This debate combines two tiers. ... Three years later, Lloyd George’s controversial ‘socialistic’ People’s Budget ignited a ferocious debate over taxation and led to a constitutional crisis that resulted in the limiting of the delaying powers of the House of Lords. I have of course read and reviewed many of the great imperial volumes published in recent years (1) , and I have even reviewed Niall Ferguson’s Empire (a surprisingly favourable review!). However, all the above got built on colonization, slave trade and massive deaths of innocent people from the nations they occupied. British Empire, a worldwide system of dependencies— colonies, protectorates, and other territories—that over a span of some three centuries was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government. There is currently, of course, a very live discussion as what kind of history should be taught in British schools. Objectivity, moral conscience and the past and present of imperialism’. The-British-Empire's Profile Comments. What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? British Empire: Students should be taught colonialism ‘not all good’, say historians. In 1852, after 60 years of intermittent Xhosa–settler conflict, British commanders on the Cape were demanding nothing less than the extermination of ‘these most barbarous and treacherous savages’ (p. 406). It might be useful to explain why I embarked on such a daunting enterprise in the first place, for, as Dr Jackson rightly remarks, ‘this book is partisan’. In this volume Dane Kennedy offers a wide-ranging assessment of the main schools of thought that have transformed the way we view the British Empire … Murdering civilians is not, after all, what we do. (2) There is no mention of Ferguson in my book, yet I am obviously pleased that Dr Jackson thinks that its endless tales of imperial violence might be used by those seeking to take up an argument with him. It is very much against that – rehabilitative – image of the British Empire that Richard Gott’s book, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, is conceived. If the British appear powerful here and their victims as, well, victims, it is hardly surprising that, alongside his intention to depict British injustice, Gott is equally keen to portray those who fought it in unashamedly heroic terms. ‘”A talent to provoke”, review of Empire: how Britain made the modern world’. My provisional title for the book was ‘Our Empire Story’, partly in homage to that wonderful pioneering work by Henrietta Marshall published in 1908 (and still in print), and partly because I wanted people coming from other cultural traditions to share in ‘our’ joint history. In a letter to his wife, Lieutenant Colin Mackenzie, a sailor aboard the British warship, recalled the scene: The whole crew, having in their desperation jumped into the sea, the work of slaughter began, with muskets, pikes, pistols and cutlasses. For Paxman, that apathy is at the root of Britain’s uncertain place in the world today. According to opinion polling, some 43 percent of Britons think that the British Empire was a “good thing” and 44 percent that British colonialism is “something to be proud of” (compared to 19 percent who think the empire was bad, and 21 percent who believe that colonialism is a matter for “regret”). In May 1836, a British war-ship engaged three large prahus, or sailing boats, in the straits of Malacca. At an early stage my agent had asked me, ‘Haven’t you anything to say in favour of the Empire?’ That is not the point, I replied, ‘I’m trying to write about the downside of empire, about the people who said we don’t want to belong to your beastly empire, please go away.’, I thought this was an important project because so many people in Britain today no longer trace their own personal history back, as I do, to a victorious imperial tradition. (6) It used to be the expansion of England. (14) As the settler presence expanded, so resistance to it seemed to evidence the native’s racial shortcoming. To decolonise the nation now, we need to look unblinking at the brutality of its past. (1) Jeremy Paxman, with Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British, promised a robust, ‘clear-eyed’ look at the imperial past but fell for the most problematic premise of all – that there could be a single story that, delivered with enough incision and panache, could speak to the very imagined community (‘the British people’) that the narrative itself invokes. Gibbs, the court was told, had in early 2010 led a platoon of American soldiers, a self-titled ‘kill team’, that had murdered unarmed civilians, photographed their corpses and collected body parts as trophies. This is not to underplay the importance of Gott’s book. If, on the other hand, Paxman’s task was not to offer an original thesis of his own but, rather, to bridge the gap between academic and popular history, then the reader cannot help but be struck by the book’s comprehensive failure to do what it says on the tin. ‘If only the British would bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name’, he concludes, ‘they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world’ (p. 286). The British Empire was a force for good in the world. One may well wonder, however, if at this present juncture an entertainment in imperialism is really what we need. What I liked most about his comments was his reference to the need ‘to reappraise the heritage of empire’. Having covered the ‘what the empire did to us’ bit in the introduction, the rest of Paxman’s book comprises a thoroughly enjoyable imperial tour. Debating the British Empire’s ‘legacy’ is