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Moving Forward Looking Back: Anniversaries, Remembrance and the Anglo-German Relationship in 2014

Helene von BismarckDr. Helene von Bismarck, Associate Editor

Both in Britain and in Germany, 2014 was a period when looking back was very much on top of the agenda. The list of historical events that were commemorated – some of them with joy, others with great solemnity – is as long as it is impressive: the 300th jubilee of the accession to the British throne by the House of Hanover, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy and the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. What these anniversaries have in common is that they concern both Britons and Germans, because they raise awareness of important landmarks in the histories of both countries and point to the extent these histories have met and influenced one another. Even the last item on the list, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, was – at least indirectly – also a milestone of British history, because it symbolized the end of the Cold War, as well as the unification of a strengthened middle power at the centre of Europe, two issues that have been of great consequence to Britain.

There are two reasons why it is worthwhile to take a closer look at how these important historical events have been celebrated and remembered in Britain and Germany, respectively, during the past year: it helps assess the long-term consequences that these landmarks of Anglo-German history have had, and it tells us a lot about the present rapport between the two countries. What should concern us is not only whether new breakthroughs in academic scholarship have been achieved in 2014, but how the Hanoverian accession, the First and the Second World War and the end of the Cold War have been discussed in the public sphere. As all professional historians know, even though they may not like to think about it, their perception of these events, no matter how accurate it may be, does not automatically resonate within society at large, because the impact of academic publications often remains limited to a very small circle. A year of anniversaries like 2014 is a useful reminder that the impact of past events on the present day manifests itself in more than one way: through the individual experience of memory, through the cultural and political act of public remembrance and through the intellectual endeavour of scholars, who try to make history intelligible with the help of sources and (ideally) a sound methodology. It is through the culture of remembrance and the public debate about the past in Britain and Germany that deep-seated and widespread mutual perceptions are made visible. The cluster of anniversaries in 2014 can thus be regarded as a mirror reflecting the current state of the Anglo-German relationship beyond the arena of high politics.

On the British side, 2014 was a year witnessing sincere and far-reaching efforts to learn more about Germany’s history and culture and to make this knowledge available to the public at large. The tricentenary of the coronation in London of the first Hanoverian king, George I, was not only commemorated with a splendid service at St-Martin-in-the-Fields in the presence of the Duke of Kent and the German ambassador, it also occasioned the organisation of a number of exhibitions, lectures and concerts dealing with the Georgian age.[i] While each of these events had a different focus, two general trends in the presentation of the comparatively little known 123-year Hanoverian period of British history became apparent: the attempt to underline the relevance to Britain’s road to modernity of the Georgian age, with its important innovations in the arts, design, music and science, and the readiness to paint a more positive picture of the Georgian kings, who had for a long time suffered from a largely negative reputation summed up in the rather brutal yet popular description as ‘the sad, the bad, the mad and the fat’. There was also a new emphasis on the importance of the German origins of the royal family. BBC 4 ran a miniseries on the Georgian age and went as far as far as calling this program ‘The German Kings who made Britain’[ii], while Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of The Queen’s pictures at The Queen’s Gallery, where a major exhibition on this subject was held, claimed that their status as German outsiders enabled the Hanoverian monarchs to act as successful modernizers in Britain.[iii]

Another and even more impressive example of British endeavours to use 2014, the year of anniversaries, as an occasion to understand the German point of view better has been the exhibition ‘Germany: Memories of a Nation’ that is still on view in the British Museum and was visited by Angela Merkel and David Cameron in early January 2015. Together with a lecture series broadcasted on Radio BBC 4 by the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, and a book with the same title, this has been a remarkable attempt to make Germany intelligible to the British public. Exhibition, lecture series and book are not satisfied with presenting an overview of German history, they endeavour to explain the perceptions most Germans have of their own identity and culture. Taking the reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as an intellectual starting point, they try to explain the German point of view by focusing on the memories that the inhabitants of this modern Germany share. Without leaving out the horrible chapters of German history, and the guilt and shame that Germans have to deal with until this day, MacGregor still paints an overwhelmingly generous picture of Germany as a nation where design, philosophy, music, the arts and engineering have flourished over centuries. In the end, what has emerged is so positive a portrayal of Germany that quite a few German historians and intellectuals would probably feel uncomfortable with it. MacGregor’s professed aim has been to show that there is much more to Germany than the two world wars, on which school syllabi and public debate have been focused in Britain for decades. That the British Museum, arguably one of the most important and influential museums not only in Britain, but the world, presented such an exhibition in the year of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is nothing short of astonishing. It is an important sign that British perceptions of Germany have significantly shifted since the Berlin Wall came down, a time when Britain’s Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, had still been very much afraid of the German ‘national character’.

