The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources

By Robin W. Winks | Go to book overview

THE EMPIRE SINCE 1783

John S. Galbraith

ON THE EVE of World War I, James Bryce, comparing the British and the Roman Empires, found no evidence of serious internal or external threats which could portend that the British Empire might soon suffer the fate of Rome.1 Just before World War II, in the environment of the Munich agreement, Robert Briffault pronounced The Decline and Fall of the British Empire.2 Bryce's optimism proved excessive, for war altered the character of the world and weakened the vitality of the British society; Briffault's announcement of the Empire's decease, on the other hard, was premature. But both found it appropriate to associate Imperial Britain with Imperial Rome.

The British, like the Romans, were law-givers. The political empire might disintegrate, but the law remained; and, said Bryce, "the world is, or will shortly be, practically divided between two sets of legal conceptions of rules, and two only."3 In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Empire transformed itself into the British Commonwealth of Nations, and after World War II, when Great Britain released her hold upon India and other dependencies in Asia and Africa, they with few exceptions chose to remain in the community. This feat of legerdemain almost universally evoked admiration in the Western world; the genius may not have been exclusively British, and the changes were dictated by the realities of life, but the achievement was impressive. Since this translation of an empire into a commonwealth was accomplished by constitutional means, students of the Empire naturally have been preoccupied with analysis of changing constitutional relationships within the Commonwealth association. The dominant emphases have been the development of free institutions in the col-

____________________
1
Bryce, The Ancient Roman Empire and the British Empire in India: The Diffusion of Roman and English Law throughout the World ( London, 1914), p. 76.
2
New York, 1938.
3
Bryce, The Ancient Roman Empire and the British Empire in India, p. 132.

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The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors ix
  • Introduction 3
  • The American Continental Colonies in the Empire 23
  • The Empire Since 1783 46
  • Canada 69
  • Australia 137
  • New Zealand 174
  • The British Territories in the Pacific 197
  • South Africa 212
  • British Central Africa 237
  • British East Africa 248
  • British West Africa 261
  • Egypt and the Sudan 279
  • Great Britain and Inter­national Trusteeship: the Mandate System 296
  • Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus 312
  • Ireland's Commonwealth Years, 1922-1949 326
  • The British West Indies 344
  • India 357
  • Pakistan 396
  • Ceylon 421
  • Burma 448
  • Malaysia 460
  • Commonwealth Literature: Developments and Prospects 493
  • Appendix: An American Report 523
  • Index 529
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