Nineteenth-century Britain could be seen as the first information society in history - for the simple reason that it accumulated kwledge from the far-flung corners of its empire much faster than it could easily digest it. The British Empire presented a vast administrative challenge: by meeting that challenge though maps and surveys, censuses and statistics, Victorian administrators developed a new symbiosis of kwledge and power. The narratives of the late 19th century are full of fantasies about an empire united t by force or civil control but by information. In The Imperial Archive , Thomas Richards analyzes the ways in which the Victorian organization of kwledge was enlisted into the service of the British Empire, as fields like biology, geography and geology began to function almost as extensions of British intelligence. Richards argues that the techniques invented for managing this information explosion established an enduring axis between kwledge and the state, and also suggests a powerful new direction for the vel. He illustrates his argument by careful reference to a variety of institutions (above all the growth of the museum) and texts, including works by Rudyard Kipling, Erskine Childers, H.G. Wells and Bram Stoker.
Thomas Richards is Associate Professor of English and American literature at Harvard University. He is the author of The Commodity Culture of Victorian Britain: Advertising and Spectacle 1851-1914 and The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire. From the Hardcover edition.