Churchill and Roosevelt in Africa: Writing and Performing Landscapes of Race, Nature, and Nation

Event information
Venue:FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus, LC 110

AADS Works in Progress Series

"Churchill and Roosevelt in Africa: Writing and Performing Landscapes of Race, Nature, and Nation"

Rod Neumann Chair, Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies and AADS Affiliate Faculty

As the twentieth-century commenced, two prominent imperialists, Winston Churchill in 1907 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, had themselves strapped to the cowcatcher of a steaming locomotive and chugged off into East Africa. Churchill, newly appointed British parliamentary under-secretary of state for the colonies, self-financed a trip into British East Africa (now Kenya) via the Uganda Railway. Later, Roosevelt, fresh from his final term as U.S. president, embarked on his own BEA trip, traveling a route almost identical to Churchill’s. Both produced a series of magazine articles that were subsequently published as books that were widely read at the time and are still in print today. Both texts are explicitly didactic, intended to instruct an educated readership on African landscapes, nature, and people. Both authors made imperialists claims on Africa, but each promoted dissimilar ideologies and different visions of empire. My first goal in this paper is to use the published texts and associated personal correspondence to explore how ideologies of race, nature, and national identity intersect in the construction of imperialist imaginaries of Africa. The writings of two prominent imperialists, one English, one American, so close in time and space provide an approximation of an experimental design for exploring the role of national identity in the experience and representation of colonized landscapes and peoples. Inspired by Edward Said’s Orientalism, scholars have mined a rich vein imperial travel writing to explore the discursive construction of othered lands and “races”. Some of this work, including Said’s, has been fairly criticized for producing a misleadingly homogenous notion of “Western” or “European” colonial discourse. In this paper I emphasize multiple subjectivities of race, gender, nation, within the West in an effort to expose the internal tensions and divergences in colonial representations of the Other. My second goal is to use these texts to demonstrate that writing othered landscapes in imperial travel literature is both representational and performative. I engage the current theoretical debate in cultural geography over textual versus non-representational approaches to landscape. I reject the claim that the emergence of non-representational approaches has produced a theoretical rupture in landscape studies and argue that the differences with textual and discursive approaches are overstated. Thus I use Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s trips as means to productively engage both representational and performative approaches in landscape analysis.