On the German side, the anniversaries of 2014 have not occasioned a comparable surge of interest in, and empathy with, Britain. Only the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession has led to an outpouring of new scholarship as well as a number of commemorating events, most importantly the grand exhibition organized by the Land Niedersachsen, ‘The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne’.[iv] A number of British scholars contributed to the organisation of this show, which displayed a substantial number of exhibits on loan from the Royal Collection. The other 2014 anniversaries, while publically and solemnly commemorated, have not led to visible new enquiries into the Anglo-German relationship. This is due to the fact that both world wars are primarily regarded by the majority of Germans as tragic and horrible landmarks in the history of their nation and Europe as a whole, but are not so much analyzed through the Anglo-German lens. Still, what is interesting is that the public debate about the First World War, a debate that reached a whole new level of intensity in 2014, was largely dominated by the controversy about a book by the Cambridge historian Christopher Clark, called ‘The Sleepwalkers’, in which he takes a multilateral approach in his quest for the reasons for the outbreak of war in 1914.[v] His argument, which absolves Germany from the charge of unique or even main responsibility, has not by any means remained undisputed by other scholars, but his views have still had an outstanding effect on the public debate about the First World War. Apart from selling an impressive number of books, Clark filled lecture halls all over the country, was courted by the media and even invited to host a show on the national television channel ZDF (the German version of BBC 2) called ‘Die Deutschland-Saga’, in which he pretty much explained their own country to the German populace. Clark may be of Australian, not of British origin, but he has worked in Britain since he was a graduate student. His success in Germany and the fact that the wider public is so interested in the perception of their country by a historian who is in many ways a product of Britain’s academic system, can be interpreted as a signalling a certain degree of open-mindedness and respect for British scholars on the German side that makes one hopeful for further intellectual and cultural exchange between the two countries in the future.

2015 can be expected to be a year when Britain’s role in the world will be under constant debate and may be shaped in significant ways. The outcome of the upcoming general elections will in all likelihood have a far-reaching effect on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, given David Cameron’s promise that he will renegotiate the terms of British membership and organize an in-or-out-referendum if he is re-elected. It is of course up to the British to decide whether or not their fate lies with the continent. However, in view of Germany’s strong position within the EU, the Anglo-German relationship may have a role to play in the shaping of that fate. Currently, it does not look as if the British and German governments will look eye-to-eye with regard to European integration. However, before we move into 2015 in a state of gloom about the differences between the two countries, it may be worth keeping in mind that the past year of remembrance has shown remarkable attempts, especially on the British side, to promote interest and understanding in one another. It may be the job of governments to decide which role they wish their country to play in international affairs, but this does not alter the fact that there is much more to a country’s place in the world, and its rapport with other nations, than the current state of its foreign policy.

[i] A list of these events can be found at



[iv] The exhibition is now closed but there is an excellent catalogue accompanying it that remains available: Katja Lembke (ed.), Als die Royals aus Hannover kamen. Hannovers Herrscher auf Englands Thron 1914-1837 (Sandstein Verlag 2014).

[v] Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Allen Lane, London 2013).

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January 2015 Newsletter

I. New Chair of Advisory Board

The British Scholar Society is delighted to announce that Professor Linda Colley has been named as the new Chair of our Advisory Board. Serving as the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, Dr. Colley is a world-renowned historian of Britain whose many works are, without a doubt, intimately familiar to scholars in every area of British Studies. Dr. Colley will serve a term of five years as the Advisory Board Chair, and we are excited for what this new connection will bring in the coming years. More information on Dr. Colley’s work and accomplishments can be found at the following link:

II. Plenary Speakers Announced for Annual Conference

Two speakers for plenary talks at the 2015 Britain and the World Conference have been announced. Along with our keynote lecture, delivered by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College Dublin, Professors Anna Clark and Patrick Salmon will also deliver lectures on topics pertinent to scholars of British Studies. Dr. Clark, who serves as Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, will give the Britain and the World Lecture, in which she will discuss the past and future of British Studies, especially in light of the “global turn” in our and other fields of inquiry. An article version of lecture will also appear in our journal, Britain and the World. Dr. Salmon, Chief Historian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), will give the Frank Turner Memorial Lecture. We are looking forward to the insights he will provide, both as a scholar and in the context of his role at the FCO. More information on Dr. Clark and Dr. Salmon can be found at the following links:

III. Reminder: Conference Hotel Booking Available

The Society would like to remind its participants in the 2015 Britain and the World Conference that you may now book your room at our conference hotel, the Hilton Doubletree University Area.  The room block is available until 6 March 2015 and rooms are limited, so please do not wait to book.  You may purchase your room at the following link:

IV. Society Editors on Witches, Angels, and Demons in Video Games

As announced in a previous edition of the Newsletter, Assistant General Editor Robert Whitaker has undertaken a fascinating project that investigates the relationship between history and video games. His work has been featured both in the form of online articles and in interviews with historians whose work is related to particular video games. A new episode of Dr. Whitaker’s web series, History Respawned, features an interview with Assistant General Editor Michelle Brock on the historical depiction of witches, angels, and demons in the context of the game Diablo III. Dr. Brock’s and Dr. Whitaker’s conversation is available at the following link:

V. Announcement from Newsletter Editor Leslie Rogne Schumacher for our Subscribers

It gives me great pleasure to announce that there are now more than 1000 subscribers to the British Scholar Newsletter. Not only does this number represent both past and anticipated participants in our annual conferences, but also the work of all of our members, editors, Board of Directors and Advisory Board members, and affiliates at Edinburgh University Press and Palgrave Macmillan in spreading the word of the work that The British Scholar Society is doing. This is also an indication of a new and growing energy and excitement that I think we all sense in the field of British Studies more broadly. In the coming months, I will begin to roll out a number of new regular and occasional features in the Newsletter, and I hope to see our subscriber numbers grow to even greater heights.  Thank you for reading my words, and please never hesitate to contact me with events, announcements, comments, and suggestions (lesliedotschumacheratgmaildotcom).

VI. Workshop on Empire, Slavery, and Economics at the University of Nottingham

A one-day workshop titled “The Economies of End of Empire” will take place on 28 January 2015 at the University of Nottingham. The workshop will feature several talks on slavery, abolition, and the British Empire. Admittance is free but participants should register by noon on 19 January 2015. More information can be found at the following link:

VII. British Association for Canadian Studies CFP

The British Association for Canadian Studies (BACS) will hold its annual conference in London on 23-25 April 2015. Individual and panel submissions are both welcome, and the deadline for submission is 30 January 2015. More information can be found at the following link:

VIII. Book of the Month

John E. Crowley, Imperial Landscapes: Britain’s Global Visual Culture, 1745-1820

Reviewed by Douglas Fordham, University of Virgi

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January 2015: Imperial Landscapes: Britain’s Global Visual Culture, 1745-1820

Reviewed by: Douglas Fordham, University of Virgi

John E. Crowley, Yale University Press, 2011. 320pp. US $85 (hardback).

In this ambitious and wide-ranging book, John Crowley argues that “in the second half of the eighteenth century British artists were disproportionately frequent and original in representing their imperial worlds topographically, and that distinctiveness makes their work inherently interesting from a comparative perspective.” (13) Crowley defines topographic representation as “how a place would appear to viewers if they went there themselves” (76) thereby distinguishing it from cartographic and other modes of representation. In the opening chapter Crowley examines the origins of topographic representation in Europe, and he argues for the precedence of British topography, particularly in the works of Paul Sandby, who worked on the Scottish Highland Survey following the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. The book then follows British-born and trained artists around the globe in chapters dedicated to Canada, the Pacific, the West Indies, the United States of America, India, and Australia. By the end of this global Grand Tour the book leaves little doubt that topographic imagery constituted a major component of British visual culture. The book is stunningly illustrated and its geographic divisions provide helpful summaries of the field as well as convenient introductions to British imperial history and its representation. The reasons for Great Britain’s “topographic imperative,” however, remain frustratingly elusive, and Crowley’s thesis raises more questions than it answers. This may not be a bad thing for the fields of imperial history and art history upon which Crowley predominantly draws, but it does suggest just how difficult it can be to unite these disciplines to the satisfaction of specialists in either.

In the opening chapter of the book Crowley tests W.J.T. Mitchell’s oft-quoted claim that landscape “is something like the ‘dreamwork’ of imperialism”. (Mitchell, W.J.T., ed. Landscape and Power, 2nd ed., 2002, p. 10). Crowley challenges Mitchell’s phrase by arguing that landscape was rather “an underused resource for European imperialism” (16) prior to the mid-eighteenth century. This is a decidedly literal reading of Mitchell’s evocative “theses on landscape” and when the book ventures into causal explanations for British art’s topographical imperative it tends to produce a rather blunt variant of Mitchell’s thesis. “The landscape of the new imperial domain congratulated British military accomplishments” in Canada (57), “picturesquely topographic art naturalized the regime of slavery by making it part of the landscape,” (139) and “British landscape art of early British India functioned as self-propaganda for polite society among Britain’s political nation.”(203) Artistic agency and public reception, to say nothing of cultural resistance and political contingency, are held safely at bay in these sweeping generalizations. It is telling, for example, that Crowley’s discussion of “The Anti-Imperial Alternative” in British India refers exclusively to the Warren Hastings trial and associated textual sources.(184) For Crowley, topographic landscape is always imperial and expansionist, a view that is surely correct on balance, but which tends to level interesting distinctions and downplay the openness and instability of visual signification.

