Introduction: Imperial Sentiment in the British Empire — Themes and Perspectives

  • John Griffiths
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


The era 1870–1914 witnessed a significant reconfiguration of the ways in which both Britain regarded its overseas possessions and the way those same territories located within the British Empire regarded it. During the 1870s, in the wake of German and Italian unification, the idea that a more tightly integrated British world could be constructed was voiced. This sentiment had existed well before 1870, but Britain, itself in the midst of economic depression by the mid-1870s, now looked to its colonies as a means of triggering an economic recovery and, by the 1890s, the idea of unity was given further momentum based on defensive considerations in the face of aggressive German militarisation.1 Increasing admiration of the federal project accomplished in the USA, Canada, Germany and Switzerland also played a significant role in leading some intellectuals to suggest closer political ties between Britain and its far-flung Empire. Indeed, historians have detected a new interest in the Empire emerging in the 1860s, pointing to the formation of the Royal Colonial Institute as early evidence of this rejuvenation, as was the increasing adoption of the term ‘Greater Britain’, used, for example, in the works of Charles Dilke and J.R. Seeley.2 It was initially a Greater Britain which included the USA as an ‘English speaking people’, but the latter was subsequently excluded from later discourse concerning ‘Britishness’. Thus, whereas Dilke integrated the USA in his narrative published in the 1860s, J.R. Seeley, in his bestselling The Expansion of England, published in 1883, placed discussion of the USA in a chapter entitled ‘Schism in Greater Britain’ and noted that: ‘The American Revolution called into existence a new state, a state inheriting the language and traditions of England, but taking in some respects a line of its own.’3


Imperial Culture Preferential Tariff Urban Culture Imperial Idea Mother Country 
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Copyright information

© John Griffiths 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Griffiths
    • 1
  1. 1.School of HumanitiesMassey UniversityNew Zealand

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