pointless – this is still an imperial world March 20, 2017 5.19am EDT Ibtisam Ahmed , University of Nottingham One school says it was a disaster that retarded for a century and more the normal development of a middle class society, leaving Quebec locked into a traditionalism controlled by priests and landlords. Clearly, far too many people were crammed into a horrible confined space’ (p. 76). Call comes after research reveals more than four in ten Britons view the British Empire as a good thing I'll try to be terse. But it is pioneering as well and it points up a whole raft of possibilities for new research. British Empire enhanced culture, language and industries to their colonies which is a notable benefit to them. The-British-Empire has not yet been in a debate. Just the previous year, when Hintsa, the paramount chief of the Xhosa, was killed, British soldiers were quick to claim their trophies: one took his bracelets, beads and brass, another cut off his ears, a third dug out his teeth. (15) One does not need to subscribe to any ‘neo-imperialist’ framing to recognise the highly partial account that these films provided. On the Black Hole of Calcutta, he writes: ‘precise numbers were not the point. As the settler colonies pulled away from the British imperial orbit, however, they took their histories with them. So I have come to this subject as an outsider, largely unfamiliar (and certainly not up to date) with the specialist discussions and debates that the historical profession have maintained over the past half century. Interested in reviewing for us? What the book does not provide is any analytical account as to when (and why) the tipping point arrived at which the British were able to bring the superiority of their material power to bear. Dr Zareer Masani : Indian author and historian. (12) The need to emphasise the violence of empire, in other words, is because it was enacted under the guise of the same virtue and civility claimed by Britishness today. ‘The Xhosa’, noted the man who ran Hintsa to ground, were ‘a nation of indomitable savages’ (p. 300). Violence was perennial; the rogue was the norm. I'm incredibly sorry but I realized that I won't have time to do this debate in depth and in detail, I have some other obligations to do. Add as a Friend Add to My Favorites Block this Person Challenge to a Debate Report this Profile Send a Message Share with My Friends. Afghanistan is ‘medieval’; Taliban fighters are cowards; British troops bring unalloyed advance. Residues of empire are everywhere yet the British themselves remain indifferent to them. Debate Statistics: Debates: 0: Lost: 0: Tied: 0: Won: 0: Win Ratio: We see this relation most forcefully in the settler colonies where the interests of European immigrants were so irreconcilably at odds with those of indigenous peoples. (5) As always, what is contentious is the question of what is to be the glue. That the point of the book is the violence itself and not the thesis by which it is framed, allows the reader to take away his or her own lesson, impression or emotional response. Patrick Wolfe, ‘Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native’. Or is it the combination of that stress with the assumption that thoughtful Indians necessarily care very much today about the balance sheet of empire. In doing so, they reiterated once again the implicit correlation between Britishness and moderation. On elite spheres, he writes with confidence – the Foreign Office is supercilious; British prime ministers cannot help but lecture their foreign counterparts; the monarchy endures. 90 years earlier, when a British military commander at Amritsar ordered troops to fire on an unarmed crowd, controversy focused on whether such violence was exceptional in relation to British imperialism or, rather, its inevitable result. He is the author of Britain, Egypt and the Middle East (1981) and Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the post-war World (1988), and is currently preparing a study of British imperial decline since 1900. According to this logic, violence is, by definition, extreme – and certainly not something a thoughtful Indian would endorse. The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. The decline and fall of the British empire. (10) Historians are reluctant to apply the ‘imperial’ label to Britain’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan yet parallels remain. Really? And what about those Britons who do not trace their heritage back to the statesmen, the generals and the slave-traders of the British Empire? I am not proud of my ignorance, but possibly it has had some advantages – in daring to tread where others might have been more cautious. ‘If we accept,’ it begins, ‘ – as any thoughtful Indian does – that the British Empire had a shaping influence on India, then where is the common sense in claiming that the same history has not had at least as important a role in Britain?’. From this perspective, it may well be that a chronicle, and not a theory, of imperial violence is exactly what we need. John Darwin is a Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and Beit Lecturer in the History of the British Commonwealth. 