Kennedy, Dane K. 1951- (Dane Keith Kennedy)

views updated

Kennedy, Dane K. 1951- (Dane Keith Kennedy)


Born May 30, 1951, in Bonne Terre, MO; son of William J. (a city council member) and Helen Kennedy; married Martha Hoeprich (a curator), June 16, 1974; children: Alene Elizabeth. Education: University of California—Berkeley, B.A., 1973, M.A., 1975, Ph.D., 1981. Politics: Social Democrat.


Office—Department of History, George Washington University, 801 22nd St. NW, Ste. 335, Washington, DC 20052; fax: 202-994-6231. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, educator. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, assistant professor, 1981-87, associate professor, 1987-94, professor of history, 1994-2000; George Washington University, Washington, DC, Elmer Louis Kayser Professor, 2000—.


World History Association, North American Conference on British Studies, American Historical Association, Royal Historical Society.


Islands of White: Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1939, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1987.

The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1996.

Britain and Empire, 1880-1945, Longman/Pearson (London, England), 2002.

The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

(Editor, with Durba Ghosh) Decentring Empire: Britain, India, and the Transcolonial World, Orient Longman (Hyderabad, India), 2006.

Contributor to history journals and to the Nation.


Historian Dane K. Kennedy is the author of numerous books on the British Empire both in Africa and in India, as well as the author of the well-received 2005 title, The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World. Speaking with Brett Bennett for British Scholar, Kennedy explained his fascination for that era: "The far-from-inspiring truth is that my interest in British imperial history may have originated with my juvenile enthusiasm for the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and my decision to memorize Kipling's ‘Gunga Din’ for a sixth-grade poetry reciting contest. My fate was sealed as an undergraduate at Berkeley during the height of the Vietnam War. There was no doubt in my mind that this was an imperial war, and thus the subject of empires acquired a contemporary relevance for me." Kennedy once told CA: "The lively nostalgia in recent years for British colonial life—evoked in Out of Africa, A Passage to India, and other popular entertainments—taps the seminal experience of the encounter between the West and the ‘other.’ Of course, it does so in a highly sanitized and mythologized form, clearing it of all violence, bewilderment, anxiety, guilt, desire, and fear. My own work attempts to retrieve that experience as it was felt, understood, and articulated by European colonizers. How did these representatives of the West respond to the alien environment and people they encountered? How far was their response mediated by the cultural baggage they brought with them? How did they incorporate their experience into a comprehensible pattern of meaning? These are the questions that give my books, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj and Islands of White: Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1939, their shape and purpose."

Kennedy further described those two books in his CA interview. "What interests me is the way British imperialism, and especially the forms it took in colonial Africa and India, has reshaped identities and restructured societies, laying much of the groundwork for what we now tend to call globalization. My first book, Islands of White, examined the hermetic, defensive cultures that white settlers in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) created for themselves, and the contradictions that arose as they sought to subordinate Africans to their economic endeavors while segregating them from their social sphere. In The Magic Mountains I explored similar themes in the context of the British Raj in India, where hill stations came to serve the ruling elite both as social havens from entanglements with colonial subjects and political centers for the exercise of imperial authority." Reviewing the latter title in the Geographical Review, Judith Kenny noted that a "study of the British hill stations in India provides an opportunity to continue the story of nineteenth-century European climatic anxieties about the tropics." Thus, though he had changed continents from his first work, Kennedy was still pursuing the same basic theme of imperialism and its effects. Kenny went on to praise The Magic Mountains as being a work "of consistently high quality," concluding that it was "an important contribution to our understanding of the complexities of the British Raj's imaginative geographies and the exercise of imperial authority in India."

Kennedy further noted in his interview: "My current research extends these questions geographically and temporally. I want to explore the circumstances that gave British colonial communities throughout the world a distinctively hermetic, defensive character. I also want to examine how these closed societies disintegrated under the pressures of nationalism and decolonization. All my work is preoccupied by the clash of cultures and, more broadly, by culture itself—‘the webs of significance’ as Clifford Geertz calls it. The colonial encounter is marvelously suited for exposing how a people give meaning and order to their world, defining it in terms of race or class or gender or some other network of abstractions. One can trace in the experiences of European colonists abroad the process by which a society comes into being as a self-conscious entity, a culture, shaping experience to serve its needs.

