Duncan Bell

Feb 12, 2021

Dreamworlds of Race

Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America

Princeton University Press 2020

Published in December 2020, Duncan Bell’s Dreamworlds of Race: Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America (Princeton University Press, 2020) concludes his loose trilogy of books about the metropolitan settler imaginary in the British Empire (see The Idea of Greater Britain, 2007; and Reordering the World, 2016). In this conversation with host Yi Ning Chang, Duncan brings us across the porous boundary between international relations and the history of political thought to discuss the racial utopia that captured the imagination of white thinkers at the turn of the twentieth century. Traversing the North Atlantic with figures such as Andrew Carnegie and H. G. Wells, Duncan reflects on the wide range of topics treated in this rich book, from sovereignty and citizenship to steampunk and Afro-modern literary traditions, before finally reflecting on current trends in the scholarship on utopianism.

Between the late nineteenth century and the First World War, an ocean-spanning network of prominent individuals advocated the unification of Britain and the United States. They dreamt of the final consolidation of the Angloworld. Scholars, journalists, politicians, businessmen, and science fiction writers invested the “Anglo-Saxons” with extraordinary power. The most ambitious hailed them as a people destined to bring peace and justice to the earth. More modest visions still imagined them as likely to shape the twentieth century. Dreamworlds of Race explores this remarkable moment in the intellectual history of racial domination, political utopianism, and world order.

Focusing on a quartet of extraordinary figures—Andrew Carnegie, W. T. Stead, Cecil J. Rhodes, and H. G. Wells—Duncan Bell shows how unionists on both sides of the Atlantic reimagined citizenship, empire, patriotism, race, war, and peace in their quest to secure global supremacy. Yet even as they dreamt of an Anglo-dominated world, the unionists disagreed over the meaning of race, the legitimacy of imperialism, the nature of political belonging, and the ultimate form and purpose of unification. The racial dreamworld was an object of competing claims and fantasies. Exploring speculative fiction as well as more conventional forms of political writing, Bell reads unionist arguments as expressions of the utopianism circulating through fin-de-siècle Anglo-American culture, and juxtaposes them with pan-Africanist critiques of racial domination and late twentieth-century fictional narratives of Anglo-American empire.

Yi Ning Chang is a PhD student in political theory at the Department of Government at Harvard University. She works on the history of contemporary political thought, postcolonial theory, and the global histories of anticolonialism and anti-imperialism in Southeast Asia. Yi Ning can be reached at yiningchang@g.harvard.edu.

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Yi Ning Chang

Yi Ning Chang is a PhD student in political theory at the Department of Government at Harvard University. She works on the history of contemporary political thought, postcolonial theory, and the global histories of anticolonialism and anti-imperialism in Southeast Asia. Yi Ning can be reached at yiningchang@g.harvard.edu.

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