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  • Sarah Johns

Sarah Johns

The Political, the Personal, and the Personified: 18th Century British Political Caricature Art and the Formation of the British Empire’s Identity

Project Description

An image is often capable of communicating a number of things to a viewer, and political caricature in the eighteenth-century British metropole is one clear example of this. Political caricature became a useful tool for the wealthy—especially white men—to engage in discussions about the power of the British Empire as it continued to expand and grow in strength in comparison to other European Empires at the time. Even so, with the coming of the American conflict, things changed. No longer could these men be sure of what a British identity entailed. A family fractured, changing gender norms, evolving concepts of race and contact with Indigenous communities, and a rising middle class all threatened the conservative social norms that bolstered what this audience believed to be the “ideal” British identity. In this paper, I examine the ways in which colonial anxiety—the expressed uncertainty about the state of the ideal British identity after the expansion of the empire—was present in caricature art created in eighteenth century Britain, thereby reflecting the concerns these men had about how changing norms of family, race, gender, and class could threaten their ability to exert control politically, socially, and economically. In the process, I will argue that the caricatures are important meeting places for discussions about these anxieties while also being essential for the enforcement of conservative social norms during a period of rapid change.

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