Youth Culture and the Valorization of Settler Colonialism

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 4:10 PM
Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Brian Rouleau, Texas A&M University
This paper proposes to investigate the larger universe of youth culture within several settler colonial societies. At the time, youth throughout the expansionary Anglo-American world played a crucial part in the construction of imperial orthodoxy and the articulation of understandings regarding the global responsibilities of “civilized” peoples. The study of children’s books and reading habits, as well as the literary creations of young people themselves, highlights the significance of adolescent popular culture in the production and re-production of empire. Authors justified their respective country’s expansionist impulses by portraying empire as a gift to posterity, while at the same time attempting to enlist young people as future stewards of national and global enterprise.

Thus the juvenile periodical Boys of the Empire presented didactic adventure stories so that, in the editor’s words, Britain’s youth might “make themselves in all respects worthy […] as sons of the Empire.” Australian children received similar exhortation about the necessity of civilization’s expansion—the aboriginal’s eradication and “the spread of the master nation”—while U.S. kids read books from the multivolume Frontier Series, which encouraged American youth to extol “those brave men and women who drove out the savage from the Great West, and laid the foundations of that mighty empire, of which we Americans of to-day are so justly proud.” Expansionist foreign policy, authors and ideologues knew, could not be perpetuated without efforts to inculcate a sense of imperial-mindedness among those who would one day find themselves responsible for maintaining the settlement projects previous generations had worked to erect. Yet the transfer of ideas is never so simple as the rote acceptance, among young people, of what they have been urged to understand. Thus this paper will also investigate creative spaces opened up by youth culture where children sometimes challenged that which was presented to them as orthodoxy.