Ryan Patterson

Discipline: History

Project Summary

My dissertation explores the portrayal and reception of novel military technology as constructed spectacle in the popular coverage of the British Abyssinian (1868) and Ashanti (1873-74) expeditions. I demonstrate that new weapons such as the machine gun, the Hale rocket, and the breach-loading cannon served symbolic roles in a technophile discourse that cast African expansion as part of a conquest of the natural world.

My dissertation provides a cultural history of one facet of the British imperial mindset. There was a growing confidence in mid-Victorian Britain of the Empire's dominant position in the world, focused particularly on technological development and embodied in exhibition culture. During the 1860s and 1870s, this confidence was increasingly extended to the prospect of expansion into Africa. This involved a substantial development of the 'idea' of Africa and the British place in relation to it.

The modes of public representation of novel military technologies (those technologies that were widely perceived as advanced in Britain) represent a case study within this dynamic, a window into the developing culture of imperial confidence. These two campaigns also provide windows into the shifting and contested contemporary ideas of race, otherness, and the natural world.

Supervisory Team

Professor Jeremy Black and Dr. Richard Noakes

Wider Research Interests

I study the ways that society projects its identities onto the military and use military history as a window back onto historical cultures. My work is anchored in military history, but brings in the histories of newspapers and journalism; medicine and ethnography; geography and exploration; grand exhibitions and international prestige.