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date: 02 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

With the aim of interrogating material culture in the origins of the globalized discipline of history, this chapter considers some objects of historical narration in the wider world. The focus is on how these material objects engaged with the physicality of print. There were entanglements and layerings of materiality, across the problematic and traditional divides of oral and textual, ephemeral and durable, localized and global. Two different contexts that experienced the invasive power of British and Euro-American colonialism, nineteenth-century Sri Lanka and New Zealand, are brought together. From Sri Lanka, palm-leaf manuscripts, which narrate the moment of British arrival and warfare with the British, are studied for their flexibility, which set the terms for the national and racial politics of colonial print histories. From Aotearoa New Zealand, genealogies charting ancestral origin are studied for their afterlife in print. This comparison between Sri Lanka and New Zealand allows the plural origins of the discipline of history to be tracked. These plural origins were flattened over time into a connected and globalized imperial narrative of uniformity as colonial print was diffused in the form of books and periodicals and as these materials constructed a linear history of progress. To understand the encompassing power of imperialism is to see empire as a collection of material culture, which generated the meaning of history as a universal narrative in words and print.

Keywords: world history, British Empire, Sri Lanka history, New Zealand history, palm-leaf manuscripts, genealogies, orality, textuality, print, origins of history

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