While the bourgeoning field of “art and the British empire” has fought to hold open and interrogate the precise relationship of art to empire, Crowley leaves little doubt that empire produced, or at least necessitated, Britain’s topographic imperative. William Blake’s searing retort to conventional wisdom, that “Empire follows Art and not Vice Versa as Englishmen suppose,” is nowhere to be found in Crowley’s narrative. The question of precedence and timing is an important one, because Crowley states in the conclusion that “By the late 1780s artists and patrons in other European visual cultures were emulating the British global landscape.”(227) This suggests a delay of no more than twenty years, since Crowley returns time and again to the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) as a major impetus to British topographical representation. How significant is this delay, and is this predominantly a function of the market-driven London book and print trade, British imperial circumstance, or other factors? Crowley makes a convincing case that publications related to the Cook expeditions, for example, stimulated European emulation in subsequent decades. With a few exceptions, however, Crowley brackets out direct comparisons between British art and the art of Continental Europe to the first and the last chapter. And yet these are some of the most suggestive and provocative claims in the book, and his thesis ultimately rests on the accuracy of those claims. This kind of comparative analysis, and the recognition that the imperial periphery was marked by a hybrid agglomeration of languages and national affiliations, offers significant opportunities for further research.

If Imperial Landscapes tends to homogenize “Britain’s Global Visual Culture,” as the subtitle informs us, it nonetheless does a remarkable job summarizing and rendering coherent a vast body of scholarship that is frequently sequestered in regional and disciplinary silos. As a synthetic narrative work it highlights fault lines within and between the disciplines of art and imperial history. By isolating topographic landscape as a fairly hermetic genre, Crowley manages to unite a broad swath of imagery from around the globe over three-quarters of a century. Those who analyze topographic landscape in relation to other strands of imperial visual culture, most notably ethnographic portraits, costume studies, and graphic satire, might draw very different conclusions. Similarly, the “Britishness” of topographic landscape identifies something fundamental about the art of the eighteenth century, but it should not preclude further study into the alternative identities and colonial assertions of difference that visual representation might yield. Imperial Landscapes suggests just how far the study of imperial representation has advanced in the past decade, and it brings this material together in new and unexpected ways. It marks a major contribution to the field and one that will undoubtedly stimulate further debate.


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November 2014 Newsletter

I. Extension of Deadline: CFP for Annual Conference

The British Scholar Society has extended the deadline of its Call for Papers for our annual conference, which will be held 2-4 April 2015 in Austin, TX. More information on the conference can be found at the following link:

The conference accepts both individual paper and complete panel submissions. Submissions of individual papers should include an abstract of 150-300 words as well as a few descriptive keywords. Panels are expected to consist of three to four papers and should be submitted by one person who is willing to serve as the point of contact. Complete panels must also include a chair. In addition to abstracts for each individual paper, panel submissions should also include a brief 100-150 word introduction describing the panel’s main theme. The conference does not discriminate between panels and individual paper submissions.

All submissions for inclusion in the Britain and the World Conference must be received by Monday, 15 December 2014. Decisions on inclusion will be made by Friday, 29 December 2014. Submissions should be made electronically to editoratbritishscholardotorg. Updates regarding the conference will be periodically posted to the Society website. It is hoped that participants will be able to call upon their departments for hotel and transportation expenses.

II. Extension of Deadline: Call for Participants in Roundtables at Annual Conference

As our general CFP has been extended, we have also decided to extend the Call for Participants for two roundtables that will be featured at our annual conference. We are looking to attract scholars to take part in each roundtable, so please use the links below to read more about the planned topics as well as learn how to register your interest in participating.  The deadline to apply is Monday, 15 December 2014.

Roundtable: Atlantic and Global Perspectives

Roundtable: Britain after the Referendum

III. Additions to “Britain and the World” Book Series

Two new books in The British Scholar Society’s “Britain and the Worldbook series from Palgrave Macmillan are now available.