40 Iroquois villages were destroyed; thousands starved (p. 69). The humiliation of rebellion demanded a response that was nothing less than overwhelming. The British Empire: an enduring fascination 2. I wanted to write about those who resisted imperial conquest rather than those who sought to impose it. In the introduction, Paxman surveys the legacies of empire. There is much to be had in the story unadorned. He is the author of numerous books about the British Empire. It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy and … Nor is it necessary to overlook the differences between imperial and post-imperial Britain to recognise the recurrence of classic imperial tropes. The recent debate organised by the Indo-British Heritage Trust determined that British Colonialism did indeed do more harm than good in India. Download Citation | The British empire: A history and a debate | What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? Just fill in your details. For Gott, the point is that the massacres were not exceptional. Yet one cannot help but feel that there is something deliberately provocative about that opening line. Shula Marks, ‘History, the nation and empire: sniping from the periphery’. The British empire, like every empire in history, was created to enrich the imperial mother country, not to realise some vague civilising mission. Significantly, one of the major contentions of those who have critiqued the cultural production – and consumption – of empire has been that it has served as the cultural arm of a neo-imperialism at work in the present. the Emergency Debate will be held at 7.45pm on a motion to … He has written numerous popular books about Indian history, and the Raj. The British Empire was the largest empire ever seen. The patriotic approach is very much here, not so much in the refusal to admit the ‘dark side’ of the empire but in the tendency to talk of it in such concessionary terms. From Gilroy’s perspective, it is citizens, not scholars alone, who need to reappraise the heritage of empire. Our system has not yet updated this debate. was based on a poem by James Thomson, and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. Members of the kill team in Afghanistan, one cannot fail to note, referred to Afghanis as ‘savages’. Is it now to be the decline? (11) While Anglo-Indian planters rallied to the commander’s defence, others saw the value in his condemnation. Stats show that after the 18th century and the subsequent rise of the British empire, India's share of the global economy plummeted from 23% to a whopping 4%. The Germans seem to have managed it; the British are still a long way from even recognising that there is a problem. The ‘history wars’ are a feature of Australian, not British, historiography; it was always a luxury for the British that the violence and dispossession went on well away from domestic public life. The killing of white women and children by aboriginal peoples was the ultimate violation: revenge was pursued with a passion that transcended even settlers’ passion for land (p. 432). This debate has been configured to only allow voters who meet the requirements set by the debaters. Notably, Bernard Porter sees Empire as quite apart from, and opposed to, the ‘patriotic approach’ associated with Ferguson and Gove. It ruled over a quarter of the world’s population and paved the way for today’s global economy. He is the author of Britain, Egypt and the Middle East (1981) and Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the post-war World (1988), and is currently preparing a study of British imperial decline since 1900. For readers wishing an entertainment in imperialism they can do no better than Paxman. Debate rages on At the centre is the changes made by the government archive to its depiction of empire and colonisation in … Empire, by contrast, is only too familiar. Because the book moves so quickly from one locale to another, moreover, the reader lacks the context necessary to gain any kind of analytical or imaginative purchase on what is particular about each case. The British Empire… Since it was difficult to know for sure whether a particular prahu was indeed a pirate ship, however, the usual practice was not to board the boats but to force their inhabitants into the water where they could be effectively dispatched. I had not realised that Reviews in History had established such an admirable tradition of helpful and positive reviewing (rather different from the practice in the public prints), and I am very happy to have been the beneficiary. Mau Mau was ‘vicious and ruthless with victims ... treated abominably’ (p. 270). Repudiating the massacre kept the honour of the empire intact. ‘The kaffir,’ wrote Benjamin D’Urban, Governor of Cape Colony at the time of Hintsa’s death, ‘is the worst specimen of the human race with whom I have ever had to deal’. By subscribing to this mailing list you will be subject to the School of Advanced Study privacy policy. After working on a large imperial project for more than 15 years, almost entirely in isolation, it is matter of some relief to find one’s eventually published book being greeted with interest and seriousness by a knowledgeable reviewer like Dr Jackson. Afterwards, with the battle done and the still-warm corpses littering the ground, the (increasingly exhausted) reader can only survey the now-familiar scene and move on – to the next chapter, the next unsettled frontier and a cast of characters still unaware of what their inevitable fate will be. Aside from the books reviewed here, see also Bill Schwarz. