News from "Burmah": The Role of the English Press in the Making of the British Empire in Burma

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Rachatapong Malithong

Abstract

This thesis studies the reportage in the English language press, primarily in Calcutta (but also covering Burma and Britain) of the Second and Third Anglo-Burmese Wars of 1852 and 1885, respectively. The wars were overwhelmingly the result of a combination of aggressive mercantilism and imperial territorial ambitions. Following frequent commercial disputes with the Burmese government, which customarily imposed a strict monopoly on trade, local British mercantile communities in Burma looked to wider audiences, including the British authorities, with a hope that it would result in political interference. This circumstance opened the way for the English newspapers, principally in Calcutta, to make crucial contributions to the British imperial expansion in Burma through news reporting. As this thesis demonstrates, the press made use of news to produce a political thrust for the Anglo-Burmese Wars in the early 1850s and 1885 - the scope of study which has little been explored. This thesis presents three complexities in the press news reporting on British imperial expansion in Burma. First, the dynamics of news making is taken into examination. This approach explores an internal structure of the press, in particular, political and cultural roots of each newspaper and how they contributed to the construction of news. Run by and closely associated with people who had vested interests in the British Empire, such as the mercantile classes and missionaries, the newspapers became a political platform for these interest groups. They seized commercial disputes between British mercantile classes in Burma and the Burmese authorities in the early 1850s and 1885 as an opportunity to advocate for intervention - and, later, the annexation of Burma. Secondly, the production of Burma's news throws light on the cross-border collaboration between diverse imperial actors in various locations. This is important for revising histories of Empire that inadvertently continue to reproduce metropolitan-periphery dichotomies. The thesis shows how, in addition to the people working in the newsrooms in Calcutta and London, news and information from local British residents in Burma - in particular, merchants and missionaries - significantly enabled newspapers to push for British intervention. Newspaper editors, policy makers, merchants and informants worked together as part of a complex imperial web, furthering both their own interests and positions as well as the overall interest of Empire. Thus, this approach will broaden our understanding of the complexity of British imperialism in Burma, where diverse imperial actors were working in close collaboration to make the conquest of Burma possible. Finally, the thesis also offers an important footnote to the history of the press in the nineteenth century. While the advent of the telegraph has been hailed as a revolution in news-making of the time, the thesis shows how the elaborate claims for telegraph revolutionising news need moderation in the Burmese context for two reasons. One, telegrams made for speedier messages but did not change the content and perspective of the news produced. Two, telegraphy opened up direct channels of communication for officials, thereby leading to a relative decline in the importance of the printed press as the sole supplier of news.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2019