Imperialism Social Studies Curriculum Inquiry

by Kameelah Rasheed and Tim Lent for New Visions for Public Schools

The New Visions Social Studies Curriculum ( is a free online resource that includes full-course instructional materials in Global History I, II, and US History. It integrates rich primary and secondary texts, maps, images, videos, and other reputable online sources into materials that meet the New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework’s objectives and provide students an opportunity to improve literacy skills by focusing on thinking critically while reading, writing, and speaking like historians. We understand that teachers may use resources differently, so we have created and curated high-quality Open Educational Resource (OER) materials as Google Docs; we encourage teachers to make their own copies of resources and thoughtfully modify them to make them useful for their individual needs.

Document Investigation Directions: For each document, complete the prompts below.

Document B: The Crime of the Congo is a 1909 book by British writer and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) about life for Africans in the Congo Free State under the rule of the King of the Belgians, Leopold II. Source: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Crime of the Congo, Double Day, Page, 1909.
There are many of us in England who consider the crime which has been wrought in the Congo lands by King Leopold of Belgium and his followers to be the greatest which has ever been known in human annals. […]
There have been massacres of populations like that of the South Americans by the Spaniards […] I am convinced that the reason why public opinion has not been more sensitive upon the question of the Congo Free State, is that the terrible story has not been brought thoroughly home to the people […]
Should he, after reading it, desire to help in the work of forcing this question to the front, he can do so in several ways. He can join the Congo Reform Association (Granville House, Arundel Street, W. C). He can write to his local member and aid in getting up local meetings to ventilate the question. Finally, he can pass
this book on and purchase other copies, for any profits will be used in setting the facts before the French and German public […]
Mr. Murphy [an American missionary] says: “The rubber question is accountable for most of the horrors perpetrated in the Congo. It has reduced the people to a state of utter despair. Each town in the district is forced to bring a certain quantity to the headquarters of the Commissary every Sunday. It is collected by force; the soldiers drive the people into the bush; if they will not go they are shot down, their left hands being cut off and taken as trophies to the Commissary. The soldiers do not care whom they shoot down, and they most often shoot poor, helpless women and harmless children. These hands — the hands of men, women and children — are placed in rows before the Commissary, who counts them to see the soldiers have not wasted the cartridges. The Commissary is paid a commission of about a penny per pound upon all the rubber he gets; it is, therefore, to his interest to get as much as he can.”

Document C: King Leopold’s Soliloquy is a pamphlet written by Mark Twain (1835-1910) regarding Belgian King’s rule of the Congo Free State. It is a satirical and fictional monologue of Leopold II speaking in his own defense. Source: Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905, Second Edition.
“But enough of trying to tally off his crimes! His list is interminable, we should never get to the end of it. His awful shadow lies across his Congo Free State, and under it is an unoffending nation of 15,000,000 is withering away and swiftly succumbing of their miseries. It is a land of graves; it is The Land of Graves; it is the Congo Free Graveyard. It is a majestic thought: that this, this ghastliest episode in all human history is the work of man alone; one solitary man; just a single individual–Leopold, King of the Belgians. He is personally and solely responsible for all the myriad crimes that have blackened the history of the Congo State. He is the sole master there; he is absolute. He could have prevented the crimes by his mere command;
he could stop them today with a word. He withholds the word. For his pocker’s sake. […] it is a mystery, but we do not wish to look; for he is king, and it hurts us, it troubles us, by ancient and inherited instinct to shame us to see a king degraded to this aspect, and we shrink from hearing the particulars of how it happened. We
shudder and turn away when we come upon them in print.”

Document D: Alice Seeley Harris was a missionary and documentary photographer. Her photos of the Congo were used in lantern lectures presented by the Congo Reform Association in the UK, Europe and America. Seeley Harris used one of the world’s first portable cameras, a Kodak Brownie to document the Congo Free State under the rule of King Leopold II. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Document E: In 1907, a Brussels-based publishing house published An Answer to Mark Twain, a 47-page book written in English in response to Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905). Its author is unknown. Source: An Answer to Mark Twain, Brussels : A. & G. Bulens Bros., 1907.
Two years ago, an infamous libel against the Congo State was published in America under the title of “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” […] According to this book, all the Belgians who are in the Congo under the direction of their King, are nothing but vile murderers shedding the blood of the natives in order to ring rubber out of
them. Every pound of rubber, writes Mark Twain, costs a rape, a mutilation or a life. And the lies and slanders are accumulated […] The natives are illtreated and overtaxed. A lie! The natives are mutilated by the State. A lie! The State provides nothing for the country. A lie! The State establishes a worse form of
slavery right in Africa. A lie!
Truth shines forth in the following pages, which summarily show what the Congo State is — not the hell as depicted by a morbid mind — but a country which twenty years ago was steeped in the most abject barbary and which to—day is born to civilization and progress.
No soliloquy will prevail against the real state of things in the Congo . . . Mark Twain’s sympathy is exclusively extended to the Congo natives. He is not in the least interested in a better understanding between blacks and whites in the United — States, he takes no interest in the people of India who are clamouring for more freedom, nor in the Egyptians who are claiming self-government, nor in the natives of the British colonies.
The fact is, that the Congo Reform Association, of which Mark Twain is the mouth-piece, is not in quest of the happiness or the negroes, but is simply endeavouring, by all possible means, to overthrow the Congo Government, and with this object in view, has set up a fabric of imag-inary crimes and lies, in the hope, by dint of slander, to reach its distinctly revolutionary ends.

Document F: Photographs from An Answer to Mark Twain used to defend Belgium’s colonial policy in the Congo

Carpentry School
Sewing School
Native Teacher
Technical School

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