What is Imperial History Now?
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Let me begin with some autobiography. My first formal introduction to imperial history was as a student at Bristol University in the early 1970s. The subject was personified there by a very considerable specialist on British colonial Africa who was often to be seen dressed in a khaki safari suit. From observing him, his students and his course schedules, I jumped to certain conclusions about imperial history. These reflected in large part the woeful extent of my own undergraduate ignorance. But I was also reacting to certain characteristics of British imperial history as a discipline at that stage which tended, I suspect, to put many of my generation and later generations off the subject, and caused us to misapprehend what it was potentially about.
KeywordsMinority Language Imperial System Imperial Power British Empire British History
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Notes and references
- 1.I stress that these were undergraduate perceptions forged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Major rewritings of British and other imperial histories were in fact already underway by this point — one thinks of R. Robinson and J. Gallagher with A. Denny, Africa and the Victorians (London: Macmillan, 1961) — but it took time for such revisionist work to impact fully on history teaching in the universities, never mind on ideas outside them.Google Scholar
- 3.Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), p. 60.Google Scholar
- 5.Frederic Bancroft(ed.), Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, 6 vols (New York: G.P. Putnam’s, 1913), vol. VI, pp. 119–20.Google Scholar
- For an excellent sample of recent revisionist work on American westward expansion, see William Cronon, George Miles and Jay Gitlin (eds), Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992).Google Scholar
- 6.Edward Said, Yeats and Decolonization (Belfast: Field Day, 1988), p. 6.Google Scholar
- Two recent works that place the Ottoman empire in a broader European and imperial context are Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)Google Scholar
- and Dominic Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and its Rivals (London: John Murray, 2000).Google Scholar
- 8.Though critics of empire also drew on versions of the Roman past to argue that imperialism necessarily resulted in corruption, loss of liberty and decay: see Anthony Pagden, Lords of all the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France c.1500–c.1800 (London: Yale University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
- 14.J.C. Van Leur quoted in Henk Wesseling, ‘Overseas History’, in Peter Burke (ed.), New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), p. 74Google Scholar
- Philip D. Morgan, ‘Encounters between British and “Indigenous” Peoples, c.1500–c.1800’, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern (eds), Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous People 1600–1850 (London: University College London Press, 1999), p. 68.Google Scholar
- 18.Quoted in Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 287.Google Scholar
- 19.See their History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754–1790, 3 vols (London: HMSO, 1964), vol. I, pp. 138–45; and R.G. Thorne (ed.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790–1820, 5 vols (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986), vol. I, pp. 306–13.Google Scholar
- 20.For a useful introduction to this issue, see Hew Strachan, The Politics of the British Army (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).Google Scholar
- 22.James D. Tracy (ed.), The Political Economy of Merchant Empires (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 163.Google Scholar
- 23.C.A. Bayly, ‘Returning the British to South Asian History: The Limits of Colonial Hegemony’, South Asia, vol. XVII (1994), pp. 1–25.Google Scholar
- 25.Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 1068–9.Google Scholar
- 26.J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army 1715–1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 7–8Google Scholar
- Miles Taylor. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army 1715–1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 7–8Google Scholar