Celebrity, Humanitarianism and Settler-Colonialism. G.A Robinson and the Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land

This chapter examines the ways in which celebrity humanitarianism can be understood as an expression of humanitarianism more broadly, as well as ‘celebrity colonialism’, by discussing the example of George Augustus Robinson, who became a celebrity humanitarian in the 19th century for his (failed) attempt to save the remaining Aboriginal people of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from settler violence. It places his efforts in the context of previous humanitarian concerns, especially the anti-slavery movement, and the global network of humanitarian projects. I explain how his activities demonstrate both the central role of celebrity in humanitarian activity and the significance of humanitarianism in attaining nineteenth-century celebrity, and I place the critique of celebrity humanitarianism as an exercise in contemporary colonialism in the context of the history of colonialism itself, drawing out the connections between humanitarianism in earlier historical periods and the more contemporary expressions in the ‘empire of humanity’. I conclude with some reflections on how the Robinson example throws light on how the dynamics of North-South relations in celebrity humanitarianism is bound up with the interconnections between humanitarianism, celebrity and colonialism.


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