David A. Johnson’s New Delhi: The Last Imperial City looks at the planning, construction, and development of New Delhi between 1911 and 1931, investigating the ways in which the new city was designed both to accommodate and combat Indian self-determination. More information on Dr Johnson’s book can be found at

Brandon Marsh’s Ramparts of Empire: British Imperialism and India’s Afghan Frontier, 1918-1948 explores the latter era of Imperial Britain’s involvement in the politics and culture of the frontier between North-West India and Afghanistan. One can find out more about Dr Marsh’s fascinating book at

IV. Call for Contributors to Scotia: Interdisciplinary Journal of Scottish Studies

The editors of Scotia: Interdisciplinary Journal of Scottish Studies have announced a Call for Contributors to a future issue of their journal. They are particularly interested in receiving articles concerned with Scotland’s role in the First World War. Interested parties should send any inquiries and/or contributions to wrodneratodudotedu. Submissions should be made by February 2015 for a publication date of late summer 2015.

V. Call for Papers: Trans-Atlantic Dialogues on Cultural Heritage: Heritage, Tourism and Traditions

The British Scholar Society would like to draw attention to an upcoming conference that may be of interest to its members and newsletter recipients. Below is a description from the conference organizers, including information on how to submit abstracts as well as other relevant details.

International Conference:

Trans-Atlantic Dialogues on Cultural Heritage: Heritage, Tourism and Traditions


13-16 July 2015, Liverpool, UK

Call for Papers:

Trans-Atlantic dialogues on cultural heritage began as early as the voyages of Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus and continue through the present day. Each side of the Atlantic offers its own geographical and historical specificities expressed and projected through material and immaterial heritage. However, in geopolitical terms and through everyday mobilities, people, objects and ideas flow backward and forward across the ocean, each shaping the heritage of the other, for better or worse, and each shaping the meanings and values that heritage conveys. Where, and in what ways are these trans-Atlantic heritages connected? Where, and in what ways are they not? What can we learn by reflecting on how the different societies and cultures on each side of the Atlantic Ocean produce, consume, mediate, filter, absorb, resist, and experience the heritage of the other?

This conference is brought to you by the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage (IIICH), University of Birmingham and the Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy (CHAMP), University of Illinois and offers a venue for exploring three critical interactions in this trans-Atlantic dialogue: heritage, tourism and traditions. North America and Europe fashioned two dominant cultural tropes from their powerful and influential intellectual traditions, which have been enacted in Central/South America and Africa, everywhere implicating indigenous cultures. These tropes are contested and linked through historical engagement and contemporary everyday connections. We ask: How do heritages travel? How is trans-Atlantic tourism shaped by heritage? To what extent have traditions crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic? How have heritage and tourism economies emerged based upon flows of peoples and popular imaginaries?

The goal of the conference is to be simultaneously open-ended and provocative. We welcome papers from academics across a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, archaeology, art history, architecture, business, communication, ethnology, heritage studies, history, geography, landscape architecture, literary studies, media studies, museum studies, popular culture,  postcolonial studies, sociology, tourism, urban studies, etc. Topics of interest to the conference include, but are not limited to, the following:

The heritage of trans-Atlantic encounters

Travelling intangible heritages

Heritage flows of popular culture

Re-defining heritage beyond the postcolonial

The heritage of Atlantic crossings

World Heritage of the Atlantic periphery

Rooting and routing heritage

Community and Nation on display

Visualising the Trans-Atlantic world

Abstracts of 300 words with full contact details should be sent as soon as possible but no later than 15th December 2014 to ironbridgeatcontactsdotbhamdotacdotuk.

More information can be found at the following link:

Best wishes,

Conference Convenors: Mike Robinson (University of Birmingham) and Helaine Silverman (University of Illinois)

VI. Book of the Month

Damon Ieremia Salesa, Racial Crossings: Race, Intermarriage, and the British Empire

Reviewed by Lachy Paterson, University of Otago

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November 2014: Racial Crossings: Race, Intermarriage, and the British Empire

41GDB9Ka+9LReviewed by: Lachy Paterson, University of Otago

Damon Ieremia Salesa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 308 pp. $US 45 (paperback)

Race has always been an important preoccupation in New Zealand society. In the country’s popular imagination, its past is predicated on national myths that it had the best race relations in the world, and that its Māori citizens were the best treated of all indigenous peoples.   Intermarriage between Māori and the Pākehā settlers, a practice encouraged even prior to formal colonisation, was often given as evidence for such claims. Damon Salesa’s Racial Crossings is an exciting investigation of the theories, discourses and policies that underpinned intermarriage, and the broader colonial project of racial amalgamation.

