The beginnings of British imperial history, as a separate branch of historical enquiry, are usually traced back to the publication of Sir John Seeley’s eloquent lectures on The Expansion of England in 1883. The study of imperial history, therefore, like some ageing Britannia, is approximately one hundred years old. Her vitality is surprising, not simply because at the age of seventy her rather tired frame was assaulted by ‘vandals’ from the Fens, but because she also suffered, in the 1960s, a near-death experience. However, her constitution proved to be unexpectedly robust, her spirits revived and, learning to walk once again, even though her body still bore the marks of earlier experiences and her mind was especially prone to bouts of confusion, she underwent a rejuvenating process which restored her bodily vigour. Discussions concerning the significance of Great Britain’s imperial past are as lively today as they were a century ago.
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