“A work purely local?”: Narratives of Empire in George Benn’s A History of the Town of Belfast
This chapter seeks to identify the presence of empire in the work of George Benn, the influential nineteenth-century historian of Belfast. Benn’s A History of the town of Belfast from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Eighteenth Century (1877) and its successor volume, A History of the Town of Belfast from 1799 till 1810 Together with Some Incidental Notices on Local Topics and Biographies of Many Well-Known Families (1880), appear initially as exercises in “local” history. However, Belfast was a town with multiple imperial connections, and it is possible, within Benn’s work, to identify narratives of empire that speak to, and in some instances obscure, the realities of Belfast’s connections with empire. Beginning with Benn himself, the chapter discusses the circumstances behind the production of his history. Following this, it reflects on the extent of Belfast’s connections with empire in the early nineteenth century, before turning to discuss the overt references Benn makes to empire in his work and, more broadly, the way in which empire and imperial connections are reflected in Benn’s accounts of Belfast’s trade, its merchant families and its initial development in the early seventeenth century.