Comedians to Teach With #1: Do You Have a Flag?

Like any lecturer with an internet-enabled classroom, I like to show the occasional video clip.  Some are serious, but there’s no better reward for a good class than a little bit of comedy.  This bit is from Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill tour.

Slightly serious commentary below the fold…

The reason I show this in class is that there’s a lot of truth to it, though no genuine imperialist ever got quite so blunt.

European explorers tended to interpret the power structures of whatever societies they met in European terms, calling leaders of all sorts “kings” or “queens” – the illustrator of the Catalan Atlas (c.1375) drew the king of Mali with a European-style crown and scepter – they also tended to the sovereignty of those leaders as somehow lesser than their European counterparts.  Not having a flag is a jokey equivalent for all the more serious ways European colonists established a claim to superiority.  As historian Michael Adas explained more than twenty years ago, in his Machines as the Measure of Men, the basis for those claims had a habit of changing over time, and not usually in favor of non-Europeans.

Oh, and it really did help to back up your claims to moral or intellectual superiority with superior firepowerMore on that later …

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