The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

31

Epilogue

JUDITH M. BROWN

This volume, like its predecessors in the series, has attempted, from a latetwentieth-century perspective and with the freedom of those not directly engaged in Empire, to stand back and review the Imperial experience with the benefit of the wealth of historical evidence which has become available in recent years. It has sought to understand the way the Empire worked and how it appeared and felt to those involved in it, both as rulers and subjects. It has examined the way it was held together politically and administratively, how it functioned on a routine basis, and how it dealt with local and international crises. It has analysed the economic forces underpinning and eventually eroding the Empire, and the ideologies which sustained and challenged it. The later chapters have focused on the parts of the Empire outside Britain, the Imperial periphery, and the experience of those who lived there, their influence on and within the Empire, and how they eventually emerged from Britannia's Imperial grasp to become citizens of independent nation states. The Epilogue looks at some of the more significant ways in which the existence of the former British Empire still influences the world at the juncture of two millennia, although that Empire has long ceased to be a political and economic force.

The twentieth century saw the British Empire reach its greatest geographical extent, and for a brief time exercise its greatest power. In the first half of this century it exerted its most pervasive influence in its Asian and African territories. Under the impact of two world wars it underwent significant reconstruction and its ideologies were modified. Simultaneously it began to transform itself into an international community of free nations of an unprecedented kind. The rapid process of decolonization, by the end of the century, left only a handful of dependent territories such as Gibraltar, St Helena, Bermuda, and Montserrat, but the historical legacies of British colonial rule still profoundly mark the international world, the former metropolis, Britain herself, and the once-dependent areas. The power of these legacies and interest in the Empire is still deep and ideologically sensitive. This has been evident in a wide range of events and tendencies, from the Falklands War of 1982 and the return of Hong Kong to

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