology, second ed. (London and New York, 1986); Joan-Pau Rubiés, ‘Texts, images, and the perception of “savages” in Early Modern Europe: what we can learn from White and Harriot’, in Kim Sloan (ed.), European Visions: American Voices (London, 2009), pp. 120–130; Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, foreword by Anthony Pagden (Norman, OK, 2005).

[2] Terms such as ‘savage’, as well as exonyms used later in this essay and characteristic of colonial practices are used to conform to primary sources. In so doing, I will retain a historical perspective and challenge the cultural agencies and categories they imply. On the linguistic and conceptual history of the ‘savage’: Sergio Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi (Turin, 2014); J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion (Cambridge, 1999–2015, 6 vols.), vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires (2005), pp. 2–3, 157–228; Pagden, The Fall; Silvia Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress (New York, 2013). On the linguistic confusion in Anglophone and Francophone sources as regards Canadian nations see: Michèle Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières (Paris, 1995), pp. 26–29.

[3] James Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York, 2000), especially pp. 27–32; Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, 1995); William F. Hanks and Carlo Severi, ‘Translating worlds: The epistemological space of translation’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4/2 (2014), pp. 1–16.

[4] Anthony Grafton, ‘Joseph Scaliger and historical chronology: The rise and fall of a discipline’, History and Theory, 14/2 (1975), pp.  156–185; Paolo Rossi, I segni del tempo: Storia della terra e storia delle nazioni da Hooke a Vico (Milano, 1979); Edoardo Tortarolo, ‘L’eutanasia della cronologia biblica’, in Camilla Hermanin and Luisa Simonutti(eds), La centralità del dubbio: Un progetto di Antonio Rotondò, tome I.III, Scritture, ragione e storia (Florence, 2010), pp. 339–359.

[5] Nancy L. Hagedorn, ‘“A friend to go between them”: The interpreter as cultural broker during Anglo-Iroquois councils, 1740-70’, Ethnohistory, 35/1, (1988), pp. 60–80; Milton W. Hamilton, ‘Sir William Johnson: Interpreter of the Iroquois’, Ethnohistory, 10/3, (1963), pp. 270–286; Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan (New York, 1991); Pagden, The Fall, pp. 127–128, 183–192, 202–209; Todorov, The Conquest; on translation and/of the Christian doctrine, see Sangkeun Kim, Strange Names of God: The Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci’s Shangti in Late Ming China, 1583-1644 (New York, 2004); Victor Egon Hanzeli, Missionary Linguistics in New France: A Study of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century Descriptions of American Indian Languages (The Hague and Paris, 1969).

[6] Peter Burke, ‘America and the rewriting of world history’, in Karen Ordahl Kupperman (ed.), America in European Consciousness (Chapel Hill and London, 1995), pp. 33–51; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001), pp. 60–129; Peter Mason, The Lives of Images (London, 2001) on Mexican codices in Europe p. 101, and in general chapters 4 and 5; Giuseppe Marcocci, Indios, cinesi, falsari: Le storie del mondo nel Rinascimento (Rome-Bari, 2016), pp. 38–46.

[7] Saul Jarcho, ‘Origin of the American Indian as suggested by fray Joseph De Acosta (1589)’, Isis, 50/4, (1959), pp. 430–438; Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘“Savage” languages in the eighteenth-century theoretical history of language’, in Edward G. Gray and Norman Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800: A Collection of Essays (New York and Oxford, 2000), pp. 310–326.

[8] On Gabriel Sagard’s account in Monboddo: Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s ‘Dictionary of the Huron tongue’ (1632)’, inElke Nowak (ed.), Languages Different in All Their Sounds… Descriptive Approaches to Indigenous Languages of America 1500 to 1800 (Münster, 1999), pp. 101–115; on Locke: Daniel Carey, Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond (Cambridge, 2006), especially 17, 88.

[9] Gray and Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter, here especially Ives Goddard, ‘The use of pidgins and jargons on the East Coast of North America’, pp. 61–80; Michael Silverstein, ‘Dynamics of linguistic contact’, in Ives Goddard (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 17, Languages (Washington, DC, 1996), pp. 117–136; Agnete Nesse, ‘Trade and language: How did traders communicate across language borders?’, in Wim Blockmans, Mikhail Krom, Justyna (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Maritime Trade around Europe 1300-1600 (London and New York, 2017), pp. 86–100, see pp. 92–93.

[10] Some noteworthy exceptions are: Laura J. Murray, ‘Vocabularies of native American languages: A literary and historical approach to an elusive genre’, American Quarterly, 53/4 (2001), pp. 590–623. H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 132/1 (1988), pp. 119–127; Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s “Dictionary”’.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Diasporic Communities in the Mediterranean

PIMo training school to be held in September 2021 – a tantalising programme of seminars, research development opportunities and guided visits to Inquisition archives and museums in Las Palmas

It is with great pleasure that I receive and publish a call for the training school Diasporic Communities in the Mediterranean: Between Integration and Disintegration, which will be held in September 2021 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, as part of the COST Action PIMo – People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492-1923) – chaired by Giovanni Tarantino.

