Rewriting Empire: The South African War, The English Popular Press, and Edwardian Imperial Reform

Marshall, Lauren, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schuker, Stephen, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the ways in which English newspaper correspondents during the South African War utilized their commentaries and dispatches from the front to expose British imperial weaknesses. Their willingness to challenge aggressive censorship campaigns and jingoistic propaganda provided the groundwork and momentum necessary for the military, economic, and social reform efforts that commenced during the Edwardian era in England. Those reporters, whether politically conservative or liberal, exploited their press positions and socio-political connections to transform the meanings of patriotism and imperial duty. Exposing its failings to the domestic population was the most effective way to save their beloved empire. I emphasize critical war events, such as the Mafeking siege and the Treaty of Vereeniging, as springboards from which the journalists launched their reform crusades.

Correspondents played an important role in shifting the power relationship among the press, the government, and the British public in the early twentieth century. My study analyzes Fleet Street’s heightened efforts to shape popular opinions and influence policymaking in a climate of intense media saturation. Such struggles to control and manipulate information remain commonplace in twenty-first century nation-states, rendering my paper important in terms of its modern relevance. My project pulls mainly from newspapers as primary sources, which I analyze not for their accuracy but for their impact and significance as historical documents. Drawing on archival research conducted across England in 2011 and 2015, this project contends that South African War correspondents played a vital role in initiating conversations about much-needed imperial improvements that helped to stabilize the British Empire in the years preceding World War I.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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