Constructing the native ‘other’, then as now, not only enabled epistemic control but – when resistance was forthcoming – annihilation as well. Murdering civilians is not, after all, what we do. When the British did so, the effect was, by contrast, to disassociate empire from the massacre – to decontaminate the brand. Rule, Britannia! Is it now to be the decline? The first is an historical question. He has written numerous popular books about Indian history, and the Raj. ‘The kaffir,’ wrote Benjamin D’Urban, Governor of Cape Colony at the time of Hintsa’s death, ‘is the worst specimen of the human race with whom I have ever had to deal’. D. Sayer, ‘British Reaction to the Amritsar Massacre, 1919–20’. Members of the kill team in Afghanistan, one cannot fail to note, referred to Afghanis as ‘savages’. Afghanistan is ‘medieval’; Taliban fighters are cowards; British troops bring unalloyed advance. If this suggests something of the elegiac ‘wandering in the wake of empire’ that Hsu-Ming Teo has described, the extensive list of researchers, producers, directors and film crew that appear in the acknowledgements suggests a somewhat commissioned piece of work. ‘If only the British would bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name’, he concludes, ‘they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world’ (p. 286). More problematic still, in registering his shock at British-perpetrated atrocities, Paxman unwittingly betrays the audience to whom he writes. (12) The need to emphasise the violence of empire, in other words, is because it was enacted under the guise of the same virtue and civility claimed by Britishness today. The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. Latin America rather than the British Empire has been my principal area of expertise. Add as a Friend Add to My Favorites Block this Person Challenge to a Debate Report this Profile Send a Message Share with My Friends. was based on a poem by James Thomson, and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. To the extent that the events at Amritsar were unjust, they were un-British as well. Notably, the American government was, throughout Gibbs’ trial, at pains to depict his platoon as a ‘rogue unit’, utterly unrepresentative of the U.S. army and its soldiers in Afghanistan. Just fill in your details. The prahus were sailed by ‘sea-gypsies’, people who had inhabited these waters for centuries and who lived off the taxes that they collected from passing ships. Yet one cannot help but feel that there is something deliberately provocative about that opening line. Mid-way between a royal wedding and a diamond jubilee was an unfavourable time to publish what Richard Drayton has termed ‘post-patriotic’ histories of the British Empire. From The New York Review of Books by Kenan Malik the author of The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics:. His purpose is not to explain but to chronicle imperial violence. So I have come to this subject as an outsider, largely unfamiliar (and certainly not up to date) with the specialist discussions and debates that the historical profession have maintained over the past half century. The recent debate organised by the Indo-British Heritage Trust determined that British Colonialism did indeed do more harm than good in India. Download Citation | The British empire: A history and a debate | What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? Settler militias burned huts and levelled crops; half starving, the Xhosa lost the capacity to resist. In this volume Dane Kennedy offers a wide-ranging assessment of the main schools of thought that have transformed the way we view the British Empire … Their diversion by the empty fourth plinth from the imperial statutes in Trafalgar Square is emblematic. The British Empire… While the act of killing may have sickened Mackenzie, the bodies of the dead prompted no such remorse. New arrivals from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent ‘changed the look of cities; writers and artists invigorated the ‘native arts’; sportsmen and women raised standards of performance; cooks 'did the national cuisine a big favour’ (p. 8). ‘Any thoughtful Indian’ implies the kind of Indian who would enjoy talking to Paxman, on Newsnight perhaps, or maybe over lunch, weighing up the famines against the railways, the pros against the cons: all very suggestive of that unbiased, impartial spirit that implies the perceptiveness and magnanimity of those that enjoy it above all. Anyone wishing to take up arms in this debate must be aware of the 2 questions regarding this big question. Afterwards, with the battle done and the still-warm corpses littering the ground, the (increasingly exhausted) reader can only survey the now-familiar scene and move on – to the next chapter, the next unsettled frontier and a cast of characters still unaware of what their inevitable fate will be. (14) As the settler presence expanded, so resistance to it seemed to evidence the native’s racial shortcoming. For Gott, the point is that the massacres were not exceptional. British Empire: Students should be taught colonialism ‘not all good’, say historians. On one level, this appears a welcome shift from the triumphalism of so much imperial historiography, from Seeley’s The Expansion of England (1883) to Ferguson’s