Ruling the Waves – Episode 3 – ‘The Workshop of The World’

Great Exhibition

Stefan Piotrowski
Against the Current Productions

Featuring Andrew Thompson, Bernard Porter, and Stephen Howe, this film focuses on the curious absence of Empire – or what might be called an imperial perspective – in mid-Victorian Britain. The first part explores other powerful ideas of Britain that compete with and at times overshadow the idea of Britain as an imperial nation. The second examines the extent to which these national ideas – imperial or otherwise – reverberated with the wider population.

Following on from – and inspired by – Hume’s History of England, nineteenth-century historians set great store by the country’s domestic progress. The central British story was a political narrative; its main characters those great men who had been at the heart of the nation’s affairs. The violence and ongoing instability unleashed by the revolution in France – in my opinion – also played a part in strengthening this tradition. The British political system, now newly reformed, had, it seemed, managed to steer a steady course between the extremes of tyrannical monarchy and anarchic democracy. Continue reading “Ruling the Waves – Episode 3 – ‘The Workshop of The World’”

Ruling the Waves – Episode 2 – ‘Imperialists and Others’

victorian

Stefan Piotrowski
Against the Current Productions

The title for this film was adapted from a chapter title in Bernard Porter’s Absent Minded Imperialists (as you may know Prof. Porter’s book was – and still is – the subject of quite considerable debate, and I will return to this in a later section). Following Prof. Porter’s lead, I have in this chapter examined the relationship of different social groups to empire – and how their socio-economic status back home shaped their interaction with empire.

Class, a word out of favour with today’s sociologists, although a broad term, is still a useful categorisation from which to explore the British relationship to Empire. Attitudes formed within a certain social milieu at home were very often carried outward into empire and had considerable influence over how individuals interpreted this new space and their place within it.

But I would also want to stress, that although it might be a powerful factor in shaping them, social class didn’t automatically define or limit attitudes towards empire. People from the within the same social group could have conflicting attitudes towards the spread of capitalism, technology, or even the Christian faith. When Britons came into contact with Empire there was no simple uniformity of imperial experience.

Did the settler on the Canadian prairies share the same worldview as the opium trader, or the plantation owner, or the shipping magnate? What about settlers who came to the cities looking not for land but for work? What about the factory worker whose mill processed Indian cotton? Were they motivated by the same things? Did they share the same ideology or set of principles? Continue reading “Ruling the Waves – Episode 2 – ‘Imperialists and Others’”

Ruling the Waves – Episode 1 – ‘An Expanding Empire’

British_Empire_1897

Stefan Piotrowski
Against the Current Productions

There seems to be a tendency for some public figures and media commentators to make sweeping assertions about how ‘the Empire’ did this or that to ‘the British’, as if both could somehow be easily defined and the relationship neatly described.

A central theme of these films – perhaps the central theme – is that the relationship between domestic society and Empire was always a complex one, and that this complexity was the result of the diverse nature of Britain’s overseas territory on the one hand, and the diversity of British society on the other.

This first chapter tries to make some sense of the former, that ‘patchwork quilt’ of colonies, protectorates, dominions and so on, that made up the British Empire. The different types of territory, the tremendous variety in the way in which the different parts of it were governed, all made – and still make – the Empire very difficult to understand as some kind of conceptual whole. Continue reading “Ruling the Waves – Episode 1 – ‘An Expanding Empire’”

Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Empire/Commonwealth, Europe and China in Britain’s economic future since the 1870s

Senate House

2nd workshop, London, September 2015- report

Senate House has featured in many guises from being the supposed model for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984 to Bertie Wooster’s New York apartment block in the TV adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster. This month it played host to the second of three academic workshops connected to the AHRC Imagining Markets network led by David Thackeray, Andrew Thompson and Richard Toye from the University of Exeter. You can read more about the project at www.imaginingmarkets.com.

