Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Informal Empire

Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture

2004
Author:

Robert D. Aguirre

Informal Empire

Widens the definition of imperialism with a multifaceted study of Victorian culture

Behind the ancient artifacts exhibited in our museums lies a secret past—of travel, desire, and even theft. Informal Empire recaptures the history of the artifacts from Mexico and Central America that stirred Victorian interest. Robert D. Aguirre shows how the British colonial experience in Africa and the Near East gave rise to an “informal imperialism” in Mexico and Central America.

Robert Aguirre gathers a wealth of historical information to show that the British were as fascinated with Mexico and Central America as they were with Africa and Asia. A must-read book well beyond Victorian studies.

Nancy Armstrong, Brown University

Behind the ancient artifacts exhibited in our museums lies a secret past—of travel, desire, the quest for knowledge, and even theft. Such is the case with the objects of Mesoamerican culture so avidly collected, cataloged, and displayed by the British in the nineteenth century. Informal Empire recaptures the history of those artifacts from Mexico and Central America that stirred Victorian interest—a history that reveals how such objects and the cultures they embodied were incorporated into British museum collections, panoramas, freak shows, adventure novels, and records of imperial administrators.

Robert D. Aguirre draws on a wealth of previously untapped historical information to show how the British colonial experience in Africa and the Near East gave rise to an “informal imperialism” in Mexico and Central America. Aguirre’s work helps us to understand what motivated the British to beg, borrow, buy, and steal from peripheral cultures they did not govern. With its original insights, Informal Empire points to a new way of thinking about British imperialism and, more generally, about the styles and forms of imperialism itself.

Informal Empire

Robert D. Aguirre is associate professor of English at Wayne State University. He is the coeditor (with Ross Forman) of the forthcoming Connecting Continents: Britain and Latin America, 1780–1900.

Informal Empire

Robert Aguirre gathers a wealth of historical information to show that the British were as fascinated with Mexico and Central America as they were with Africa and Asia. A must-read book well beyond Victorian studies.

Nancy Armstrong, Brown University

Informal Empire is a carefully researched, well-written, and highly interdisciplinary study.

Kirsten Silva Gruesz, author of Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing

Aguirre’s fresh approach to imperialism stimulates alternative thinking among Hispanists who bring other information to the history of the region discussed. His scholarly thoroughness will cause everyone to work harder in the future to balance what he says against what we have always said about imperialism and nineteenth-century Hispanic America.

Hispanic American Historical Review

Aguirre introduces new ideas about both British Imperialism and imperialism in general. He provides a fascinating history and analysis of the great collections of imperial objects.

British Bulletin of Publications

Aguirre’s study convincingly illustrates the successes and failures of the British informal empire and is an interesting and very much quotable investigation.

Dissidences: Hispanic Journal of Theory and Criticism

Aguirre’s work is worthy of the long scholarly tradition that, in part, it explores. He reveals its darker side. He speaks for those who had no voice and wrote no history.

Journal of British Studies

Informal Empire makes a strong case for the generative value of such an extranational vantage point while demonstrating that-for better or

new methodologies inevitably alter not only the canon of relevant works but also the very parameters of the literary. Aguirre excels at providing historical context.”

Informal Empire is well-written and engaging. Providing a nuanced treatment of important, and relatively unfamiliar terrain.

The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History

Recognizing that scholarship has to a large degree ignored the transatlantic cultural exchange that took place between Britain and Latin America in the nineteenth century, Robert Aguirre fleshes out this complex relationship by focusing on the untold stories behind the objects of culture. A very well conceived and executed work.

Material Culture

His research stands as superb achievement: Aguirre has mined hitherto unexamined archives in the Foreign and Colonial Offices and painstakingly reconstructed specific exhibitions from periodicals, advertisements, and ephemera, rather than generalizing about the panorama or the freak show.

SEL: Studies in English Literature

Aguirre delivers a rich historical narrative of how Britons, private citizens and public servants alike, sought out and transported ancient artifacts to London for display in museums, private collections and exhibitions. The author convincingly expands the geographical scope of those who study British imperialism and perhaps in eerily similar ways to how Mexican artifacts were meant to encourage Victorian investors, will hopefully spark much more scholarly interest in this area.

Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

Aguirre has written an important book that usefully expands and complicates our notion of colonial discourse.

CLIO

Aguirre’s engagement with this timely topic makes his text all the more appealing for museum studies, literary studies, and imperial history. I have already taught this 2005 release twice in history seminars, and imagine that it will continue to help students and scholars find their ways beyond the exhibitionary complex.

Lara Kriegel, Victorian Studies

Informal Empire

contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

chapter 1 “Open for Inspection”: Mexico at the Egyptian Hall in 1824
chapter 2 Buena Vista: Panoramas and the Visualization of Conquest
chapter 3 Agencies of the Letter: The British Museum, the Foreign Office, and the Ruins of Central America
chapter 4 Freak Show: The Aztec Children and the Ruins of Race

Coda: H. Rider Haggard and Imperial Nostalgia

Notes

Index