Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

The Railroad to Opression



I think railroads are a great symbol for colonization. They symbolize the oppression and exploitation that comes with colonization. This is a Bengal-Nagpur Railway Construction, Photograph No. 18 from the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Construction collection. The year it was taken was 1890, but the photographer is unknown. When you look closely at this photograph you can see hundreds of Indians working on this railroad. They are all carrying lumber to the railroad site. This image is reminiscent to popular depictions of slaves building the great Egyptian pyramids. Also the workers have very little clothing on. They are all working in a small man made crater. I think all of these workers are lower class individuals. They don’t have a lot of clothes on and they are doing very hard labor. I would also assume they are working because they are forced to work by someone else. It was probably worked forced on them by the white man. I wonder who is in charge in this photograph. I do not see any individual who looks like he is in charge. They all seem to have the same clothes. I also wonder what this railroad is to be used for. Will it be used for military purposes or industrial? Possibly it will be used for both. There is only one safe bet, and that is that this railroad helped the English to control and oppress their “subjects” the Indians.  A railroad symbolizes a step in the colonization of an area. The colonizers are obviously constructing railroads to make an area more accessible. The accessibility will lead to more influence from the colonizers, in the form of more people and more of their own culture. Building a railroad is one big step towards trying to bring a colonizing culture to the natives. Another important thing to notice is that the natives are the ones building the railroad. Just like in the other photograph. It is a common theme in colonization. The oppressor will force the oppressed to contribute to their own oppression. You can see it in the military, taxes, and also infrastructure. Not only will India workers build this railroad, which will in turn make the power of the English stronger, but Indian workers will also build the churches that the English use to try and “save” them with Christianity. The list goes on, but the railroad is just a small sample of how vicious the cycle of oppression can become when a people are colonized.


This photograph is titled Estacion de Maltrata. It was taken in the late 1800’s by Abel Briquet. This image depicts a small building next to a railroad construction site. In the background there are some great mountains. There are a handful of workers standing around the railroad, and also a couple on the roof of the building. They are all wearing similar clothing. It is hard to tell who is in charge in this photograph. I appears if everyone is taking a break. They all have the same clothing on which makes me think that they are all in a similar class. It appears that these workers are Mexican. I would like to know what the two workers on top of the roof are doing. Are they lookouts? And if so, for what? Also, what cities does this railroad connect? I want to know the benefit of building the railroad. I wonder if the Mexican workers receive a fair wage.

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