The volume’s subtitle, Race, Intermarriage, and the Victorian British Empire, is a little misleading. The book is not a social history of intermarriage: indeed the story concerns itself more with the discourses of racial crossing, than the lives of the actual people doing the crossing. Its focus is on roughly four decades of New Zealand history, one preceding the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) and the three following. A reader will find little detail on the policies and practice of intermarriage of colonial India, Canada, Australia or South Africa, or even of New Zealand in the last three decades of Victoria’s reign.   As Salesa notes, power was generally devolved to colonial governors, whose actions and policies were shaped by local conditions.   Although conditions may have been localised, ideas flowed more freely around the Empire. New Zealand’s pertinence to “imperial” studies is that it was colonised when humanitarianism was flourishing. After earlier examples of destructive colonisation, Britain sought to protect New Zealand’s promising “aborigines” through civilisation and amalgamation. Although missionaries, officials both in Britain and New Zealand, intellectuals and settler politicians may have had differing (and sometimes competing) agenda, a general consensus prevailed that intermarriage would benefit both Māori and colonisation.

While nineteenth-century race relations is a well-ploughed field within New Zealand historiography, Racial Crossings brings new insights. In particular, it is prepared to take seriously the racial ideology of New Zealand Company, which saw the country as eminently ideal for systematic British emigration, with its fertile soils, suitable climate and superior natives. The latter were expected to sell their lands cheaply in order to gain civilisation through close proximity with the settlers, and eventually the two races would become one. Although the Company failed in nearly all its aims except bringing the first rush of settlers to five of New Zealand’s six initial “colonies” including women (which lessened the prospect of intermarriage) Salesa argues that its discourses continued well past its dissolution. In many ways, Racial Crossings complements the seminal volume on racial amalgamation, A Show of Justice (1974), in which Alan Ward methodically investigates the incorporation of Māori into the politics and machinery of the state.   Many New Zealand historians lose sight of the imperial network of ideas that informed New Zealand’s colonisation, but Salesa effectively explicates the ideas and ideology behind government actions, and why “race” and racial mixing was so important to amalgamation.   Of particular interest are the fruits of racial mixing, the so-called “half-castes”. Theorists argued over whether the world’s races all evolved from a common source, or sprang up independently in different parts of the globe, and the nature of any progeny that might arise from racial mixing. Would they be sterile or fecund, degenerate or vigorous, the possessors of the perceived defects or strengths of their parents’ make up, and were some mixes better than others?

The prevailing views, that intermarriage was not degenerative and that Māori were promising candidates for civilisation, shaped the nature of New Zealand’s colonisation. In 1840 the new British administration was not in a position to impose amalgamation on Māori who remained effectively politically independent of governmental control. Persuasion, rather than coercion, was the only viable policy in the first two decades, although intermarriage might well aid the government’s gradual appropriation of power. Half-castes were already a feature of contact zones, and although it was initially thought that Māori and Pākehā might merge into a new race, the high rate of immigration saw the possibilities of gradual absorption of Māori into the Pākehā population, with a diminution of Māori power, and their eventual disappearance as a separate race.   As Salesa points out, Victorian sensibilities precluded the extermination of Māori, their extinction by more “tender” means was seen as good for all concerned.   Half-castes are thus central to Racial Crossings, as they were to New Zealand government policy, during both gubernatorial and settler control.   The control of half-castes, and their incorporation into European society and polity was thus a central concern of race policy in New Zealand. Much effort was expended in the attempt to shape half-castes so that they would become a force for colonial progress, and to legislatively draw half-castes away from their Māori kin.   Salesa posits that half-castes, in general, were not successfully absorbed within Pākehā society. Enduring genealogical bonds meant they remained well integrated within Māori communities, and emotional reactions could draw half-castes away from Pākehā life even after years of education and removal. However, he shies away from other factors: for example, while government policy may have promoted racial crossings, white society itself was not always as inclusive in the nineteenth century, particularly of white women marrying brown men, and half-castes may have felt more comfortable and accepted amongst their Māori kin.

Racial Crossings is not an introductory text, and indeed some prior knowledge of New Zealand history, although not obligatory, would benefit readers. What it does very well is engage with the big ideas that underlay racial thinking and discourses in the British Empire, and demonstrate how these informed British colonisation in New Zealand.


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October 2014 Newsletter

I. Reminder: CFP for Annual Conference

The British Scholar Society would like to remind everyone of the Call for Papers for our annual conference, which will be held 2-4 April 2015 in Austin, TX. More information on the conference can be found at the following link:

The conference accepts both individual paper and complete panel submissions. Submissions of individual papers should include an abstract of 150-300 words as well as a few descriptive keywords. Panels are expected to consist of three to four papers and should be submitted by one person who is willing to serve as the point of contact. Complete panels must also include a chair. In addition to abstracts for each individual paper, panel submissions should also include a brief 100-150 word introduction describing the panel’s main theme. The conference does not discriminate between panels and individual paper submissions.

