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The British Empire and its Contested Pasts


Robert J. Blyth and Keith Jeffery (Eds.)

Explores themes of empires as contested entities brimming with antagonisms. Demonstrates the vitality of historians’ engagements with the history of Britain’s imperial experience. Includes cultural history and strong Irish content.

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Imperial rule, commerce, culture and contestation of empire are all represented in this volume, with a particular (but by no means exclusive) focus on aspects and consequences of Britain’s Asian empire, as well as reflections on Irish engagements with the British imperial phenomenon. While engagements between colonisers (including those bringing with them a ‘civilising mission’) and indigenous peoples are explored, so too are cultural perceptions of empire by Britons, and Britain by the colonised who ventured to the imperial ‘Mother Country’. Unexpected corners of the imperial experience are covered, including Belfast-supported missionaries in Nigeria and French Canadian sympathizers for Irish nationalists. Affirmations of empire stand side by side with contestations in, for example, China, Ireland, Africa and Canada.

Table of Contents

Histories of Empire

  • On sources and authenticity: British Imperial expansion and the writing of Asian histories, c. 1760-1830 ~ Michael Dodson
  • ‘What did you do in the war, Professor?’ Imperial history and propaganda, 1939-45 ~ Simon J. Potter

The ‘civilising mission’?

  • Exploration, science and cross-cultural intimacy ~ Dane Kennedy
  • Born preachers? New Christians and the Qua Iboe mission, 1887-1920 ~ Elaine Doyle
  • The natural history of society: the Orientalism of William Cooke Taylor ~ Patrick Maume

Impacts of the Asian Empire

  • Empire, identity and barbarians: the British and China, 1750-1840 ~ Ulrike Hillemann
  • ‘L’enfant terrible of the ICS’: C.J. O’Donnell and the British administration of Bengal, 1872-82 ~ Barry Crosbie
  • ‘The Land of Gold and Silver’: Indian students and their perceptions of Britiain, 1907-39 ~ Sumita Mukherjee
  • Enoch Powell against empire: the ‘New Commonwealth;, the Kenyan Asian crisis and the burdens of the past ~ Milla Schofield

Irish Perspectives

  • ‘The most outrageous Set of People that ever lived’: desertion, identity and Irish seamen of the Royal Navy in North America, 1745-1815 ~ Martin Hubley
  • ‘The White God of the Hindus’: John Nicholson as a British and Irish imperial hero ~ Michael Silvestri
  • French Canadians and the Irish question, 1900-21 ~ Simon Jolivet
  • Patrick Pearse and Ireland’s position in the empire ~ Joost Augustijn
  • Piet on peat: the Irish romance of Afrikaner anti-imperialism ~ Bill Nasson

About the Editors

Robert Blyth is Curator of Imperial and Maritime History at the National Maritime Museum and is the author of Empire of the Raj:India, Eastern Africa and the Middle East (2003).

Keith Jeffery is Professor of British History at Queen’s University, Belfast and Official Historian of MI6.