In his 2004 book The Absent-minded Imperialists, Bernard Porter argues that there was little sustained general interest about the British Empire in British domestic society. The supply of products from the Empire to Britain and references to imperial matters in British cultural activities did not mean that society was steeped in the Empire, he suggests. His book is one side of the argument between “minimalists” and “maximalists”, the protagonists in the historiographical debate about the magnitude of the effect of Empire on society in Britain.
The protagonists of minimalism and maximalism, although taking strongly opposing views, have in common a desire to answer the question: how widespread was awareness of the Empire in British society? This question quickly leads to two more: How might this be done? And is it possible to quantify imperial awareness? The seed of a mechanism for answering these questions can be found in Porter’s book in which he lists some of the “imperial associations that mushroomed” in Britain at the end on the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. By examining a wide range of imperial groups and their memberships, I have been able to estimate the extent of imperial activism, identify the aspects of Empire activists cared about, and examine the class structure of groups’ memberships. Continue reading “Fully-Aware Imperialists”