All submissions for inclusion in the Britain and the World Conference must be received by Monday, 17 November 2014. Decisions on inclusion will be made by Friday, 5 December 2014. Submissions should be made electronically to editoratbritishscholardotorg. Updates regarding the conference will be periodically posted to the Society website. It is hoped that participants will be able to call upon their departments for hotel and transportation expenses.


II. Annual Conference Keynote Speaker Named

The Keynote Speaker for the Britain and the World 2015 Conference will be Professor Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College Dublin.  Professor Ohlmeyer’s Keynote Address is titled ‘Eastward Enterprises: Colonial Ireland, Colonial India’, and it will reconstruct the career of Gerald Aungier, the most important early governor of Bombay (1669-1677).  Aungier was the grandson of an early seventeenth-century Wexford planter and the brother of the earl of Longford, an active colonist and entrepreneur who developed 1670s Dublin on the back of Indian treasure. Aungier planted and colonised Bombay much as his relatives had Ireland during an earlier period. This lecture explores similarities and differences in the colonial processes and looks again at Irish and British expansionism in the East.


III. Call for Participants in Roundtables at Annual Conference

Britain and the World 2015 will feature two roundtables of the greatest importance to all scholars concerned with Britain’s history and future.  We are looking to attract scholars to take part in each roundtable, so please use the links below to read more about the planned topics as well as learn how to register your interest in participating.  The deadline to apply is Monday, 17 November 2014.

Roundtable: Atlantic and Global Perspectives

Roundtable: Britain after the Referendum


IV. Reminder: Book Reviews Editor Needed

The British Scholar Society would like to remind our newsletter recipients of its call for a new Book Reviews Editor for its journal, Britain and the World. Those interested in taking on this responsibility should email editoratbritishscholardotorg with inquiries or to submit your name for consideration. Please include a current CV and a brief note explaining your background, your experience, and the resources you would offer if you took on the position. We will begin reviewing applications for the position on 1 November, so if you are interested in applying please plan on submitting the necessary materials by Friday, 31 October 2014.


V. General Editor’s Note on the September Newsletter

From the Society’s General Editor, Bryan S. Glass:

“The reference to the Edinburgh conference in the last newsletter simply related to factors (the organizers only able to arrive on site during the latter planning stages of the conference, the conference being held in several buildings rather than one, problems encountered with serving refreshments to participants, and the unfortunate circumstance of prolonged bad weather) which did not apply at Newcastle.  Even with these difficulties it was still an excellent conference and we cherish the support we received from the University of Edinburgh, its faculty, and staff.  See our conference recap at:  No criticism of the University or its staff was intended.”

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September 2014 Newsletter

I. 2014 Conference Retrospective from Director of Outreach, Martin Farr

The British Scholar Society’s Director of Outreach, Martin Farr, has written a retrospective on our 2014 annual conference in Newcastle, which was regarded by all involved as a great success and perhaps the best conference we have thus far had. Especially satisfying to all of us at the Society were the numerous plaudits from conference participants that Dr Farr received in the weeks following the conference. Dr Farr’s thoughts on the conference (reproduced below) and the notes of praise and thanks he received testify to the continued growth of the Society and of the connections we continue to make, across the British World and beyond.

A note from Director of Outreach, Martin Farr:

2014 was the second time conference had been held in the UK.  Unlike Edinburgh 2012, however, Newcastle 2014 had someone on the ground (me).  This meant that conference dominated my life to an unhealthy extent for the best part of six months, but it did mean that we had none of the problems that made Edinburgh such a challenging experience.  The weather was much better, for instance.  The greatest challenge to my composure was the number of speakers who withdrew in the weeks, and indeed days, beforehand.  Never having submitted a paper to a conference unless I knew I could deliver it, I was surprised how many people don’t.   We still had 38 panels, 124 papers, and six plenaries which include Lunchtime Lectures on each day. The conference was held in the School of History at Newcastle University, with all plenaries in our nice new teaching rooms, and lunch and refreshments upstairs.  Having all delegates in the same place all the time was the greatest improvement on Edinburgh.  The social events – at the Baltic, Alnwick Castle, and the Town Wall – went very well.  It was all an enormous relief.  There’s nothing I can add to the unsolicited feedback received from delegates, here presented anonymised and complete:

*“Just a note to say thanks and congratulations for such a fantastic conference last week. As a latecomer to the BSS party it was great to meet so many people working on such interesting topics and to spend some time in Newcastle. The sessions were really first class and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable conferences I’ve been to. I have had lunch with Wm Roger Louis since and passed on how well it all went.  I hope you can both now enjoy a bit of a break. Congrats again and all best wishes.”

*“Just to record my thanks for your inspiration and efforts in putting together such a fine event. The David Reynolds lecture was a truly outstanding finale.”

