“A Burmese Wonderland”: British World Mining and the Making of Colonial Burma
This dissertation, entitled “A Burmese Wonderland”: British World Mining and the Making of Colonial Burma, focuses on the Burma Corporation, a transnational mining corporation founded by the future US President Herbert Hoover, whose operations were located in Burma’s remote Northern Shan States. I argue that this company, which by the 1920s had become one of the largest industrial mining enterprises in the world, provides a unique vantage point to explore the complexity of Britain’s Empire during the early twentieth century. Founded and managed by white foreigners from the United States, Canada, and Australia, and primarily staffed by migrant laborers from China and India, my dissertation asks how, over the course of three decades, an international commercial firm like the Burma Corporation was able to build a city on the edge of Britain’s Empire and become an agent of the colonial state. Connected to Britain through a common racial and cultural heritage as well as a commitment to western models of political economy, I argue that foreign commercial agents and experts were crucial to Britain’s colonial project in Burma, taking on the role of colonizer in areas where the state was weak. In doing so, my dissertation brings into question the character of colonial governance and the uniformity of the “British” Empire during this period. It also shows how a supposedly British-operated mine in Burma became a symbol of imperial progressive civilization, obscuring the diverse racial, ethnic, and national actors who made the mine such a success.