The deadline to apply as trainees has been updated to June 30th.

Aimed at offering research development, training, and exchange of ideas for postgraduate students and early career researchers, this school focuses on histories of the Mediterranean as a place of interaction, circulation, exchange of ideas, objects, and people.

Entangled histories of the Mediterranean will be explored from the (inter-)disciplinary standpoint of Mediterranean Studies, Migration Studies, Cultural Transfers and History of Emotions, thanks to lectures and seminars delivered by prominent scholars in the field. The school’s programme also opens up excellent possibilities to discuss one’s own postdoctoral research project and obtain valuable feedback from colleagues and trainers, and includes a tantalising schedule of guided la tours, to Las Palmas Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art (where trials before the Spanish Inquisition took place between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries), and the Museo Canario and the annexed Inquisition archives, accompanied by a talk by the Museum Director, Dr Daniel Pérez Estévez.

Vincenzo Coronelli, Accademia cosmografica degli Argonauti, Isole Canarie Possedutte da S.M. Cattolica (Venetia: per l’autore, 1697), detail. Engraved map of the Canary Island – upper inset is a detailed chart of the island of Madeira, and birds eye view of the town of Madera is shown below that shows buildings, lighthouse, fortifications and ships in the harbour and at the shore. Copy at David Rumsey Collection, © 2000 by Cartography Associates, under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) licence.

Confirmed trainers include: Cátia Antunes (Leiden), Giedrė Blažytė (Vilnius), José María Pérez Fernándes (Granada), Tsolin Nalbantian (Leiden), Filipa Ribeiro da Silva (Amsterdam), Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (Zurich).

Full details are available at this EXTERNAL LINK.

The call completed text is at this ETERNAL LINK.

Expenses (up to 700 EUR per trainee) will be reimbursed in line with relevant COST rules. All application documents should be submitted directly to the attention of Professor Marta Bucholc on bucholcm@is.uw.edu.pl.

Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage

Phrasebooks for European travellers in eighteenth-century North America and the cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

This article explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century. Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the analysis takes as its endpoint the journals of the famous expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The aim of this study is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenged the observer’s ethnocentrism. Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, in terms of both historical diachronicity and time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.

This focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes. A close reading of these often-neglected primary sources helps us to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Amerindian within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1468-229X.13138

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), page 225
John Lawson, A New Voyage North Carolina: Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of that Country (London, 1709), 225. In his Voyage, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro (Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico) and Woccon. Copy at John Carter Brown Library.

How Europe Used Time to Rule the World

Imperial Times. How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries) – introducing History of Historiography 77 (2020)

Aim of the introduction to the monographic issue Imperial Times. How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries) is to throw into relief current debates demonstrating the need for greater academic research into imperial times.

The question that underlies the contributions to the special issue is how to synchronise the study of history in a postcolonial age; how to navigate history while accounting for the traditional uses of concepts like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernity.

This introduction critically distances the logic underpinning periodisations by challenging the uncritical use of a given interval of time as the basis of a neutral partitioning, and takes stock of how postcolonial studies and global historians have drawn attention, in recent years, to the contingent and political origins of these timeframes.

It contends that, for all the talk about a “temporal” and an “imperial turn”, time and empire still appear, at times, to be largely undertheorized in relation to each other. It highlights new conceptualisations brought to the study of temporality in relation to empire by the history of emotions, and of material cultures, put forward by the study of gendered subjectivities, and stimulated by the attention to long-term shifts favoured by novel methodology of environmental history. It takes stock of Reinhart Koselleck’s influence on these historiographical turns, and of recent re-evaluations of his work on time and concepts.

A special emphasis on the eighteenth century seeks to contribute new perspectives on overlooked imperial dynamics that influenced the politics of time during that period.  Industrialisation; modern timekeeping; the growth of the novel; the combination of the antiquarian’s methods and philosophical history, all were once said to have changed the experience of time in eighteenth-century Europe.

Drawing on the hypothesis that conceptions of the future are crucial to our understanding of ideas and practices of time, tradition, history, and change, this introduction also discusses our conception of the history of utopian times, and the specific ties the future has to the history of imperial conceptions and projects.

The concluding section is devoted to present the methodological purpose behind the special issue: to set out four case studies to trace new pathways for the study of the imperial legacies in the making of a global history of time.

I am very grateful to the other contributors of Imperial Times for the productive discussions we had while working together on this project.

