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Realizing Greater Britain

The South African Constabulary and the Imperial Imposition of the Modern State, 1900−1914


Scott C. Spencer

In anticipation of victory over the two Boer republics in the South African War (1899–1902), British imperial policymakers formed the South African Constabulary (SAC, 1900–1908) to lead reconstruction efforts. Uniquely, policymakers injected two goals of imperial management into the force and its 10,000 men, recruited from the British Isles and settler colonies: integrate the conquered territories into the British Empire and foster an imperial-national adherence to a Greater Britain. Following the war, offi cers and constables attracted the Boers to the empire by suppressing Africans more thoroughly, consistently and systematically than their prior regimes ever had. While some SAC men remained in South Africa following their service, most carried their enhanced white, imperial-national allegiances to the Isles, empire and beyond.

Combining traditional archival with innovative digital research, this book narrates global integration and imperial governance through individuals, from Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and imperialist Alfred Milner to Canadian Mountie Sam Steele, Irish doctor Edward Garraway and, foremost, thousands of SAC men. The author argues that opportunistic British agents carried the apparatus of the coercive, legible and bureaucratic modern state across the British Isles, the empire and the world, leaving challenging legacies for successor governments and former subjects to confront.

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I first came across the South African Constabulary in the National Archives in Kew in the summer of 2006. That’s a lifetime ago, relatively speaking – the same length of time to ascend from kindergarten to high school graduation. My thirteen years of research and writing on the men of the South African Constabulary has lasted longer than the eight-year life of the force. It will be strange to leave them in the past.

One never undertakes a research project like this one by oneself. It started as a dissertation at the University of Virginia. Grants and scholarships allowed me to travel to the United Kingdom, South Africa and Canada and within the United States to conduct archival research with my digital camera, and then read those tens of thousands of images back home in Charlottesville, Medford and Melrose. I would like to thank at UVA the Corcoran Department of History, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Alderman Library Scholars’ Lab and the Raven Society. I would also like to thank the John Anson Kittredge Educational Fund, Lynde and the Harry Bradley Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the International Council for Canadian Studies.

At the University of Virginia, many intellectual mentors assisted me with my thinking on imperial governance and identity formation within the British Empire. While some have passed, retired or moved to other universities, and some remain in Charlottesville, all contributed to this...

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