The Roar of the Lion: The Debate Goes On

Roar of the lionIn the latest Reviews in History, published online by the Institute of Historical Research, Professor Kevin Matthews of George Mason University looks at Professor Richard Toye’s recent book The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s World War II Speeches, which has already aroused considerable controversy. Matthews notes:

To produce this study, Toye deftly combines secondary source material with archival research, especially Churchill’s own, often overlooked speech-writing files. The result is a book that is by turns informative, engaging, and, all too often, frustrating.

Matthews agrees that ‘Toye is surely right that Churchill did not command unanimous support during the war, a fact he demonstrates by lacing his book with contemporary reactions to the wartime speeches.’ However, he is critical of the book’s use of Mass-Observation material and the reports of the Ministry of information’s Home intelligence Division:

More than once, while the Home Intelligence Division reported overall support for a Churchill address, Toye is quick to highlight negative comments about the same speech found in the MO files, even when those comments represented ‘minority feeling’ (p. 108). Moreover, these negative reactions often say less about Churchill’s oratory than they do about a war-weary, but also fickle public.

In his author’s response, Toye responds robustly, arguing that Matthews overlooked the ways in which the book addresses such methodological concerns. Toye also emphasizes that highlighting contemporary criticisms of Churchill’s speeches does not necessarily amount to an endorsement of the critics’ point of view. He argues: ‘Once it is grasped that I am neither criticising Churchill nor rubbishing his speeches, then Matthews’s critique of my work loses its force.’

Who do you think is right?

You can check out the full exchange here.

Can Imperial History Ride to Heritage’s Rescue?

Andrew Thompson_1000785_0Andrew Thompson
Director, Centre for Imperial and Global History

For the last century Britain has led the world in caring for its heritage. Yet with cuts in public spending and pressures to relax restrictions on development the future of our historic environment is looking ever more uncertain and insecure. Centre Director Professor Andrew Thompson asks whether imperial history can ride to Heritage’s rescue. It is something that struggling heritage groups across the globe might do well to consider.

Imagine a Britain without Stonehenge or Hadrian’s Wall. Imagine our historic landscape no longer embellished by great castles, cathedrals or country houses. This could have easily been a reality today had it not been for a very significant piece of legislation in the nation’s legal history — the 1913 Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act.

This long forgotten, yet landmark piece of legislation, paved the way for the creation of the historic environment that we know and enjoy today. Its premise was that there were monuments and buildings that belonged to our nation’s history: and that government had a duty to ensure their survival.

For the last century Britain has led the world in caring for its heritage. Yet with cuts in public spending and pressures to relax restrictions on development, the future of our historic environment is looking ever more uncertain and insecure. Continue reading “Can Imperial History Ride to Heritage’s Rescue?”

Orientalism and its Legacies: New Talking Empire Podcasts

SaidOrientalismRichard Toye

Edward Said (1935-2003) was one of the foremost intellectuals of the Twentieth Century. Heavily influenced by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, his work spanned the fields of literature, history, and post-colonial studies. He was a controversial figure, and none of his work is more debated than his landmark 1978 book Orientalism. Said recast this term so that it referred to the structures of knowledge – or rather discourse – through which Westerners constructed the image of the East. Continue reading “Orientalism and its Legacies: New Talking Empire Podcasts”

The British Anti-Apartheid Movement: A Brief History

Fieldhouse Anti-ApartheidRoger Fieldhouse
Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter, former member of the Anti-Apartheid movement, and founder of the Northalterton Anti-Apartheid Group in 1965

In recent weeks, the Imperial & Global Forum has explored the Anti-Apartheid boycott’s relationship to the modern ‘fair trade’ movement and the historiographical black hole of the apartheid regime itself. But who supported the British Anti-Apartheid movement, and what was its local, national, and global strategy? Continue reading “The British Anti-Apartheid Movement: A Brief History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


Marc-William Palen

It’s time for the weekend roundup in imperial and global history.

