European Impact On Africa: Good Or Bad? Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Europe, Colonization, Colonialism, Colony, Culture, Colonial, England, Anthropology

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/23

European colonialism is often portrayed as a force of greed that exploited African peoples for financial gain, which is evident through African slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The primary goal of colonialism in Africa was universally to exploit the land and resources there and extract economically beneficial resources for the European governments in order to foment a profitable environment for colonial communities abroad. However, many observers have contended that colonialism served a higher moral purpose and was mutually beneficial to both the European and non-European parties. Ethnographic displays constructed by Europeans functioned as a means to publically assert an explicit division between the subaltern Africans and the hegemonic Europeans, which profoundly impacted how nation-states that emerged in the aftermath of colonialism navigated rampant poverty and imposed self-governance. Furthermore, former European colonies made exerted efforts to devise and construct new national identities vis-à-vis public institutions in order to deconstruct and get rid of the racialized stigmas and pejorative images that persisted as a result of the legacy of European colonialism. It is unequivocal that European colonization of Africa was a pinnacle moment in the trajectory of the development of African countries. Africans and African scholars argue that the profound impact of European colonization on the continent is the most critical factor in understanding how Africa developed into its presnt condition. By scrutinizing the phenomenon of European imperialism and colonialism on African countries, scholars have been able to construct narratives and wax poetic about the degree to which European colonial powers impacted not only the economic and political development of Africa but also the way that African people regard and perceive of themselves within the context of modernity.
Ethnographic displays of perceived racial Others in epistemological branches and disciplines, academia, museums, and other cultural modes of public display underscored the definitively unequal relationship between the colonizer and the colonized yet rearranged the narrative in a way that stressed the mutuality of colonial relations. These public exhibits not only showcased particular cultural artifacts in order to construct and shaped the contours of certain narratives, but also human beings were put on display within particular settings in ways that objectified African bodies as entities worthy of display. The exhibition of the Other located in a colonial context appeared perplexing, unusual, unnatural, foreign, and to many spectators, otherworldly. However, these public displays and exhibitions reified hegemonic narratives and colonial imaginings that spread ideas and notions regarding race and culture within scientific discourses. Scholar and Africanist Annie Coombes argues that museums and imperial modes of display targeted a general audience as a critical aspect the European imperial project by creating an illusion and specter of authenticity that indeed reified colonial imaginings that were implied and already present. Collecting artifacts for display from colonial sites further amplified and enhanced colonial practices by making collected objects and peoples appear authentic, as the exhibition of collected items validated European imperialist ventures that defined and reshaped the contours of European national identity and citizenship and conversely African identity and autonomy. Coombes’ Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England analyzes how Britain visually represented Africa and African culture between 1890 and 1913. She takes into account both salient popular perceptions as well as scientific discourses on order to provide a much more nuanced narrative. Analyzing a litany of case studies through the use of various theoretical frameworks, Coombes deftly traces the movement of African artifacts, goods, commodities, and peoples from the African continent to Europe—especially Britain—for the sole object and purpose of publically articulating and putting on display the identities of both the colonizer and the colonized within a dyadic framework. Using both cultural and post-modern methodological approaches, Coombes contends that images of Africa were crafted, reproduced, reinforced and diffused by the British middle-class vis-à-vis state-sponsored museums as well as ethnographic and missionary displays and exhibitions. The expatriation of African artifacts to Britain for such exhibitions aided the efforts made by British officials to construct a national identity against that of the African subjects, or supposedly inferior Other, which worked together to validate Britain’s imperialist ventures at the apex of European imperialism in Africa. British officials did so by scrutinizing and assessing African sculpture and art as visual cues and articulations of racial degeneration that signaled the need for moral uplift by European patrons. Anthropologists essentially ignored and eschewed the complexity of African bronze art by calling it mere aberrations that attested to the positive influence the British would have in the region (Coombes 25). Thus, beyond just merely analyzing and assesses African material culture and printed materials, Coombes considers the nascent field of anthropology and how the episteme developed into an objective scientific discipline during early modern period in Britain. Aesthetic treatises proliferated regarding African culture, which circulated in countries throughout Europe and overtly degraded the quality of the discovered African material culture. As a result, these treaties perpetuated and sustained a hegemonic discourse regarding African racial degeneracy (Coombes 61). Anthropology unequivocally bridged together the popular realm with various science discourses vis-à-vis public display, museums, and cultural exhibitions that rehashed prevailing ideas and notions regarding African racial degeneracy, despite the fact that there was ample material evidence that contradicted and subverted them. These various institutions functioned and developed under the veil of objective science as a way to appeal to the racial attitudes and perceptions held by members of the British public, thereby projecting an image of Africa as strange, primitive, unknown, backwards, savage, and wholly exotic.
