By David Kazanjian

About David Kazanjian

David Kazanjian is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America and The Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World.


“Colonial” has very old roots. The Latin word colonia was used during the Roman Empire to mean a settlement of Roman citizens in a newly conquered territory. Often these citizens were retired soldiers who received land as a reward for their service and as a display of Roman authority to the conquered inhabitants. For Roman writers, colonia translated the Greek word apoikia, which meant a settlement away from one’s home state, as opposed to the polis, meaning one’s own city or country as well as a community of citizens, or the metropolis, literally one’s mother city or mother country.

Despite these etymological ties to the violence and power of conquest, the English word “colony” was until the eighteenth century as likely to mean simply a farm or a country estate as a settlement in conquered land subject to a parent state. The cognate “colonial” was not coined …

Histories, Ideologies, Places
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