  • To kick things off, ever wonder what a map of Africa might look like if it had never been colonized? Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon has done just that:


The Washington Post notes that ‘the map asks what Africa would look like today if colonialism had never happened. (Africa’s present-day borders were determined largely by colonialism, which continues to create lots of very big problems.) Cyon drew these boundaries based on a study of political and tribal units in 1844, the eve of Europe’s “scramble for Africa.” He oriented it with south at the top to subvert the traditional Europe-on-top orientation.’ Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Remembering the Home Front of the First World War

Nurses and wounded soldiers also VA Hospital No 3 circa 1917.
Nurses and wounded soldiers at Exeter’s City Hospital (VA Hospital No 3) circa 1917. Exeter was the first of the provincial towns to take in refugees. Photo borrowed from the great website Exeter Memories.

Richard Batten

The commemoration of the Western Front should not wholly overshadow the wide-ranging activities of the men, women, and children of the British Home Front. Devon’s local tendency toward charity over service reflects the unusual autonomy of its citizens as they attempted to navigate the different challenges of the war.

The recent politicised controversies surrounding the centenary of the First World War reveal the strong emotions and the common misperceptions that the conflict continues to evoke. Presently, the deliberations about the commemoration of the Great War also remain primarily focused on how and why Britain went to war: who started what, the failings of military strategists, and the gruelling experience of British soldiers. This is reflected in the staggering amount of books about the Great War that have been published to coincide with and capitalise upon the conflict’s centenary. Yet Margaret Macmillan rightly points out that whilst the passions evoked in the debate on the First World War ‘may make for a good spectacle’, it does not do ‘what history should – and that is help us to understand the past in all its complexity’. Yet, amid these heated debates of how the First World War should be remembered in Britain, there has been little discussion and reflection of the complex wartime experiences of individuals that fell outside the requirements of military service: the women, children and men unable to serve in the military who instead participated in various forms of economic and social self-mobilisation. Continue reading “Remembering the Home Front of the First World War”

America’s Absentminded Empire

Just one of a variety of designs for the flag, if Puerto Rico becomes a state.  For other, wilder designs, see
Just one of a variety of designs for the American flag, if Puerto Rico should become the 51st state. Click here for other, wilder designs.

Marc-William Palen

In November 2012, a slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of U.S. statehood. And within the last week, Dr. José M. Saldaña, former president of the University of Puerto Rico, and former mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, each once again raised the call for Puerto Rican statehood. Yet modern-day remnants of the American Empire continue to trouble US relations with Puerto Rico, which still holds a semi-colonial American status. To give the issue some much-needed historical perspective, what follows is a revised version of an article that previously appeared in the History News Network and the Australian newspaper.

Burn your outdated American flags; make room for the fifty-first star on the star-spangled banner.

For the first time in Puerto Rico’s more than hundred-year history as an American territory, on Election Day in November 2012, a slim majority voted in favor of U.S. statehood in a non-binding referendum that now goes to the U.S. Congress.

Puerto Ricans had been given a similar option three times before — in 1967, 1993, and 1998 — but with opposite results.

Why this apparent about face?

Because of a weakening economy, a decreasing population, and because “the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” says Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock.

As it stands, 58 percent of Puerto Ricans now live in the mainland United States. Puerto Rico’s four-million residents — the 42 percent remaining on the island — are American citizens but can’t vote in American elections. Such has been the status quo since 1917.

But all this could change if Puerto Rico becomes the fifty-first state of the Union.

Whatever the outcome, this historic moment deserves due attention. Instead, aside from a brief flurry of superficial analysis, the implications of Puerto Rico’s self-determinative vote have gone largely ignored.

We might easily blame American political ADD for such a short attention span. More uncomfortably, such an imperial absence of mind is also a garish reminder of how much Puerto Rico’s complicated, century-long, semi-colonial status has become an accepted part of the American subconscious. Continue reading “America’s Absentminded Empire”