Accepted paper:

The theft of modernity: rethinking indigenous and colonial histories and their futures


Elizabeth Cory-Pearce

Paper short abstract:

The notion that history tends towards perfection through intervention clearly informed British missionary and colonial agendas. This paper attempts to stimulate a reorientation of our thinking by revealing how indigenous people were directly involved in projects of modernisation.

Paper long abstract:

The Theft of Modernity: Rethinking Indigenous and Colonial Histories and their Futures The notion of a human history that tends towards perfection through virtuous action and intervention clearly informed the missionary and colonial agenda of Victorian Britain in places such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Yet post-colonial scholarship, in its concern to highlight relations of colonial dominance, has continued to endorse such a western 'progress' narrative of history, albeit with its morals reversed. This paper attempts to stimulate a reorientation of our thinking by drawing on a range of scholarship that suggests the extent to which indigenous people were directly involved in projects of modernisation, including missionary conversion, trade, collecting, exhibiting, and anthropological research. The extent of this involvement is often met with by surprise by scholars. I want to suggest the very reason for this surprise is our deep-rooted conceptual assumption of the direction of historical change, by looking at the central role played by indigenous people in the establishment of early industries (Maori tour guiding industries, Australian Aboriginal craft industries that later became indigenous art markets, and Canadian/North American First Nations hop-picking industries). These were clearly orchestrated along indigenous cosmological and socio-political lines. A specific outcome of my project is to link colonial archives in Britain which record early songs and dances with present day Maori performing arts instructors whose specific aim is to impact upon youth health and fitness. Their success in this area is proving far greater than various state health intervention programmes, the reasons for which prompt reflection on what human perfectibility is.

panel P32
Perfection: histories, technologies, cosmologies