British Worlds, 1750-1914

Course Material 2023/24

This paper will explore the encounter and relations between Britain and the wider, non-European world, through different modes of exchange, conflict, accommodation, conquest and governance. The emphasis will be on reciprocal as well as violently unequal engagements – what Britain learns and thinks about the world, and what non-European peoples learn and think about Britons. It will discuss where and how British ideas of self, society, culture, heritage, race and gender were forged. In this sense it will engage with the established literature on centre-periphery relations, while benefitting from recent transnational approaches to the British World.

The aim is to focus not on imperial relations or policy, but on the interactions between knowledgeable elites, masters and labourers, governors and collaborators, and forms of imperial power and subaltern resistance. We take as our starting point late eighteenth-century British encounters with the Pacific, Asia and Africa, leading to the acquisition of knowledge, and also to interventionist programmes of labour and resource extraction in these regions and in the Americas.

At the mid point of the course, we will attend to ideologies of rule and then to diverse agents, including intellectuals, missionaries, travellers and collectors who contributed to or contested the steel frame of empire. Next, we explore the more fully developed imperial practices and societies and relations that characterize the period of ‘new imperialism’ between 1870 and 1914. We end with the First World War and the evolution of organised anti-imperialism.