At the peak of its power, it was often said that ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’. By 1922 the British Empire held sway over one-quarter of the world’s population and about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area. In January 1960, while in Africa, the British Prime Minister, stated that ‘the wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact’. With these words he ushered in the second phase of British decolonisation of its Empire.
This topic explores the history and legacy of the British Empire in its political, social, economic and cultural dimensions, from the late 16th Century to Brexit. It places in comparative context the issues of explaining British imperial expansion across the globe, methods of rule, the encounter between colonised and coloniser (British and native narratives) and the development of political modernity. It then deals with the rise of opposition to British rule and independence movements in the British Empire, the decolonisation of the British Empire, the formation of the Commonwealth and the experiences of the colonised during the decolonisation process and during their postcolonial independence period, and ends with looking at the Empire today and Brexit. The topic engages with various textual and visual sources, from historical writing and film (both documentaries and fiction), to documents, including images.
This topic aims to offer critical and comparative insights into the rise and fall of the British empire, with particular focus upon colonial experiences of Empire, decolonisation and postcolonial development.