Empire: The Controversies of British Imperialism

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Empire Feedback: Week 6

In our final feedback video, Professor Richard Toye talks to Dr. Marc Palen and Dr. Robert Fletcher about globalization, neo-imperialism, the League of Nations mandates system, decolonization, and why the British Empire still remains so controversial.

Further Reading

Globalisation and the Roman World,” Imperial & Global Forum, 10 Nov. 2014.

A. G. Hopkins, ed., Globalisation and World History (W. W. Norton, 2002).

Empire Feedback: Week 5

In this week’s video Professor Richard Toye talks to Dr. Paul Young and Dr. Robert Fletcher about the nature of propaganda, the problems of analysing visual sources, and the question of how cultural history can help us understand Empire.

Empire Feedback: Week 4

In this week’s video professor Richard Toye and Dr. Nicola Thomas discuss why gender is relevant to the study of Empire, the significance and symbolism of clothing, and disciplinary differences between History and Geography.

Empire Feedback: Week 3

In this week’s feedback video, Professor Richard Toye talks to Dr. Gareth Curless and Dr. Nandini Chatterjee about race and religion in the British Empire. Topics discussed include present-day legacies and the degree to which it was possible for individuals within the Empire to adopt hybrid identities.

Empire Feedback: Week 2

In our second feedback video, Professor Richard Toye talks to Professor Martin Thomas and Dr. Stacey Hynd about issues such as the nature of psychological violence and comparisons between different empires.

Empire Feedback: Week 1

In this feedback video Professor Richard Toye and Dr. Marc Palen discuss issues raised by participants in response to Week 1 of the course, including the nature of free trade, the “gentlemanly capitalism” thesis, and the problem of moral judgment in history.

Suggestions for Additional Reading

Brendon, P. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 (2007)

Brown, J., The Oxford History of the British Empire Vol. 4: The Twentieth Century (1999)

Ferguson, N., Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003)

Howe, S., Empire: A Very Short Introduction (2002)

Hyam, R., Understanding the British Empire (2010)

James, L., The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (1995)

Koebner, R., and Schmidt, H.D., Imperialism: The Story and Significance of a Political Word, 1840-1960 (1964)

Porter, A. (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. 3: The Nineteenth Century (1999)

Thornton, A.P., The Imperial Idea and its Enemies: A Study in British Power (1985)

Webster, W., Englishness and Empire 1939-1965 (2005)

Digital Resources

Africa Through a Lens https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/africa/

British Library Images Online https://imagesonline.bl.uk/

British Museum Online Collection http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

Colonial Film Database http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/

Global Commodities http://www.globalcommodities.amdigital.co.uk/

Ireland: Education and Empire http://www.irelandempire.ie/index.html

Library of Congress Digital Collection http://www.loc.gov/library/libarch-digital.html

National Archives Online http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Home/OnlineCollections

National Library of Australia Digital Collections https://www.nla.gov.au/digicoll/

Pitt Rivers Museum http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/vcollections.html

Sudan Archive at Durham https://www.dur.ac.uk/library/asc/sudan/

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces

Visualising China http://visualisingchina.net/

Wellcome Images http://wellcomeimages.org/

World Digital Library http://www.wdl.org/en/

59 thoughts on “Empire: The Controversies of British Imperialism

  1. not the right place, but forgive me, i cannot find the right place!:
    why do only some of the posted student comments and replies carry an individual ‘reply’ tag, while most do not – so that discussions of particulat points can get a bit difficult to navigate?

    1. Hi A Sutherland, if you look at an “original” comment you can reply to it. But if other people have already replied to it then the link to “reply” comes below their comments which is hard to find. Also you cannot reply to someone who has replied to another comment. The way to get around that is to reply to the original comment with an @replier name to direct your comment to them rather than the original commenter. Hope that makes sense!

    2. the reply tag is at the end of the conversation … if you are not the first to reply to a given comment you will have to take your place. If you wish to answer a specific person I suggest you commence with a @John or whoever so that that person know it is directed at their comment.
      I hope this helps

  2. I think you are right that there are ways in which the learning platform could be improved – it’s not something we control but I will feed your point back.

  3. This first week has me thinking about many things including free trade
    in the British Empire. I agree that working with local elites gave British
    traders many advantages and few obviously serious disadvantages.
    I look forward to week two and appreciate this last video with its
    mention of different theories of free trade. David Nickel Spearfish South
    Dakota USA

  4. Excellent discussion on the treaty topic, well thought out. Having read quite a few of this weeks comments that were posted, these were very good indeed. Week one has been quite absorbing, looking forward to week two.

  5. Re. the local elites benefiting – I’ve just read an article in ‘The New Yorker’ of this happening in the attempt to ‘re-structure’ Afghanistan. Patrick Radden Keefe quotes Sarah Chayes in her book, “Thieves of the Sate: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” where she suggests that the masses turn to extremist groups, not to overthrow the evil empire overseas but to fight against the ruling elite who are helping themselves to the international (USA – CIA) largess (in $millions) which was meant to help nurture prosperity at the grass roots. The corollary is that groups like the Taliban has swollen in numbers and the rulers have equally swollen bank accounts – often, ironically, in American financial institutions.