How Britain Made the Modern World (2003). I am also pleased that he thinks my book might presage ‘a new course, away from well-worn narratives’. In writing to his wife, it may well be that Mackenzie self-censored but there is notably none of the delight in death here that characterised the American kill team in Afghanistan. It is very much against that – rehabilitative – image of the British Empire that Richard Gott’s book, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, is conceived. According to opinion polling, some 43 percent of Britons think that the British Empire was a “good thing” and 44 percent that British colonialism is “something to be proud of” (compared to 19 percent who think the empire was bad, and 21 percent who believe that colonialism is a matter for “regret”). The British Empire: an enduring fascination 2. Repudiating the massacre kept the honour of the empire intact. ‘If we accept,’ it begins, ‘ – as any thoughtful Indian does – that the British Empire had a shaping influence on India, then where is the common sense in claiming that the same history has not had at least as important a role in Britain?’. ‘From the distance of the twenty-first century,’ he writes, ‘the baffling, troublesome anxiety about it – as about some other aspects of the imperial experience – is how it was that our own forebears could have behaved such as this’. The central premise of Paxman’s book is that whilst we know enough already about the ways in which Britain changed the world, we know very little about the ways in which the world, through the imperial encounter, changed Britain. If the British of today are to construct a convivial patriotism open to all, they will at some stage have to incorporate the evil experience of empire into their portrait of their national past. Its greater significance, however, may well be its contribution towards a more gradual rethinking of what any undertaking to write imperial history might involve. In 1852, after 60 years of intermittent Xhosa–settler conflict, British commanders on the Cape were demanding nothing less than the extermination of ‘these most barbarous and treacherous savages’ (p. 406). Indeed, Gott’s title aptly conveys the contents of his book: resistance, repression, revolt – and repeat. Throughout what is, on the whole, comfortable, assertive prose, there is a feeling of frustrated disappointment: that the British don’t care about this history. Clearly, far too many people were crammed into a horrible confined space’ (p. 76). I'll try to be terse. Justifying British imperialism: the changing rationale of the empire builders 3. Debating the British Empire’s ‘legacy’ is pointless – this is still an imperial world March 20, 2017 5.19am EDT Ibtisam Ahmed , University of Nottingham (6) It used to be the expansion of England. Yet the imminent release of a vast archive of previously ‘migrated’ files pertaining to Britain’s withdrawal from empire promises a dramatic rethinking of the exceptionality or otherwise of brutality enacted in the course of British imperial expansion – and decline. It might be useful to explain why I embarked on such a daunting enterprise in the first place, for, as Dr Jackson rightly remarks, ‘this book is partisan’. Indeed, it was precisely the idea that imperial violence was an unfortunate necessity that provided massacres such as these with their moral component. The historical debate about the empire Just about the only thing that all historians agree on is that the story of living in the British empire is not a simple story. At an early stage my agent had asked me, ‘Haven’t you anything to say in favour of the Empire?’ That is not the point, I replied, ‘I’m trying to write about the downside of empire, about the people who said we don’t want to belong to your beastly empire, please go away.’, I thought this was an important project because so many people in Britain today no longer trace their own personal history back, as I do, to a victorious imperial tradition. Interested in reviewing for us? The-British-Empire's Profile Comments. Mau Mau was ‘vicious and ruthless with victims ... treated abominably’ (p. 270). (2) There is no mention of Ferguson in my book, yet I am obviously pleased that Dr Jackson thinks that its endless tales of imperial violence might be used by those seeking to take up an argument with him. There is much to be had in the story unadorned. In November 2011, an American army squad commander, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, was convicted in an American military court of murder, conspiracy and assault. (pp. Make no mistake, this book is partisan. Patrick Wolfe, ‘Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native’. There is little meaningful debate on the very real questions that ought to be asked and taught. At the centre of debate has been the role of money and to what extent has money been the motivating force behind the expansion of empire . The ‘history wars’ are a feature of Australian, not British, historiography; it was always a luxury for the British that the violence and dispossession went on well away from domestic public life. Dr Zareer Masani : Indian author and historian. Nor is it necessary to overlook the differences between imperial and post-imperial Britain to recognise the recurrence of classic imperial tropes. John Darwin is a Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and Beit Lecturer in the History of the British Commonwealth. Laurie Penny, ‘Michael Gove and the imperialists’. Our system has not yet updated this debate. It began with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. (11) While Anglo-Indian planters rallied to the commander’s defence, others saw the value in his condemnation. On the other side of the ledger, the Atlantic slave trade is ‘one of the most disgraceful episodes in British history’ (p. 25). The Germans seem to have managed it; the British are still a long way from even recognising that there is a problem. 