Kathleen Frederickson, “British Writers on Population, Infrastructure, and the Great Indian Famine of 1876-8”
This article examines British writing about the 1876-8 famine in southern and western India. In British newspapers and journals, the turn to thinking about famine in terms of the total population obscured the extreme variations in food access that worsened with rising economic inequality. When the British press in the late-1870s turned to human causes of famine, they either argued that India’s population overburdened India’s land, or suggested that more rail construction would prevent enough deaths sufficiently to mitigate British responsibility for famine conditions. The turn to population-based arguments helped either to perpetuate the belief that famine was a quasi-natural part of India or to parse the sudden increase in the frequency and severity famines in India under British rule.
While Thomas Hardy was invited to submit something to a special number of Scribner’s Magazine that was published to celebrate the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the story he submitted, “The Fiddler of the Reels,” focuses on several characters whose lives are impacted by the Great Exhibition of 1851. The focus on the two world’s fairs might lead readers to believe that Hardy was an advocate of the kinds of scientific and technological progress that such spectacles tended to celebrate. However, Hardy’s story demonstrates the power of more primitive forces and actually undermines such an easy belief in progress. By ending with a character that clearly represents primal forces that are never suppressed, the story demonstrates that the power of the primitive past is never far from the surface and may emerge at any moment to triumph over the representatives of the present.
The fifty-year Jubilee of Indian tea was celebrated in the Spring and Summer of 1887, coinciding precisely with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. This Jubilee had nothing to do with Victoria per se, but rather the commercial anniversary invented Indian/Ceylon tea as an icon of imperial Britishness. Industry leaders used 1887 to highlight specifically two key events in tea’s commercial and imperial history, the first moment tea arrived in Britain from Assam (1837) and the first time (April 1887) that tea from both India and Ceylon surpassed imports from China. They explained the later development by arguing that Britons had learned to appreciate modern industrial production and plantation agriculture more than old-fashioned and dirty Chinese modes of production. The Jubilee thus marked publicly how and when tea became a mass-produced and consumed imperial product.