The Savage Visit

THE SAVAGE VISIT: New World People and Popular Imperial Culture in Britain, 1710-1795  (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)

Yes, the subtitle was crazy!  It should have been, maybe: Indigenous Travellers and British Popular Culture, 1710-1795. Still a bit stiff, but slightly better. It was my first book… I know better now. It emerged from my doctoral dissertation, and uncovered the steep rise and then dramatic fall in poplar British fascination for so-called “savage” travelers from the New World during the eighteenth century. A few other historians had written about some of these travelers before, though never as one phenomenon and never in ways that addressed precisely what this fascination signified about British imperialism. As one reviewer, Nick Thomas, noticed, “the tumultuous reception that these visitors received indexes what exoticism meant, or, more particularly, what the stories of these visitors meant in the cultural and political conjunctures of the moment. As Fullagar very ably demonstrates, the most contentious issues revolved around war and empire: Was a society constituted around trade and commerce legitimate, if from trade and commerce war and empire inevitably followed?” [So great when reviewers ‘get’ it]. Harriet Guest was also very generous: “This is a beautifully written and thoroughly engaging account of the rise and fall of the ‘savage visit’ as a focus of cultural interest in Britain in the eighteenth century. It is a fascinating topic, and its treatment here is both intellectually impressive and hugely appealing.”

In short, the book argued that, from the early 1700s, ordinary Britons found indigenous travelers apt conduits for their split feelings over the burgeoning commercial empire around them—both their celebration and their hatred of it. That British people lost interest in indigenous travelers by the 1780s reflected a new popular consensus about the empire from which these travelers came—few now questioned the fundamental premise of expansion.

Another very cool review, which paired me with the amazing Shino Konishi, appeared in Inside Story by Tim Rowse. All the other reviews are behind paywalls, sadly. The book was shortlisted for the NSW General History Prize in 2013.

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