"I have [also] written Britain and Empire, 1880-1945, a brief survey intended to introduce students to the recent flurry of scholarship on the influence of empire on Britain itself…. [and] an intellectual study of Rich- ard Burton, the Victorian explorer and author whose wide interests, extensive travels, and vast store of knowledge made him one of his country's leading interpreters of the non-western world. I want to tie together various thematic strands from previous work, using Burton as the point of reference for a wide-ranging examination of the way notions of difference (race, religion, gender, sexuality, and much more) were constructed in encounters with others abroad (Africans, Indians, Arabs, etc.) and at home (homosexuals, Gypsies, Jews)."

Kennedy's Burton book, The Highly Civilized Man, was widely praised. Times Literary Supplement contributor Michael Saler found it a "wonderfully engaging and nuanced biography," as well as "the best biography of Burton as a man intimately involved with the central questions of his day, and of ours." Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who observed, "Kennedy succeeds in re-establishing Burton as a relevant figure for a 21st-century world grappling with issues of ethnic, cultural and sexual diversity." Likewise, Paul Laity, writing in the New Statesman, felt the book was a "thoughtful study," while New Criterion critic Eric Ormsby commended Kennedy for making it "plain how most of Burton's extraordinary activity was motivated less by passionate curiosity or scholarly fascination than by sheer cussedness." Ormsby further commented that Kennedy's "fascinating study is not a new biography, but an extended reflection on his subject's multiple, and protean, manifestations."

"I also remain very interested in the historiographical and methodological shifts that have taken place over the past few decades in our understanding of the nature and consequences of the imperial experience," Kennedy concluded in his CA interview. "With the heightened awareness that America currently holds a hegemonic position similar to that of Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, these debates about the past are particularly relevant to the world we live in."



American Historical Review, June, 1988, Robert G. Gregory, review of Islands of White: Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1939, p. 749; October, 1997, Francis G. Hutchins, review of The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj, p. 1214; December, 2006, Robert Aldrich, review of The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World, p. 1598.

Asian Affairs, October, 1996, Robert Arbuthnott, review of The Magic Mountains, p. 376.

Biography, winter, 2006, Michael Saler, review of The Highly Civilized Man, p. 203.

Books in Canada, November, 2005, "Intrepid Orientalist," p. 16.

Choice, March, 2006, P. Leary, review of The Highly Civilized Man, p. 1294.

Geographical Review, January, 1997, Judith Kenny, review of The Magic Mountains, p. 131.

History, June, 1988, John McCracken, review of Islands of White, p. 270.

Journal of African History, January, 1988, Robin Palmer, review of Islands of White, p. 127.

Journal of Asian History, spring, 1998, William R. Pinch, review of The Magic Mountains.

Journal of Asian Studies, May, 1997, Vinay Lal, review of The Magic Mountains, p. 529.

Journal of Historical Geography, July, 1997, W. Elizabeth Jepson, review of The Magic Mountains, p. 380.

Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Sean Michael Fleming, review of The Highly Civilized Man, p. 97.

London Review of Books, March 9, 2006, "Let in the Djinns," p. 34.

New Criterion, March, 2006, Eric Ormsby, "Simious Seductions," p. 68.

New Statesman, October 17, 2005, Paul Laity, "Arabian Knight," p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005, review of The Highly Civilized Man, p. 78.

Times Higher Education Supplement, October 21, 2005, "Victorian Superman, Ethnologist, Sexologist and Racist, I Presume," p. 24.

Times Literary Supplement, July 12, 1996, review of The Magic Mountains, p. 32; December 9, 2005, Michael Saler, "Eminence to Spare," p. 23.


British Scholar, (October 24, 2007), Brett Bennett interview with Dane F. Kennedy.

George Washington University Web site, (October 24, 2007), "Dane K. Kennedy, Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs."

About this article

Kennedy, Dane K. 1951- (Dane Keith Kennedy)

Updated About content Print Article