  6. I found this Q&A useful not least becuase I had not fuly appreciated the use of Tariffs within Free Trade.

  7. I found this feedback most interesting and it made me less opinionated. I only know what I learned at school and what I saw in 1950/1970. I look forward to next week.

  8. I found this very interesting, particularly for the clarification of what free trade meant in the 19th century compared to what it means now, and for the distinction between different ways of “judging” the past. I did 19th century history in school, so I can remember the names – Bright, Cobden – and the Corn Laws, but they didn’t make much sense to me at the time. As well as teaching me new things (I’d never heard of the Bowring Treaty, for instance) the course is bringing together pieces of information that I’ve picked up in the past but hadn’t really fitted together. Looking forward to next week.

  9. Thank you for a stimulating and thought-provoking week. I’m enjoying the discussion immensely.

  10. Thanks for this, as we often make assumptions about the past based upon our current experience. Just to clarify, income tax is still not the major tax revenue earner for the Exchequer

  11. Very interesting feedback. Thanks.
    On a trivial point: how pleasant to hear someone using correctly the word “disinterested” and not conflating it with “uninterested”!

  12. very helpful feedback discussion- especially the importance of tariffs for revenue and the necessary imposition of modern terminology to help make sense of these past events. Also I agree with earlier comment – Cobden and Bright and Corn Laws Repeal -names from the past -so good to hopefully now be on the path to better understanding. Thank you

  13. How important not to judge 19th century issues with a 20th/21st century mind. On a slightly different theme today has seen the first anointing of a woman bishop to the horror of traditionalists, ‘not biblical’ they cry, wonder if they still condone slavery!

      1. Maureen, I cannot rejoice much over what seems to me to be a not very important breach of the barricades – I’ be much more excited if the women had marched off and set up their own system, on Groucho Marx,s basis of not wanting to join a club tha was prepared to let people like me join…

  14. Lots of interesting new facts and opinions, especially reading and watching the follow-up articles and clips. I think I am restructuring my opinions and attitudes.

  15. Marc Palen credits Britain for being ‘in the forefront for manufacturing and trade’ but also states that ‘Income Tax did not exist in the nineteenth century.’ Unfortunately Britain was also in the forefront for this tax as well. Introduced by Pitt the Younger in 1798 as a ‘temporary measure’ to pay for the Napoleonic Wars, it was abolished after the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 but reintroduced in 1803 when Napoleon was back in action. A year after the battle of Waterloo the tax was abolished in 1816 but then reintroduced, once again as a ‘temporary measure’ by Peel in 1842 and has been a British fixture ever since. Something else that we can blame on the French !

    1. Peter, thank you for the clarification to my hyperbolic statement in the video. You raise an important point. A history of the income tax in Britain is, of course, much more complex and rich than the few sentences given in the feedback video would suggest, as your examples illustrate. My main point, however, is that direct taxation was subordinate to indirect taxation until the 20th century, coinciding with the substantial increase in real wages/income taxation and the onset of the Boer and First World Wars. It was not until the proposed budget of 1901 (by Hicks Beach) that the national government would begin to derive more than half of the national budget (50.3%) from direct taxation. For anyone interested in this issue of taxation within the context of the British Empire, see, for example, Cain and Hopkins, who place a great emphasis on the rise of the ‘fiscal-military state’ from the late 17th century, along with John Brewer (Sinews of Power). Martin Daunton also has published books recently on the history of taxation in Britain.

  16. I found this video a helpful companion to the week’s subjects – will look forward to these in coming weeks.

  17. Excellent week. I think the course team have very much understood the way in which the learning experience in a course delivered this way can be made vital. One of the best so far.

  18. Its a pity the speaker goes on about England – he should be talking about Britain. I do think this should be addressed .

    1. Fiona, don’t you think that Wales, Ireland and most of all Scotland, were England’s original colonies ?

      1. Not when you look at the geographical background of many of the original colonisers, no. Scotland, Wales and Ireland were probably over-represented – and quite voluntarily.

  19. Steve, to me that is a perfectly normal imperial activity – get the coloniials to do the hard work !

  20. I found this week 1 very interesting and am learning at lot. I have never done any history only accountancy and law but over 60 years I can see where different times produced different aspect of culture changes in these time which effect us now. Looking forward to week 2 and then catching up with my reading from the course.

  21. Please use “England” when you mean England. “Britain” would have been more appropriate for much of the video.

  22. Good summary and a couple of key questions addressed. I appreciated the clarifcations from Dr Stacey Hynd. Onwards to week 3

  23. I found the week 2 comments on violence caused me much thought in both
    the double victimization of women and in how the British Empire folks saw
    their views and actions as better than that of the Belgians and of other empires.
    I look forward to race and religion as topics in week 3 and am very glad that I am
    taking this class.

    1. If you go to the youtube version of the video (click on the ‘youtube’ tab), then click on the ‘more’ tab, the transcript option should appear.

