Dane. Britain and Empire, 1880-1945 (London: Longman, 2002). 140
history instructors have found it increasingly difficult to keep up to date
with the wide array of monographs that have recently been published on the
British Empire. Britain and Empire, an addition to the Longman
Seminar Studies in History series, aims to come to the aid of the harried
instructor by incorporating the findings of much of this enormous literature
into a short readable survey on the British Empire from the late Victorian
era to the end of World War II. In particular, Dane Kennedy, professor of
history and international affairs at George Washington University, sets
out to examine the relationship between Britain and its empire. As the British
Empire expanded, Kennedy argues, the British were united in their support
of the imperial enterprise. The book is well written and informative, but
focuses too much on Britain while overstating the support imperialism found
among ordinary Britons.
contends that whenever Britain's power was threatened by rival states, it
responded with a new commitment to empire. When its economic and military
preeminence was challenged by Germany and the US in the late 19th century,
the British Empire added new colonies, particularly in Africa, while consolidating
control over its informal empires in Latin America and Asia. Victory over
its European rivals in World War I brought new colonial possessions in Africa
and the Middle East. Even though Japan occupied some British colonies during
the Second World War, Britain regained them by the war's end.
book, which is more about Britain and less about developments within the
colonies, focuses on the impact of imperialism at home. Kennedy contends
that empire permeated every facet of British life and gained enthusiastic
mass endorsement. Schools, voluntary organizations, newspapers, literature,
and government sponsored cultural events, promoted imperial patriotism.
Successive governments remained committed to social imperialism, maintaining
their colonial possessions through popular support and an efficient and
active state. Only those on the fringes of the political spectrum, such
as the communist party, showed any sustained opposition to imperialism.
Even at the end of World War II, on the eve of decolonization, Kennedy claims
that Britons remained as committed to their empire as ever.
has produced a concise narrative on the expansion of the British Empire,
but he overstates the degree to which the British supported the colonial
effort. The book concentrates on British political leaders and those in
the upper classes who traded, administered and reported on the empire. Looking
at the views of the British working classes, as Bernard Porter did in his
recent book, The Absent-Minded Imperialists (2004), reveals less
avid commitment to the imperial enterprise than Kennedy contends. After
World War II, no political movement emerged to demand that Britain retain
its empire. If the average person deeply identified Britishness with empire,
1945-1950 would have been the time to show it. Unfortunately, Kennedy ends
his account abruptly in 1945, never tackling decolonization.
buttress his arguments, Kennedy provides a number of welcome additions to
the text. The book includes six cartoons and 27 short written documents
from the period, a timeline, a glossary, a who's who of important people
and three black and white maps; two which show the British Empire in 1897
and 1930 and, rather strangely, a map of the Middle East in 1926. These,
I presume, are for classroom use and are included to entice instructors
to assign the book to their students. However, students will need much more
background knowledge of Britain and its empire before they can attempt to
understand the dizzying array of places and events that litter each page
of the book.
said, Britain and Empire will prove useful to teachers looking
for a quick overview of British imperialism to update their lecture notes.
Instructors will need to look elsewhere, however, for a book that spans
the British Empire's whole history, that outlines developments within the
colonies themselves, or that focuses on the attitudes of the British working
class to empire.
Joliet Junior College