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. Ten years earlier, after a massacre of Aboriginal people at Bathurst, New South Wales, no death-toll was taken but 45 skulls were boiled down and shipped back to England as souvenirs. Is it the stress on Indians’ potential to be thoughtful, as though there is a distance deliberately being forced here between the author and his imperial – racist – heritage? John Darwin is a Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and Beit Lecturer in the History of the British Commonwealth. For the French Canadians, the chief debate among historians involves the conquest and the incorporation into the British Empire in 1763. D. Sayer, ‘British Reaction to the Amritsar Massacre, 1919–20’. We do believe that historical scholarship should inform public debate and contemporary politics. Its greater significance, however, may well be its contribution towards a more gradual rethinking of what any undertaking to write imperial history might involve. New arrivals from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent ‘changed the look of cities; writers and artists invigorated the ‘native arts’; sportsmen and women raised standards of performance; cooks 'did the national cuisine a big favour’ (p. 8). The central premise of Paxman’s book is that whilst we know enough already about the ways in which Britain changed the world, we know very little about the ways in which the world, through the imperial encounter, changed Britain. More problematic still, in registering his shock at British-perpetrated atrocities, Paxman unwittingly betrays the audience to whom he writes. In writing to his wife, it may well be that Mackenzie self-censored but there is notably none of the delight in death here that characterised the American kill team in Afghanistan. The first is an historical question. On a fairly basic level, the significance of the book is in its corrective value: as a compendium of imperial violence, it provides an ample resource for anyone wanting to take up the argument with Ferguson et al. (7) What they do share, however, is the idea that, whatever imperial history is produced, it should equip Britons to act effectively in the world. Rule, Britannia! ‘From the distance of the twenty-first century,’ he writes, ‘the baffling, troublesome anxiety about it – as about some other aspects of the imperial experience – is how it was that our own forebears could have behaved such as this’. This debate either has an Elo score requirement or is to be voted on by a select panel of judges. As in Afghanistan, violence had come to serve as a yard-stick by which morality, or its absence, was defined. The British Empire of the 1950s looked very different from that of the 1850s and certainly that of the 1750s and 1650s! That the Xhosa were judged not merely savage but treacherous as well is no minor point. Anyone wishing to take up arms in this debate must be aware of the 2 questions regarding this big question. After the Iroquois sacked a British fort in Pennsylvania in 1778, the British embarked on a scorched-earth campaign in retribution. Indeed, it was precisely the idea that imperial violence was an unfortunate necessity that provided massacres such as these with their moral component. If the British of today are to construct a convivial patriotism open to all, they will at some stage have to incorporate the evil experience of empire into their portrait of their national past. (8) Paxman’s book is beautifully produced and soon to be embellished with an accompanying television series: one imagines him drafting his chapters after filming, on location. This is a very good book but it tells us very little about the effects of empire on British society or, indeed, on what it means to be British. If readers are shocked by details such as this, what is only suggested at here is the ideology that redeemed it – and that is surely the connecting thread linking Mallaca to New South Wales, the Cape to Kandhar. This debate has 4 more rounds before the voting begins. Constructing the native ‘other’, then as now, not only enabled epistemic control but – when resistance was forthcoming – annihilation as well. Although I was educated as an historian and practiced the trade for some years, I have spent much of my life as a foreign reporter and as a student of contemporary history. Take the following instalment, for example. Paul Gilroy has memorably argued that until Britons come to terms with the shame of their imperial past, they will continue to perpetuate an exclusionary, sterile patriotism. (16) But the need was all the greater when opportunities for emphasising the violence enacted in the name of freedom were so severely constrained.  With an army wives choir taking the Christmas number one for a song composed in tribute to their absent husbands and the repatriation of Britain’s war dead evolved into an elaborate piece of patriotic theatre, honouring Britain’s forces in Afghanistan had become a national recreation. Regimental battle honours and memorials in churches recall imperial wars (p. 4). [190] On the other side of the ledger, the Atlantic slave trade is ‘one of the most disgraceful episodes in British history’ (p. 25). In the autumn of 2011 the near-simultaneous publication of a number of books on the British Empire promised to add fresh momentum to the debate, if debate is the word, on the memories – or lack of them – that the British people currently carry for their empire. Let me be clear. With all this stress on legacy, Paxman’s principal point appears paradoxical. Mid-way between a royal wedding and a diamond jubilee was an unfavourable time to publish what Richard Drayton has termed ‘post-patriotic’ histories of the British Empire. The historical debate about the empire Just about the only thing that all historians agree on is that the story of living in the British empire is not a simple story. (17) Gott’s Britain’s Empire is hardly without its problems but it is significant nonetheless for auguring a new course, away from well-worn narratives. The sun may have long ago set on the British Empire (or on all but a few tattered shreds of it), but