Logo Logo
Switch Language to German

Menger, Tom ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7673-9651 (19. June 2022): Concealing Colonial Comparability. British Exceptionalism, Imperial Violence, and The Dynamiting of Cave Refuges in Southern Africa, 1879-1897. In: Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 50, No. 5: pp. 860-889 [PDF, 466kB]

[thumbnail of Menger_Concealing colonial comparability_Accepted Manuscript.pdf]
Accepted Version
Download (466kB)


The 1845 Dahra Massacre, in which French troops killed hundreds of Algerians by ‘smoking out’ their cave refuges, instantly became (and remains) an emblematic case of colonial violence. In Britain, this atrocity came to stand for everything British colonialism supposedly was not, and thus buttressed the claim to British exceptionalism as having a supposedly ‘better’, less violent colonialism. And yet, such attacks on caves had featured regularly in nineteenth-century British warfare in southern Africa, smoke being supplemented by dynamite from the 1870s onwards, cumulating in the little-known but extensive cave dynamitings in MaShonaland 1896-1897. This article reconstructs that long history, describing not only how practitioners accepted the dynamitings largely unquestioned, but also asking how at the time the British claim to exceptionalism was sustained despite the more than apparent resemblances to foreign cases. Apologists of empire did not cover up the violence but rather defended it; what they chose to remain silent on were the foreign analogies – concealed comparability was key to successfully sustaining British exceptionalism. Given the continued influence of exceptionalist arguments in public debate and historiography, this article finally makes a case to more forcefully place histories of British colonial violence next to those of other empires in an explicitly transimperial framework.

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item