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Planting Empire, Cultivating Subjects
British Malaya, 1786–1941

£24.99

  • Publication planned for: July 2019
  • availability: Not yet published - available from
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108732086

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  • Planting Empire, Cultivating Subjects examines the stories of ordinary people to explore the internal workings of colonial rule. Chinese, Indians, and Malays learned about being British through the plantations, towns, schools, and newspapers of a modernizing colony. Yet they got mixed messages from the harsh, racial hierarchies of sugar and rubber estates, and cosmopolitan urban societies. Empire meant mobility, fluidity, and hybridity, as well as the enactment of racial privilege and rigid ethnic differences. Using sources ranging from administrative files, court transcripts and oral interviews to periodicals and material culture, Professor Lees explores the nature and development of colonial governance, and the ways in which Malayan residents experienced British rule in towns and plantations. This is an innovative study demonstrating how empire brought with it both oppression and economic opportunity, shedding new light on the shifting nature of colonial subjecthood and identity, as well as the memory and afterlife of empire.

    • Proposes a more complex view of colonialism that takes into account shared sovereignties, multi-ethnic populations, and widely different styles of governance
    • Situates the history of British Malaya in its global context, recognizing its importance to the Indian Ocean and the Southern Pacific areas, as well as the world economy
    • Demonstrates the impact of British rule on ordinary people as they migrated long distances into a frontier area
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Originally conceived as two separate manuscripts, Lees' monograph uses Ho Enseng's earlier notion of empires as hybrid spaces as a launching point to compare rural and urban lifeworlds under colonialism. Employing British Malaya as a case study to interrogate the 'internal workings' of colonial power, the author convincingly demonstrates that relationships between rulers and the ruled were as complex as they were conflicted. … The questions she asks will interest social historians working on imperialism, urbanization, migration, labour, and commodity production: questions regarding the extent to which colonialism nurtured social mobility, cross-cultural learning, and new belongings within diasporas.' Geoffrey K. Pakiam, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

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    Product details

    • Publication planned for: July 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108732086
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 mm
    • availability: Not yet published - available from
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction
    Part I. Nineteenth-Century Foundations:
    1. The birth of plantation colonialism
    2. Body politics in a plural society
    3. New towns on the Malayan frontier
    4. Urban civil society
    Part II. The Early Twentieth Century:
    5. Rubber reconstructs Malaya
    6. Cosmopolitan modernism in Malayan towns
    7. Managing Malayan towns
    8. Multiple allegiances in a cosmopolitan colony
    9. Epilogue: remembering empire
    10. Bibliography.

  • Author

    Lynn Hollen Lees, University of Pennsylvania
    Lynn Hollen Lees is co-director of the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centers on European cities, their social organization, and their welfare institutions, with recent publications including Global Society: The World since 1900 (2013), with Pamela K. Crossley and John W. Servos. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rotary Foundation. She has also spent time as an exchange professor at University College London, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and the University of Diponegoro in Indonesia.

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