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Empire, what Empire? Popular Imperialism in 19th & 20th century Britain

In this week's lecture and seminar, we will discuss and evaluate the extent to which owning a global Empire impacted upon and influenced culture, opinion and society within Britain itself. Focusing upon the height of European imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we will ask a series of questions that have stimulated vigorous historical debate in recent decades. Did imperialism pervade every aspect of British life? Or were the majority of Britons actually rather disinterested in the idea and practice of Empire? And what legacies of Empire remain relevant in contemporary Britain?


Seminar Questions

  • To what extent did imperialism and Empire impact upon British society, identity and culture in the late 19th/early 20th centuries?
  • To what extent does Empire remain relevant in contemporary Britain? Do we as a public care about our imperial past?


Seminar Reading

Simon J. Potter, ‘Empire, Cultures and Identities in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Britain’, History Compass, 5 (2007), pp.51–70.

Andrew S. Thompson, The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Harlow: Pearson, 2005), chapter 9: ‘After-Effects’ (pp. 203-238).

And at least one of:

John M. MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984); introduction (pp.1-14).

Bernard Porter, ‘"Empire, What Empire?" Or, Why 80% of Early- and Mid-Victorians Were Deliberately Kept in Ignorance of It’, Victorian Studies, 46:2 (2004), pp.256-263.



Further Reading

Tony Ballantyne, ‘The Changing Shape of the Modern British Empire and its Historiography’, The Historical Journal, 53:2 (2010), pp.429-452.

Antoinette M. Burton, ‘Review of Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists, Victorian Studies, 47:4 (2005), pp.626-628.

Catherine Hall and Sonya Rose, ‘Introduction: being at home with the Empire’, in Catherine Hall and Sonya Rose (eds.), At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp.1-31.

John M. Mackenzie, ‘Empire and Metropolitan Cultures’, in Andrew Porter and Wm Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp.270-293.

John M. Mackenzie (ed.), Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986).

John M. MacKenzie, ‘‘Comfort’ and Conviction: A Response to Bernard Porter’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36:4 (2008), pp.659-668.

Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Bernard Porter, ‘Further Thoughts on Imperial Absent-Mindedness’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36:1 (2008), pp.101-117.

Stuart Ward, ‘“No nation could be broker”: the satire boom and the demise of Britain’s world role’, in Stuart Ward (ed.), British Culture and the End of Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pp.91-110.