HHIA03416U HIS, Victoria to Vendetta: Great Britain, the British Empire and the Imperial political and cultural legacy, c. 1880 to the present

Volume 2013/2014
Module I-VI [MA Programme, 2008-Curriculum]
MA-elective: [MA-elective Programme, 2008-Curriculum]
BA-elective - internal for BA students of History:
Module T4 (Subject element 1050) or Module T5 (Subject element 1051) [BA-elective studies, 2007-Curriculum]
Victoria to Vendetta: Great Britain, the British Empire and the Imperial political and cultural legacy, c. 1880 to the present
The British Empire was the largest global imperial project the world has ever seen, as is evident from maps that showed a quarter of the world’s territory coloured red, indicating dominance over a fourth of the world’s population as well as most of its oceans. In 1880 the Empire was still very much a going concern and considered a civilizing force unlike any other. Yet the span of a single lifetime, e.g. that of Winston Churchill (1874-1965) would see the Empire not only declined and dissolved but seemingly more or less forgotten, with ‘imperialism’ having become a dirty word. However, more recent historiography, notably that of Niall Ferguson, has in the light of globalization resuscitated the Imperial concept and the central role of the British world order in furthering, sustaining and defending much of what we consider modern globalized institutions, thus raising central questions as to the true historical character and import of British global power. There is also critique of what might be construed as the dark side of the Empire and its legacy, viz. scapegoating of various ‘undesirable’ groups – homosexuals (e.g. Oscar Wilde as the British ‘Dreyfus’), foreign immigrants, and left-wing liberals.

This course will investigate sources for the cultural and political contexts of the Imperial idea and British World Order, its vicissitudes and its legacy from 1880 up to the present, as witnessed by geopolitics and popular culture and their interface.

Among main questions to be dealt with in the course are:
• reasons for the success and subsequent failure of the British Imperial project
• attitudes that drove the Empire and to what extent they were shared by ‘ordinary’ Imperial subjects within and outside of Britain
• what constituted the British World Order, how it responded to the great struggles of the twentieth century, and how this relates to the role of the United States as its the post-Second World War inheritor
• how the images of war, conflict and Empire in British popular culture – books, films and other mass media c. 1880 to the present have influenced and reflected attitudes to Empire within and outside of Great Britain
• myths that arose within the aegis of Empire, and the function of such myths in the post-Imperial era
• time of awareness of the decline of Empire and how people responded
• the extent to which geopolitical, political, institutional and cultural realities of the globalized present – reflecting the primacy of the English speaking peoples – are to be considered an inheritance from the Empire and the British World Order
• interpretations and appraisals of the British World Order and its legacy marshalled by the historiography of the British Empire

Course objectives (clarification of some of the objectives stipulated in the curriculum):
• account for the geopolitical, political, institutional and cultural circumstances connected with the British Empire and the British World Order, c. 1880-the present
• account for and be able to analyze sources for our historical knowledge of Britain, her Empire and its influence and legacy in a globalized context
• discuss the role of Britain and the British World Order vis-à-vis other English speaking national (e.g. The United States) and international units (e.g. The Commonwealth)
• characterize the British World Order, its role and legacy within a globalized context

It is highly recommended (but optional) that the student submit a paper written in English for the final examination.
- Andrew Roberts: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. HarperCollins (USA edition)/Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK edition), 2006.
- Niall Ferguson: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. New York, Basic Books, 2004 (also: Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin Books, 2004).
- Kwasi Kwarteng: Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World. London, Berlin, New York, Sidney: Bloomsbury, 2011 (also later edition: Public Affairs, 2012).
- Andrew Thompson: The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Harlow, UK: Pearson/Longman, 2005.
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