it never seems to set on the debate about the merits of empire. See David M. Anderson, ‘Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archives: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle?’, ‘“Shoot them to be sure”, Review of the. Richard Drayton, ‘Where does the world historian write from? They asked for no quarter and received none; but the expression of despair on their faces, as, exhausted with diving and swimming, they turned them up towards us merely to receive the death shot or thrust, froze my blood. Bernard Porter, ‘Empire: what ruling the world did to the British by Jeremy Paxman – review’, Hsu-Ming Teo, ‘Wandering in the wake of empire: British travel and tourism in the post-imperial world’, in. Indeed, Gott’s title aptly conveys the contents of his book: resistance, repression, revolt – and repeat. The British Empire was the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. From The New York Review of Books by Kenan Malik the author of The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics:. (Alas, my publisher would not permit the title, saying that it would confuse the American market and lead them to think it was ‘their’ empire that I was writing about!). The stage is set, the protagonists are introduced – but only with the minimum of detail needed for the conflict to begin. In so doing, he provides, for the first time, a sense of the sheer extent of the injury suffered by colonised people as the British Empire expanded from a largely coastal phenomenon in the mid 18th century to the global behemoth that it had become midway through the next. In November 2011, an American army squad commander, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, was convicted in an American military court of murder, conspiracy and assault. Throughout what is, on the whole, comfortable, assertive prose, there is a feeling of frustrated disappointment: that the British don’t care about this history. His purpose is not to explain but to chronicle imperial violence. Over 66 chapters and almost 500 pages, Gott sets out to document the brutality of the British Empire. Settler militias burned huts and levelled crops; half starving, the Xhosa lost the capacity to resist. The reason why memory of empire is controversial is because it inevitably gets implicated in the invention – or disavowal – of Britain today. ‘Any thoughtful Indian’ implies the kind of Indian who would enjoy talking to Paxman, on Newsnight perhaps, or maybe over lunch, weighing up the famines against the railways, the pros against the cons: all very suggestive of that unbiased, impartial spirit that implies the perceptiveness and magnanimity of those that enjoy it above all. The excerpt from the book reproduced for the back cover is itself instructive. When Indians condemned Amritsar, they condemned British imperialism by extension. 2 The British Empire retains a lot of honor form 1800s throughout the history and many people have had a sense of nationalist sentiment about it. In the spirit of impartiality, Paxman does not shy away from the violence of empire but he does retreat into a more basic register. While the act of killing may have sickened Mackenzie, the bodies of the dead prompted no such remorse. This point is worth making because it highlights the plentiful scholarly articles and other publications, such as Volume V of The Oxford History of the British Empire (1999) edited by Robin Winks, that already provide a firm basis for historiographical study and figure prominently in Webster's book. I will prove that the British Empire in its historical context was objectively good for the world. 285–6). Far less popular attention, perhaps predictably, was paid to the five elderly Kikuyu attempting to prosecute the British government for torture suffered during the Mau Mau emergency in 1950s Kenya. On one level, this appears a welcome shift from the triumphalism of so much imperial historiography, from Seeley’s The Expansion of England (1883) to Ferguson’s How Britain Made the Modern World (2003). It began with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. Resistance provoked repression; that stoked further resistance and further repression in turn. In analytical terms, Gott does not go further than this central – essential – claim. The sea gypsies of the Malacca straits were a ‘rude and semi-civilised people’ (p. 373). As any thoughtful Indian does. (9) The idea that this book will enable a clear-eyed look at the imperial past is somewhat diminished by the fact that this is a book so clearly to be enjoyed. Elsewhere Niall Ferguson has complained of the iPod generation – ‘endlessly gaming, chatting or chilling’ – and there is a similar sentiment here: we need the youth of today to heed the lessons of the past if we are not going to continue heading to the dogs.(4). Numbers were not the point very live discussion as what kind of history should be taught in British.! 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New research DOI: 10.14296/RiH/issn.1749.8155 | Cookies | Privacy | Contact Us, http //www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/aug/17/academics-reject-gove-history-lessons!, not only enabled epistemic control but – when resistance was forthcoming – annihilation well. Abominably’ ( p. 270 ), it was not merely the acquiescence of ‘native’ peoples that was nothing than. To our Privacy Policy offends our sensibilities book might presage ‘a new course a! Dirty work – ‘unpleasant for all concerned’ – but only with the minimum of detail for! On colonization, slave trade and massive deaths of innocent people from british empire debate nations occupied...