      1. I’ve tried that and all it says for week 1 is that comments have been disabled. No transcription facility. If anyone has any other suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

  24. time for confessions : last night i meant to switch on the TV 6 pm news and got seduced into the, for us on this course, highly topically violent last half hour of ‘carry on up the kyber’ – great stuff, with the classic cast- could it offend anyone these touchy days or is it still OK for a good laugh- or even handy course material?

  25. I am going through the first video with care, and with all due respect, Professor Toye, at least until 2:15 into the interview, discusses psychological violence without really explaining why the curtailing of what today, we would call human rights, (freedom of assembly, etc.) can be described as violence. The American Psychological Association describes violence as “Violence has many causes, including frustration, exposure to violent media, violence in the home or neighborhood and a tendency to see other people’s actions as hostile even when they’re not.” I find it very difficult to reconcile this with Professor Toye’s assumption that because it is not right, it is violence. Denial of human rights, certainly, but not violence.

  26. Later in the first video, the interviewer asks how does the British experience compare with other empires. The question was not answered by either of the persons interviewed. They discussed the fact that, yes, comparisons can be made, but give no comparisons themselves. Are we to believe that this subject is out of bounds, or that it is a question that for some reason cannot be answered? Are we to feel shame for our empire, without being able to say “well at least we were not as bad as the Spanish, overall”? Or is the question not admissible because we are all evil anyway, so what is the point?

    1. Dear Norman,
      I think that empires may be compared, but it is a quite difficult task. How to compare the Roman Empire with the British Empire. The material conditions were so different! Even it is quite difficult to compare the Portuguese Empire with the British Empire: they are quite near in time, but even so the world was quite different!

  27. Dr Palen, Please look at the title of this course (and the titles of all the suggested readings), and stop referring to ‘England’ and ‘The English’, when you mean ‘Britain’ and ‘the British’. Since you are a historian, I am sure I do not need to point out the correct name of the country you are referring to (since 1707), or the huge contribution of Scots, Irish and Welsh to the British Empire.

  28. I would welcome these weekly reviews being a little longer as I really find the comments fed in from the presenters helpful to assess and rethink my own interpretaions of the questions throughout the week. For instance, the insight that all religious groups had activist roles and how in Malaya the workforces were assigned along racial lines but some people transcended that to climb to positions of authority.

  29. This week’s video really made me think about the different post-colonial
    outcomes of the British Empire in areas of race and religion. In the Sudan,
    the power has been held in the north with wide separation between groups
    in the north and in the south (Arabs and Africans). One sees in Singapore
    the rise of multi-ethnic post-colonial political parties. This week covered much
    in a good and thoughtful way!

  30. The feedback video for Week 4 covered much in the fields of gender,
    feminism, and sexuality in context of the British Empire. I found talk of
    the opportunities for women within the colonial context most helpful (and
    also how women judged themselves by comparison with other women.
    Also, having been a history major and geography minor when I got my
    B.S. from Black Hills State University (South Dakota, USA) in 2010,
    I particularly enjoyed the mention of the way that geographers of the
    19th Century and of today were out mapping differences in gender
    and sexuality over many areas of the empire. Week 4 was well done.

  31. The feedback video for Week 5 was a good discussion of how historians are
    using cultural factors and sources to study the history of the British Empire
    (in addition to economic factors). “Robinson Crusoe” is a great example
    to show how cultural items helped promote the growth of the empire by
    reaching large audiences in an understandable and popular format.

    1. The assertion of Professor Toye that propaganda is a loaded question is certainly the case. The feedback from Dr Paul Young and Dr Fletcher was excellent. Prof Toye looks like he could do with and probably has earned a a rest. You have shown courage and professionalism throughout. As an Irishman, and most of us take our history seriously, I thank you for this format and will read up on the fine reading lists. I have started Paul Conrads novel Heart of Darkness. Thank you.

  32. Week 6 Feedback video – excellent wrap up to a fabulous course. I like how Dr. Palen explained the need for a differentiation between simply using the term “neo-imperial” and “controlling trade peacefully.” Because while some nations may be more industrial and innovative, they do tend to share much of this peacefully. Consider the assistance from many nations, in Africa with Ebola at the moment.

    I tend to believe that the term legacy is a positive and it is a continuous ongoing benefit that is passed down. Britain has control of this legacy. If they don’t like what that legacy is today because it is perceived as primarily negative, then perhaps they have the ability to change that legacy to something more positive. Having free courses like this, educating, allowing free debate, across the globe with “average people” (who aren’t politicians). This is where the true “meeting of the minds” occurs. Thank you so much & best wishes.

  33. Regarding Video / Week 1:
    I think that is a key point about Cain and Hopkins – gentlemanly capitalism (GC) is VERY nuanced. It requires careful reading, and on several occasions! As someone who works on the eighteenth century empire, I think we need to step back from nineteenth and twentieth century analyses of GC, and look at the years 1688-1832 more. It is interesting to see how GC comes into existence during this period.

  34. I have enjoyed the six week course and hope to read in more detail about the course material.
    Its very hard I think to step back and take a neutral view ,even now in 2016.
    But it seems as ever that we can learn from the past and apply it to the present.
    Its great that so many resources have been identified took look at such as Pathe News.

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