Full bibliographical data:

Matilde Cazzola, Edward Jones Corredera, Giulia Iannuzzi, and Guido G. Beduschi, Introduction. Imperial Times. Towards a History of Imperial Uses of Time
pp. 11-23, DOI: 10.19272/202011501001

Histoire de l’Historiographie · History of Historiography · Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung

Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa – Roma
77, 2020/1

Full text is available on the publisher’s website and via the Torrossa platform

Contact me at giannuzzi <at> units.it if you wish to receive a pre-print version for research and teaching purposes.

Imperial Times

How Europe Used Time to Rule the World (XVIII-XIX Centuries)

History of Historiography monographic issue: towards a history of imperial uses of time.

Histoire de l’Historiographie · History of Historiography · Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung

Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa – Roma
77, 2020/1
here on the publisher website

Matilde Cazzola, Edward Jones Corredera, Giulia Iannuzzi, and Guido G. Beduschi
Introduction. Imperial Times. Towards a History of Imperial Uses of Time
pp. 11-23, DOI: 10.19272/202011501001
Guido G. Beduschi
“To Imitate the Ancients, Having Adopted the Corrections of the Moderns”. Scipione Maffei’s Consiglio politico
pp. 27-52, DOI: 10.19272/202011501002
Giulia Iannuzzi
“This New and Unexampled Way of Writing the History of Future Times”. The Rise and Fall of Empires and the Acceleration of History in Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-Century Memoirs from the Future
pp. 53-88, DOI: 10.19272/202011501003
Edward Jones Corredera
Investing in the Enlightenment. The Financial Revolution and the Global Origins of the Enlightenment in the Spanish Empire
pp. 89-111, DOI: 10.19272/202011501004
Matilde Cazzola
“Sometimes, the Past is the Present”. Electoral Reforms, the Working Classes, and the British Empire
pp. 113-148, DOI: 10.19272/202011501005

I am very grateful to the other contributors of Imperial Times for the productive discussions we had while working together on this project.

Full text is available on the publisher’s website and via the Torrossa platform

Contact me at giannuzzi <at> units.it if you wish to receive a pre-print version for research and teaching purposes.

Future-war fiction and global simultaneity

A new post in the future-wars series: techno-scientific acceleration and space-time compression on the eve of WWI

To understand and critically assess the wave(s) of future-war narratives that characterised European illustrated periodicals and book markets before 1914, we need to look at the historical circumstances that provided fertile ground for this production. While writers and artists might have been aware of current events and political circumstances that contributed to the subsequent First World War outburst, we may resist the temptation to make any simplistic teleological connections between works of fiction written at the turn of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century and the terrible events that then ensued.

In fact, authors and illustrators were presented with rich sources of inspiration in the recent past and contemporary history of Europe, with societies that, in the space of just a few years, had been changed forever by an astonishing mass of new inventions. The year 1869 saw the opening of the Suez Canal – connecting Europe to South and East Asia – and also of the first railroad to connect the East and West coasts of the United States, ushering in a phase in the history of technology characterised by rapid acceleration in change and innovation. Between 1873 and 1906, from the typewriter to the phonograph, the telephone, and radio broadcasting, from the steam engine to the automobile, from dirigibles to the airplane, an impressive series of milestone-inventions was made possible, to follow Daniel R. Headrick argument, by intensified and stable connections between scientific research and technology. This impressive amount of technological novelties accompanied broad changes in agricultural production, hygiene practices and medical science, urbanisation process and literacy rates.[1]

A global dimension was experienced in daily life not only by an elite section of the population. New mechanised means of transport and of communication determined an increased dominion over space, while from 1884 onwards, the adoption of a common system in time computing based on the Greenwich meridian affirmed the present and a global simultaneity as a widely shared frame of personal experience. According to Stephen Kern, technology as a source of power over the environment also suggested new ways to control the future.[2]

Innovations such as railroads and the telegraph brought about profound changes in warfare, allowing armies and supply columns to be constantly on the move, and the chain of command to operate over unprecedented distances. Modern marvels also posed specific issues, from the necessary system of poles and wires that rendered the telegraph useless in mobile campaigns, to the limited manoeuvrability of mass armies over a territory despite new means of transport. Technological innovation as applied to warfare dramatically increased the destructive power of weapons: machine guns, magazine-fed rifles, quick-firing and heavy artillery improved the range, accuracy, and firepower of infantries. The extension of the so-called “deadly zone,” “the area in front of the defender’s positions covered by the concentrated fire of his weapons,”[3] increased from 150 meters in the Napoleonic era to 300-400 meters during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871, with casualties among the attackers reaching percentages between 25 and 50), and then tripling to 800-1,500 meters by the mid-1890s.

Long-range rifle fire was decisive in defeats of numerically superior forces such as the British in the opening battles of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), in which knowledge of the territory and strategic choices and tactics nonetheless continued to be crucial, as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) would also confirm.

