Writing the Empire

The McIlwraiths, 1853-1948

By Eva-Marie Kröller
Categories: Immigration, Emigration & Transnationalism, Indigenous Studies, Auto/biography & Memoir, Anthropology, Canadian History, Canadian Literature, History
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Hardcover : 9781487507572, 536 pages, April 2021
Ebook (PDF) : 9781487536510, 536 pages, April 2021
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781487536527, 536 pages, April 2021

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1 The Australian McIlwraiths
2 The Ontario McIlwraiths
3 The “Family Album”
4 Jean McIlwraith’s Story
5 Beulah Gillet Knox in Dresden
6 The Wartime Letters of T.F. McIlwraith
7 T.F. McIlwraith at Cambridge
Conclusion: Bella Coola and After
Appendix: McIlwraith Genealogies


Writing the Empire is a collective biography of the McIlwraiths, a family of politicians, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, scientists, and scholars. Known for their contributions to literature, politics, and anthropology, the McIlwraiths originated in Ayrshire, Scotland, and spread across the British Empire, specifically North America and Australia, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

Focusing on imperial networking, Writing the Empire reflects on three generations of the McIlwraiths’ life writing, including correspondence, diaries, memoirs, and estate papers, along with published works by members of the family. By moving from generation to generation, but also from one stage of a person’s life to the next, the author investigates how various McIlwraiths, both men and women, articulated their identity as subjects of the British Empire over time. Eva-Marie Kröller identifies parallel and competing forms of communication that involved major public figures beyond the family’s immediate circle, and explores the challenges issued by Indigenous people to imperial ideologies. Drawing from private papers and public archives, Writing the Empire is an illuminating biography that will appeal to readers interested in the links between life writing and imperial history.


"Eva-Marie Kroller has drawn upon recent scholarship of imperial connections and networking, as well as extensive archival work, to produce an idiosyncratic and highly original history of the extended McIlwraith family."

- Barbara J. Messamore, University of the Fraser Valley

"Writing the Empire is a masterpiece of archival research and reconstruction that illuminates and challenges broad-brush narratives of British imperial and colonial history and demonstrates how biography can, in fact, be more than minutiae without meaning."

- Ben Wilkie, La Trobe University

"A splendid accomplishment in literary analysis, family history, and the study of the anatomy of Empire."

- Andrew Holman, Bridgewater State University

"Kroller is to be commended for her exploration of the gendered relationships between family members and other intimate connections are well-explored in this book. She took on a monumental task to synthesize an enormous amount of material and pull out cohesive themes for each section, and yet she still managed to include an intersectional lens to her analysis."

- Victoria Seta Cosby

"Writing the Empire is a significant piece of scholarship and historians interested in empire and colonialism will benefit from engaging with it."

- Robert Hogg

"Writing the Empire is a fascinating … history of a family that left its traces [in] Empire politics as well as the international academic and publishing worlds."

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