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COMMUNICATING EMPIRE: Gauging Telegraphy’s Impact on Ceylon’s Nineteenth-Century Colonial Government Administration

Fletcher, Paul

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For long, historians have considered the telegraph as a tool of power, one that replaced the colonial government’s a posteriori structures of control with a preventive system of authority. They have suggested that this revolution empowered colonial governments, making them more effective in their strategies of communication and rule. In this dissertation, I test these assumptions and analyze the use of telegraphic communication by Ceylon’s colonial government during the second half of the nineteenth-century; to determine not only the impact of the telegraph on political decision-making but also how the telegraph and politics became embedded together, impacting on colonial government and its decision-making and on everyday administrative processes. I examine telegraphic messages alongside other forms of correspondence, such as letters and memos, to gauge the extent to which the telegraph was used to communicate information between London and Ceylon, and the role that the telegraph played locally, within Ceylon, between the Governor General and the island’s regional officials. I argue that, contrary to conventional ideas, the telegraph did not transform colonial government practices. Rather, the medium became entrenched in a multi-layered system of communication, forming one part of a web of colonial correspondence tactics. While its role was purposeful, its importance and capacities were nevertheless circumscribed and limited.

Document type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Wenzlhuemer, Prof. Dr. Roland
Date of thesis defense: 2013
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2015 14:31
Date: 2015
Faculties / Institutes: Philosophische Fakultät > Historisches Seminar
DDC-classification: 940 General history of Europe
950 General history of Asia Far East
990 General history of other areas
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