40 Iroquois villages were destroyed; thousands starved (p. 69). In May 1836, a British war-ship engaged three large prahus, or sailing boats, in the straits of Malacca. [190] The Conservatives envisage a national story as narrative spine: current syllabi lack cohesion, says Michael Gove; students don’t learn the linkages that give order to what they know; they lack the skills to relate one event to another. The patriotic approach is very much here, not so much in the refusal to admit the ‘dark side’ of the empire but in the tendency to talk of it in such concessionary terms. The stage is set, the protagonists are introduced – but only with the minimum of detail needed for the conflict to begin. By subscribing to this mailing list you will be subject to the School of Advanced Study privacy policy. This debate has 4 more rounds before the voting begins. THE GREAT BRITISH EMPIRE DEBATE. The history of the British Empire, a subject that had slipped into obscurity when the empire came to an end, has since made a stunning comeback, generating a series of heated debates about the causes, character, and consequences of empire. Really? Call comes after research reveals more than four in ten Britons view the British Empire as a good thing British Empire enhanced culture, language and industries to their colonies which is a notable benefit to them. In the autumn of 2011 the near-simultaneous publication of a number of books on the British Empire promised to add fresh momentum to the debate, if debate is the word, on the memories – or lack of them – that the British people currently carry for their empire. In the autumn of 2011 the near-simultaneous publication of a number of books on the British Empire promised to add fresh momentum to the debate, if debate is the word, on the memories – or lack of them – that the British people currently carry for their empire. What I liked most about his comments was his reference to the need ‘to reappraise the heritage of empire’. From this perspective, it may well be that a chronicle, and not a theory, of imperial violence is exactly what we need. What is it there that irks? It was dirty work – ‘unpleasant for all concerned’ – but unquestionably correct when British interests were at stake. ... Three years later, Lloyd George’s controversial ‘socialistic’ People’s Budget ignited a ferocious debate over taxation and led to a constitutional crisis that resulted in the limiting of the delaying powers of the House of Lords. As the settler colonies pulled away from the British imperial orbit, however, they took their histories with them. One school says it was a disaster that retarded for a century and more the normal development of a middle class society, leaving Quebec locked into a traditionalism controlled by priests and landlords. If Jeremy Paxman is right to suggest that people in Britain today are ignorant of Britain’s imperial past, it is notable that in autumn 2011, when his book was published, a rash of television series appeared, all focused on British soldiers recently serving in Afghanistan.  In the West Indies, isolated planter communities harboured collective memories of slave rebellion, fantasising lurid scenarios of their own destruction (p. 153). See David M. Anderson, ‘Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archives: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle?’, ‘“Shoot them to be sure”, Review of the. Chapters are short – varying between three and a dozen or so pages; each recounts an episode in which, invariably, imperial expansion provoked a militant response. Objectivity, moral conscience and the past and present of imperialism’. On the Black Hole of Calcutta, he writes: ‘precise numbers were not the point. We see this relation most forcefully in the settler colonies where the interests of European immigrants were so irreconcilably at odds with those of indigenous peoples. If the British appear powerful here and their victims as, well, victims, it is hardly surprising that, alongside his intention to depict British injustice, Gott is equally keen to portray those who fought it in unashamedly heroic terms. (17) Gott’s Britain’s Empire is hardly without its problems but it is significant nonetheless for auguring a new course, away from well-worn narratives. I'm incredibly sorry but I realized that I won't have time to do this debate in depth and in detail, I have some other obligations to do. Violence was perennial; the rogue was the norm. If you want to receive email updates for this debate, click the, You are not eligible to vote on this debate, The British Empire is something to be Proud of. (13) On the frontier, it was not merely the acquiescence