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Fighting Words

Fifteen Books that Shaped the Postcolonial World


Edited By Dominic Davies, Erica Lombard and Benjamin Mountford

Can a book change the world? If books were integral to the creation of the imperial global order, what role have they played in resisting that order throughout the twentieth century? To what extent have theories and movements of anti-imperial and anticolonial resistance across the planet been shaped by books as they are read across the world?

Fighting Words responds to these questions by examining how the book as a cultural form has fuelled resistance to empire in the long twentieth century. Through fifteen case studies that bring together literary, historical and book historical perspectives, this collection explores the ways in which books have circulated anti-imperial ideas, as they themselves have circulated as objects and commodities within regional, national and transnational networks. What emerges is a complex portrait of the vital and multifaceted role played by the book in both the formation and the form of anticolonial resistance, and the development of the postcolonial world.

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Chapter 5: Wake Up, India: A Plea for Social Reform (1913): Annie Besant’s Anticolonial Networks (Priyasha Mukhopadhyay)


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5 Wake Up, India: A Plea for Social Reform (1913): Annie Besant’s Anticolonial Networks


Annie Besant’s Wake Up, India: A Plea for Social Reform was a series of eight lectures delivered in Madras in 1913 and published later that year. Besant’s lectures focused on a range of subjects, including mass education in India, women’s work, industries and foreign travel. While the lectures may not have had the level of circulation or influence that Besant’s Why I Became a Theosophist (1889) did, this chapter makes a claim for their role as a precursor to anti-imperial politics in early twentieth-century India. To that end, it focuses on Besant as a public intellectual and her text as one designed to have an impact on its listeners and readers, leading to subsequent social reform efforts, with the ultimate goal of Home Rule for India.

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