Department of English

Professor Gretchen Murphy publishes "Shadowing the White Man's Burden"

Fri, May 7, 2010
Professor Gretchen Murphy publishes


Shadowing the White Man's Burden: U.S. Imperialism and the Problem of the Color Line by Gretchen Murphy


During the height of 19th century imperialism, Rudyard Kipling published his famous poem “The White Man’s Burden.” While some of his American readers argued that the poem served as justification for imperialist practices, others saw Kipling’s satirical talents at work and read it as condemnation. Gretchen Murphy explores this tension embedded in the notion of the white man’s burden to create a new historical frame for understanding race and literature in America.

Shadowing the White Man’s Burden maintains that literature symptomized and channeled anxiety about the racial components of the U.S. world mission, while also providing a potentially powerful medium for multiethnic authors interested in redrawing global color lines. Through a range of archival materials from literary reviews to diplomatic records to ethnological treatises, Murphy identifies a common theme in the writings of African-, Asian- and Native-American authors who exploited anxiety about race and national identity through narratives about a multiracial U.S. empire. Shadowing the White Man’s Burden situates American literature in the context of broader race relations, and provides a compelling analysis of the way in which literature came to define and shape racial attitudes for the next century.


“This impressive book, which is based on extensive archival research, shows how the transformation of racial categories at the turn of the 20th century was a multidirectional process that often generated new meanings. Murphy reveals how multiple imperial histories shaped changing ideas about race and how readers and writers who engaged the trope of the white man’s burden exposed contradictory ideas about whiteness as a domestic and transnational racial construct. Shadowing the White Man’s Burden is part of an exciting new body of work on race in transnational contexts. It is one of the best accounts we have of the significance of literature in transformations of and contests over race in this period.”
           - Shelley Streeby, author of American Sensations: Class, Empire, and the Production of Popular Culture

About the Author

Gretchen Murphy is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire and was a Dean's Fellowship recipient in 2008.

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