of ‘native’ peoples that was wanted but their comprehensive elimination. After another pirate encounter further down the coast Mackenzie had himself rowed out to the vanquished prahu where he obtained the captain’s head – ‘a splendid young fellow, symmetry itself’ – which he had packaged up and sent to a friend. Shula Marks, ‘History, the nation and empire: sniping from the periphery’. The Great British Empire Debate: on 2018/1/28 11:20:47 (1559 reads ) Source NEW YORK, NEW YORK, January 26, 2018 (New York Books, by Kenan Malik): The sun may have long ago set on the British Empire, but it never seems to set on the debate about the merits of empire. That the Xhosa were judged not merely savage but treacherous as well is no minor point. Or is it the combination of that stress with the assumption that thoughtful Indians necessarily care very much today about the balance sheet of empire. If, on the other hand, Paxman’s task was not to offer an original thesis of his own but, rather, to bridge the gap between academic and popular history, then the reader cannot help but be struck by the book’s comprehensive failure to do what it says on the tin. For readers wishing an entertainment in imperialism they can do no better than Paxman. In so doing, he provides, for the first time, a sense of the sheer extent of the injury suffered by colonised people as the British Empire expanded from a largely coastal phenomenon in the mid 18th century to the global behemoth that it had become midway through the next. Over 66 chapters and almost 500 pages, Gott sets out to document the brutality of the British Empire. British Empire, a worldwide system of dependencies— colonies, protectorates, and other territories—that over a span of some three centuries was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government. Gibbs, the court was told, had in early 2010 led a platoon of American soldiers, a self-titled ‘kill team’, that had murdered unarmed civilians, photographed their corpses and collected body parts as trophies. We do already, of course, have no shortage of intelligent yet accessible popular histories of the British Empire, from Jan Morris’s Pax Brittanica trilogy (1968–78) to Piers Brendon’s Decline and Fall of the British Empire (2007). (3) This book is intended for a non-academic audience, to be sure, but it nevertheless seems strange for an author to make such grand claims for originality when so much scholarship – the same scholarship on which that author depends – suggests otherwise. Having covered the ‘what the empire did to us’ bit in the introduction, the rest of Paxman’s book comprises a thoroughly enjoyable imperial tour. Just the previous year, when Hintsa, the paramount chief of the Xhosa, was killed, British soldiers were quick to claim their trophies: one took his bracelets, beads and brass, another cut off his ears, a third dug out his teeth. This debate has been configured to only allow voters who meet the requirements set by the debaters. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. Elsewhere Niall Ferguson has complained of the iPod generation – ‘endlessly gaming, chatting or chilling’ – and there is a similar sentiment here: we need the youth of today to heed the lessons of the past if we are not going to continue heading to the dogs.(4). Let me be clear. With all this stress on legacy, Paxman’s principal point appears paradoxical. On elite spheres, he writes with confidence – the Foreign Office is supercilious; British prime ministers cannot help but lecture their foreign counterparts; the monarchy endures. It ruled over a quarter of the world’s population and paved the way for today’s global economy. The British Empire was a force for good in the world. the Emergency Debate will be held at 7.45pm on a motion to … The effect is relentless, perhaps necessarily so. ... Oxford, historian of South Asia and the British empire.) Please check back in a few minutes for more options. Post a comment to The-British-Empire's profile. It could often operate differently in a colony on one side of the world from a colony on the other side. He is the author of Britain, Egypt and the Middle East (1981) and Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the post-war World (1988), and is currently preparing a study of British imperial decline since 1900. The decline and fall of the British empire. Richard Drayton, ‘Where does the world historian write from? It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy and … Capitalism's critics and defenders: early twentieth century economic explanations of Victorian British imperial expansion 4. (Alas, my publisher would not permit the title, saying that it would confuse the American market and lead them to think it was ‘their’ empire that I was writing about!). Far less popular attention, perhaps predictably, was paid to the five elderly Kikuyu attempting to prosecute the British government for torture suffered during the Mau Mau emergency in 1950s Kenya. However, all the above got built on colonization, slave trade and massive deaths of innocent people from the nations they occupied. ( 15 ) one does not go further than this central – essential –.... The brand critics and defenders: early twentieth century economic explanations of Victorian imperial. 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