Rediscovering the British World

Rediscovering the British World

Rediscovering the British World

Rediscovering the British World

Excerpt

Beginning in the 1960s, a revolution took place both in the historiography of the British Empire and in the historiography of each of the colonies of settlement, as they used to be known, or the Dominions, as they were officially named in 1907. In the nineteenth century the colonies of settlement – Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – were defined as part of what Sir Charles Dilke called "Greater Britain." Indeed, the Dominions, along with India, were seen as the core of the British Empire. "We are part of an Empire which in one Continent is the heir of great Oriental monarchies, in other Continents is one of a brotherhood of democracies," the soon-to-be Prime Minister of Great Britain, A. J. Balfour, declared in 1901. This perspective persisted well into the twentieth century and was reflected in the Cambridge History of the British Empire, published in nine volumes between 1929 and 1959. The emphasis in the Cambridge History was on India and the self-governing Dominions, each of which was dealt with in a separate volume in the series (except for Newfoundland, which was included in the volume on Canada). The rest of what was described as the "dependent" Empire was examined in only one volume. Of course, the Cambridge History reflected a vision of imperial history that is quite unacceptable today. It viewed the British as an imperial people peacefully building colonies of British settlement in underpopulated and undeveloped parts of the globe or generously spreading British civilization to parts of the globe where there were large and irremovable non-European populations. The Cambridge History was also based on the assumption that the Empire would last, if not for a thousand years, at least for the foreseeable future and that it would be a very long time . . .

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