Important developments in naval warfare, such as the accuracy of self-propelled torpedoes, steel battleships, and underwater mines, occurred regularly from the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) onwards. Following British investments in steam-powered battleships equipped with small-calibre guns and in new classes of armoured mine-sweepers, by the mid-1890s many European powers were investing in innovations in naval gunfire, vessel manoeuvrability, self-propelled submarines, and wireless communications. The Russo-Japanese War would be a reminder to all “that large-scale naval battles were still possible.”[4]

As for aerial warfare, the development of lighter-than-air balloonsused for reconnaissance – led to better manoeuvrability, with France at the forefront in aviation technology from the late 1870s onwards, followed by Germany. After Zeppelin’s flight across Lake Constance in 1900 in an aluminium airship filled with hydrogen and the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, investments in aircraft research and production by Western powers such as Germany and the US increased significantly. Aerial assaults such as those carried out during the Italian invasion of Libya (1911-1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) established a new role for aerial warfare not only in the gathering of intelligence but also in combat, to attack and destroy buildings, artillery, and troops on the ground.

In Europe, Russia and the US, in fact, its potential military applications were one of the main attractions of air-mindedness – that “popular fascination with airships” that gave rise to a host of “glider clubs and rocket societies, air-shows and air races.”[5] Attacks from the sky were soon to be found in works by key-figures in the history of speculative imagination such as Jules Verne (The Master of the World, 1904) and H. G. Wells (The War in the Air, 1908; The World Set Free, 1914). Air-ground battles and airborne weapons quickly became a staple in future-war narratives throughout the twentieth century.

As John Rieder has argued

“the arms race is one of any number of sites where ideas about progress link the various threads of colonial discourse to one another and to science fiction.” [6]

This technological competition opened up a critical power gap between those cultures and territories which owned certain technologies and those which did not. In doing so, it widened the gap between the industrialised hearts of colonial empires and their peripheries.

Locating war and warfare at centre stage of the European mind during a pivotal phase between the 1870s and the 1890s, Matthew D’Auria has highlighted how during these years the representation of the violence of war influenced conceptualisations of and reflections upon European identities on the part of intellectuals and writers.[7]

Furthermore, technical means of image production and reproduction had a deep impact on how violence and war were represented, disseminated and perceived in European public discourse, especially from the American Civil War onwards, with the regular use of photography to document death and slaughter in popular illustrated magazines beginning around 1900.[8] Illustrations and sketches were common in popular periodicals to document conflicts happening outside the European borders before the advent of photography, contributing to the circulation of news, ideas, and stereotypes across geographical and linguistic borders.[9]

Oriental tortures are documented through photography: Albert Robida, illustration for La guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in instalment 29 – Dans l’avenue des supplices, p. 921.


[1]   Daniel R. Headrick, Technology: A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 111 and ff; Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Petersson, Geschichte der Globalisierung: Dimensionen, Prozesse, Epochen (München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2003, Eng. transl. Globalization: A Short History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), ch. V.

[2]   Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), esp. 90 and ff.; see also Vanessa Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time: 1870-1950 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Patrick Camiller (2009; Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014), esp. 69 and ff.

[3]   Antulio J. Echevarria II, Imagining Future War: The West’s Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914 (Westport, CT-London: Praeger Security International, 2007), qt. 28. I am indebted to Echevarrias’s work for the technical notes on warfare in this paragraph.

[4]   Echevarria, Imagining Future War, 34.

[5]   Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, “Empire,” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 362-372, qt. 365.

[6]   John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 29.

[7]   Matthew D’Auria, “Progress, Decline and Redemption: Understanding War and Imagining Europe, 1870s-1890s,” Making Sense of Violence: Intellectuals, Writers, and Modern Warfare, ed. D’Auria, European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 25, no. 5 (2018): 686-704, doi: 10.1080/13507486.2018.1471046.

[8]   Mark Hewitson, “Introduction: Visualizing Violence,” Making Sense of Military Violence, ed. Matthew D’Auria and Hewitson, Cultural History 6, no. 1 (2017): 1-20, esp. 10, doi: 10.3366/cult.2017.0132.

[9]         E.g. “La Guerra in Cina. Cronaca illustrata degli avvenimenti in Estremo Oriente” published in Italy by Aliprandi, in 20 installments in 1900 covered the Boxer rebellion using as sources other periodicals from Italy (e. g. “Natura e Arte”), Anglophone countries (“Times,” “New York Herald»”), France (“Le Journal illustré”), Germany (“Kölnische Zeitung”), Russia (“Novoye Vremya”). “La Guerra in Cina” would make for an interesting case study as regards the representation of Oriental cruelty and yellow-peril stereotypes.

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 113-116. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

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