Imagining the Twentieth Century: Retrospective, Myth, and the Colonial Question

David B MacDonald


Retrospectives on the twentieth century often portray it as the most atrocious century in human history, in terms of totalising ideologies, moral abandonment, technological horror, and mass death. The nineteenth and earlier centuries, by contrast, emerge as progressive and enlightened eras, characterised by morality, rationalism, and the absence of war. Creating a dramatic contrast between old and new centuries ignores the historical reality of colonialism and violence outside Europe’s borders. This article problematises twentieth century retrospectives and their nostalgia for the past, comparing these with recent histories of colonialism and genocide. Rather than see the twentieth century as a decisive break from the past, there are important elements of continuity and evolution which should not be ignored.


Colonialism, History, Retrospectives, Genocide

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