German scholar Andrew Zimmerman also considers and assesses these issues in the German context and looks at how the burgeoning scientific discipline of anthropology—which had initially began as a wholly esoteric pursuit—became perceived and defined as “scientific” rather than correlated with traditional humanist and historical branches of thought vis-à-vis the construction of the nation, which Germans referred to as Naturvolker, the natural peoples, as concretely distinct and disparate from the category of the Kulturvolker, or “cultural peoples.” Zimmerman considers the interests, objects, developments, officials policies, and diverse methodologies of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschicht to better understand and elucidate how notions of and ideas about racial superiority developed under this guise of objective “science” within the field of anthropology. The development of anthropology in Germany did so in an idiosyncratic fashion due to locale in the aftermath of World War I. After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles inn 1918, which signaled the end of the Great War and German surrender marked a crucial epoch for the development of the discipline social anthropology because the peace treaty essentially forced Germany to separate itself from its African colonies, thereby propelling German scholars and pedagogues to reorient their studies and academic focus inward, which propelled them to focus more on physical anthropology throughout the 1920s than other European nations did. This shift in focus influenced many intellectual studies to purposely ignore the legacy of German imperialism in favor of constructing more cogent anthropological narratives regarding the scientifically-based anti-Semitism based on prevailing racial logic and sentiments. Zimmerman thus argues that anthropology during the Wilhelmine epoch was wholly shaped by imperialism, which facilitated the process of moving African artifacts and human bodies to and from colonial cultures/societies to Germany. Imperialism thus functioned as an impulse and impetus for the germination of the intellectual and institutional movement designated as “Antihumanism,” an epistemological movement that poignantly altered German culture, society, and history (Zimmerman 4). Both Coombes and Zimmerman underscore how the burgeoning epistemological discipline of anthropology successfully carved out a niche peripheral to both institutional and university infrastructures, thereby becoming tied to various cultural, political, and social institutions. Anthropologists and European scholars retained a formative role in the catalysis and justification of colonial pursuits by stressing the mutual benefits that inhered colonial practices within the early modern context despite the fact that the germination of anthropology as a field rendered colonial authorities of paramount importance while embracing paternalistic sentiments regarding African societies benefitted from colonialism as well.
Anthropological spectacles indeed cultivated nationalistic sentiments by sanitizing images and omitting symbols of brutality that inhered imperialistic practices. Rather, these cultural institutions articulated a litany of ideas that ultimately validated imperial ventures and enterprises by portraying colonial powers such as Britain and Germany as humanitarian while they fervently pursued the advancement of knowledge production. Although the spectacles Coombes describes were grounded in scientific discourses and principles, racist tropes nonetheless permeated them in order to reinforce hegemonic colonial imaginings. The Stanley and Africa exhibit was geared towards educating the imperial masses by stressing the undeniable savagery and brutality of African culture. Other exhibits featured African actors specifically hired to recreate life in African villages as a matter worthy of display that further bought into the Orientalism paradigm and dyadic thinking that undergirds perceptions regarding colonialism (Coombes 85). Such a discourse of authenticity and effigy ironically showcased the reenactment of African life removed from the African context as objective realities. Such exhibitions projected European fears of miscegenation by exaggerating how the subaltern Africans were endemically savage, aggressive, cruel, brutal, and overtly sexist (96). Spectacles as well as museums worked together to create a consensus regarding European national identity that was constructed around the notion of imperialism and empire. Museums, exhibitions, and public modes of display, Coombes argues, transcended social barriers and, within the context of modernity, functioned as spaces for integral social interaction that a vast array of social groups in the audience had access to (124).
Ethnological displays constructed during European imperialism in the early modern era retained a pedagogic function within specific entertainment purposes that fused leisure with exposure to a national narrative regarding the impact of colonialism. Africans and the material culture found in Africa by colonial overlords were put on display for public consumption, amusement, and edification as a means to justify slavery as a mutually beneficial enterprise for the Europeans as well as for the colonized Africans. The notion of effigy within these displays often did not reflect a commensurate reality, but rather showcased an imagined one crafted by the European elite in order to convince others of the necessity of colonialism and the vagaries it entailed.

Works Cited

Coombes, Annie E. Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England. United States: Yale University Press, 1997.
Zimmerman, Andrew. Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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European Impact On Africa: Good Or Bad? Essay Sample. Free Essay Examples - Published Feb 23, 2021. Accessed August 19, 2022.

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