Memorializing colonial genocide in Britain: the case of Tasmania

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Britain is a post-genocidal state, although it (not surprisingly) has no official means for the memorialization of its colonial genocides. Britain cannot however be simply considered amnesiac about its genocidal past, which it has informally memorialized across various cultural genres. This article explores this observation through a case study of the ways in which the genocide of Indigenous Tasmanians has been remembered and indeed memorialized. Accounts of the genocide of Indigenous Tasmanians have been a consistent feature of British museum, literary and academic culture since the 1830s. As such British engagement with genocide in Tasmania offers an interesting example of how genocide can be incorporated into national narratives which rely on neither victimhood or denial. This is a particularly appropriate case study because Indigenous Tasmanians were universally represented as victims of a British ‘extermination’ in the metropole from the outset. Travellers wrote home with tales of violence from the 1820s, and Indigenous Tasmanian communities were constructed as a memory of the stone-age from this point onwards. The decline of the Indigenous population appeared in diverse media: in fine art, in parliament and in print, often as a means to celebrate British sophistication and humanity. This paper will offer an analysis of all of these colonial discourses, and argue that these enduring memories speak to a stable imperial identity in Britain which was, and continues to be, strengthened rather than undermined or disrupted by the allegation of genocide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-462
JournalJournal of Genocide Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2014


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