We began by discussing how the idea of economic imagination can shape our understandings of political economy, and how this cultural idea has various facets (imaginings of economic utopias/ dystopias; entrepreneurship; the imagining of status and aspiration). Papers focused on how a variety of actors shaped ideas of the economic future and interconnected through networks at the level of government and the ‘official mind’; business groups; cultural organisations; advertisers; and civil society. Continue reading “Imagining Markets: Conceptions of Empire/Commonwealth, Europe and China in Britain’s economic future since the 1870s”

Sydney’s Global Slavery Scandal of 1857

Sugarcane harvesters, Reunion Island c.1885
Sugarcane harvesters, Reunion Island

Karin Speedy
Macquarie University, Sydney
Follow on Twitter @KarinESpeedy

In 1857, 51 Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) and 14 Solomon Islanders were spirited away from their homes. They were transported on the Sydney-based barque Sutton, and then sold as indentured sugar labourers on the French-owned island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. When the scandal hit the shores of Sydney, the incident  shifted from a global diplomatic dispute between the British and French empires to a local story, revealing the complexity of the colonial space where culpability was tied to local politics, class, and notions of nationality.[1] Continue reading “Sydney’s Global Slavery Scandal of 1857”

For Fear of ‘Turning Native’: British Colonialism in Uruguay

PRIZE GIVING. Victoria Hall 1909. Second Prize Giving ceremony of the new school. The theatre was a gift of the British colony in Uruguay to Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, but was inaugurated long after she had passed away. Constantly in financial problems it was always a problem for the community.
PRIZE GIVING. Victoria Hall 1909. Second Prize Giving ceremony of the new school. The theatre was a gift of the British colony in Uruguay to Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, but was inaugurated long after she had passed away. Constantly in financial problems, it was always a problem for the community.

Alvaro Cuenca
Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay was never really considered part of the formal British Empire,[1] but it is commonly used as the typical illustration of Britain’s informal empire. Most studies on the relationship between Great Britain and Uruguay during the 19th century are economic and political.[2] Missing are the social and cultural responses of the British colonists to what they perceived as an alien and dangerous environment.

The British colony in Uruguay was never more than 2000 strong, but during its apogee, between the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, the colony certainly wielded enormous economic power. This small group of British subjects became immersed in the local population: the native criollos, who, although they were all third- of fourth-generation descendants of European origin, were nonetheless considered culturally inferior. The British leaders of the colony in Uruguay defined the classic cultural and social strategies to combat and defeat the most profound fear of the Late Victorian period: turning native. Continue reading “For Fear of ‘Turning Native’: British Colonialism in Uruguay”

The Jameson Raid and the ‘Cheap Extension of Empire’

Empire makers and breakers' - Vanity Fair illustration of the House of Commons inquiry into the Jameson Raid, Nov. 1897. Sir William Harcourt (second from right) sought to use the Raid to attack the position of Cecil Rhodes (centre).
Empire makers and breakers’ – Vanity Fair illustration of the House of Commons inquiry into the Jameson Raid, Nov. 1897. Sir William Harcourt (second from right) sought to use the Raid to attack the position of Cecil Rhodes (centre).

Simon Mackley
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @SimonMackley

What was the nature of British imperial expansion? Did British imperialism constitute a form of globalisation? These were the questions put to the participants at the opening of the 2015 International PhD Forum at Peking University on 10th July, which Simon attended as part of a delegation from the University of Exeter, along with postgraduates from PKU and the University of Durham. Drawing on his wider doctoral research into the British Liberal Party and the South African question in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain, Simon seeks to tackle the first question by analysing the Liberal critique of the British South Africa Company following the Jameson Raid of 1895, and the form of imperialism it was alleged to represent.

The end of 1895 had seen British South African Company (BSAC) forces, under the direction of Cecil Rhodes, launch an attempted invasion and coup against the South African Republic. The action, which became known as the Jameson Raid, was a total failure, but the political fallout in Britain was immense, with a particular focus on the relationship between the Chartered Company and the conspiracy. In seeking to further our understandings of the nature of British imperial expansion, the Jameson Raid might seem like an odd choice of focus by comparison with other episodes in Imperial South African history; although an important precursor to the South African War of 1899-1902, the Raid itself provided no territorial gains for the Empire, and indeed arguably weakened the British position in the region. However, an analysis of the political controversy generated by the Raid in Britain, and particularly the public rhetoric deployed by political actors, provides real insight into how the expansion of the Empire and the forces of imperialism operated as political issues within late-Victorian Britain. Continue reading “The Jameson Raid and the ‘Cheap Extension of Empire’”