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Through a close reading of some of the 7,600 photographs produced by the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee (COVIC) between 1908 and 1911—a scheme developed by the British government that used lantern slides to teach schoolchildren what it meant to look and feel like an imperial citizen—this chapter analyzes the photographic archive as the optical unconscious of colonial projects. Drawing on Ann Laura Stoler’s suggestion that the archival researcher’s work is a strategy of “developing historical negatives,” and reading it through Walter Benjamin’s descriptions of the optical unconscious, the author stresses the photographic archive’s role as a negative of empire. By charting the ways that the “coolie,” or indentured laborer, comes in and out of focus as a member of the imperial community, Moser suggests that the very images used to constitute imperial citizenship might also register a latent critique of that form of belonging.

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