Imperial places in urban contexts: architecture as carrier of an imperial culture in Europe, 1850-1950: The case of the Missionshaus, Basel

M.P. Groten

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


The entanglement of regions and societies that characterised colonialism has led historians to speak of empires as ambiguous ‘imperial spaces’, constituted by fluid and dynamic networks that connected colonies with each other and with the metropole. These networks worked both ways, shaping not only the culture, politics and economy of the colonies but also those of the metropoles. Here, an ‘imperial culture’ developed which normalised and propagated Europeans’ colonial rule.
However, the concept of imperial space has not yet explicitly been connected to the study of imperial culture. This paper is a proposal to link the two together with a firm theoretical basis by coining the complementary concept of imperial place: the local nodal points of the networks that constituted imperial space. Drawing from geographers’ notion of place as space given meaning, it argues that it was specific sites invested with specific meanings through which empire was lived and influenced daily life in Europe.
The paper sees the urban landscapes of European cities entangled with colonies in Africa and elsewhere as the habitats of such imperial places: buildings that both in their use and in the meanings they were invested with, contributed to the development of an imperial culture. They played an important role in forming European ‘imperial cities’ in both cultural and economic terms and made architecture in the cityscape a ‘carrier’ of imperial culture, a way through which empire became commonplace. Examples of imperial places can be found in numerous domains, from the obvious colonial ministries and ethnographic museums, to factories where labourers processed colonial produce and missionaries’ headquarters.
The paper approaches imperial places in a number of countries – the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland – from an explicitly European perspective, in response to recent calls for more comparative and integrative history-writing of European imperialism not limited to specific national contexts. It therefore asks how local, national, imperial and European identities literally found their place and interacted at specific places that played important roles in imperial networks.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2018
EventUrban Renewal and Resilience. Cities in comparative perspective: 14th International Conference of the European Association for Urban History - Rome
Duration: 29 Aug 20181 Sept 2018


ConferenceUrban Renewal and Resilience. Cities in comparative perspective
Abbreviated titleUrban Renewal and Resilience (EAUH)


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