Foreword
mrinalini sinha
Antoinette Burton is associated more closely than most with what today
passes under the sign of the ‘‘new’’ imperial history. This identification is
both a fitting and yet an inadequate tribute to Burton’s extraordinarily
rich and generative scholarly oeuvre. It is fitting because there are few
who can match Burton in the quantity or in the quality of her scholarly
interventions on the state of British and of British imperial historiography.
She, along with a handful of scholars, has produced a body of work whose
impact has been nothing short of transformative as regards the ways in
which scholars study empires and imperialism. This body of work, new in
itself, has rejuvenated several subfields. Consequently, she has often been
on the front lines of battles that have periodically erupted over the changes
in the contours of imperial historiography. Yet the equation of Burton’s
oeuvre with the ‘‘new’’ imperial history is also incomplete and inade-
quate. One of the hallmarks of Burton’s scholarship has always been a
persistent questioning that refuses to settle comfortably within the con-
gealed boundaries of a stable field. She should not be reduced to the
poster child for the demarcation of a circumscribed field of study or noted
mainly for an allegiance to an a priori approach to the subject under study.
This volume, more than any of Burton’s numerous individual contri-
butions, and certainly more than the polemical pieces among them, is
unique precisely because it brings out this particular, and often over-
looked, element of her multidimensional oeuvre.
In this sense, then, Empire in Question reintroduces Burton as a scholar
and frames her scholarship anew. To be sure, the specialist as well as the
neophyte is likely to be familiar with—or, at least, to have heard of—many
of the previously published essays in this volume. Several of them, after
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