*“Well done for the excellent organisation of the conference. I really liked Newcastle, though I did not have much time to look around. It was also very nice to see British Scholar team and team members”

*“I would like to thank you for organising, once again, a great conference with stimulating papers and entertaining moments in a friendly atmosphere. Please pass on my thanks to all the other colleagues involved in the organising of such an event which, as I know, requires a lot of hard work!”

*“Just wanted to send you both a message of thanks for all of your hard work in organizing the conference in Newcastle.  It was a big task, I’m sure, but you both betrayed so little sign of it that I might have believed it all came together organically without so much as an email being sent around.  I know better though, and so I thought you’d like to hear how universally positive all of the conversations about the conference proved to be.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, made some new friends, very much enjoyed seeing both of you, and that seemed to be the case for everyone I spoke to as well.   Hopefully you have the chance to get some well earned rest!”

*“Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed the conference. You and your colleagues in the British Scholar and Newcastle University did a top notch job – you have obviously done it before! The panels were good and the questions raised were engaging. I look forward to Austin next year, if I can get the funding! Keep in touch.”

*“Brilliant conference Martin, and the dinner at Hogwarts was inspired.”

*“Just wanted to drop you an email to say thanks for a great conference this weekend and for putting me on to the Britain and the World Series at Palgrave. It sounds like they may be interested which is brilliant.  Hope you’re having a well-earned rest!”

*“Congratulations on a successful conference. For me, the lunchtime lectures were the highlight. John and Reba belong to very different traditions, but they complemented one another very well.”

*“I just wanted to take the time to thank you both for putting on such an excellent conference.  It was certainly the best ‘big’ conference I’ve ever been to, and – dare I say – perhaps even better than one I ran here in Aberdeen that previously held my all-time top spot!  Anyway, I know for certain that I wasn’t the only one to really enjoy it, and I think that bears testament to all of the hard work that both of you put in.  I’m not sure if I can make it to Austin, but if I’m lucky enough to still be in academia the year after I’ll definitely try and make it to the next UK-based one.  So, thanks once again to both of you!”

*“I just wanted to drop you a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed the British Scholar conference. I hope the rest of the event and the wrap party went well. I’ll definitely aim to submit an abstract for next year’s event. As I mentioned last weekend, it was a very welcoming and stimulating atmosphere and it was very well organised.”

*“I didn’t get chance to see you before I left but I thought it was a great conference – lots of interesting papers, very relaxed atmosphere and great venues.”

*“I did not get the chance to say this in person on Saturday: many thanks for putting together a great conference!”

*“It was a great conference – I really enjoyed getting a different perspective (from the top of the world down rather than looking up!) and meeting different people. I hope I can make it to another Britain and the World conference again – possibly in 2016.”

*“Well done on a great conference…it all seemed to go very smoothly and well. I really enjoyed it”

*“Congratulations on a very successful conference. You must be exhausted now.”

*“Thank you so much for organizing such a wonderful conference, and for inviting me to present a paper. I had such a lovely time, and got some excellent feedback. I will be sure to encourage my fellow KCL history PhD students to submit abstracts in the future!”

*“Excellent conference, at every level that I had the privilege to be part of.  The Town Wall pub was great and getting very busy, so we headed out for dinner on Grey Street.  I’ll send more later, but very well done!”

*“Thank you for organizing such a great conference. Our session yesterday went very well.”

*“I hope you are at last able to get some relaxation.  I was going to say to you ‘Just think of the lovely Sunday you will have’ when [I was told] that you would be having a meeting on Sunday!  Anyway, I send you my warmest congratulations on a superb conference, marked not only by its intellectual meat, but also by terrific organisation – all thanks to you and Mikki. So this is just to let you know how warmly appreciated it all was. And do please pass on my congratulations to Mikki. And a special thanks for all your care and concern for my welfare. Also greatly appreciated.”

*“I couldn’t resist sending a quick note to thank you both for everything over the past few days. I had a truly wonderful time at the conference — indeed, I am really struggling to find the proper words to express how much I enjoyed and appreciated all that you did, from the panels, to the keynotes and lectures, to the overall organization and atmosphere of the conference. I felt both comfortable and energized, on both intellectual and personal levels, and Newcastle was just great. You really have something special here in this group and I am honored and privileged to be a part of it now. It all sounds horribly trite as I type it out now, so I will stop here and leave it at a simple, additional thank you!! It’s a long time until March, but I eagerly await next year’s conference.”

II. Call for Papers for 2015 Annual Conference of The British Scholar Society

With the 2014 annual conference still fresh in our minds, we are pleased to announce the Call for Papers for the next annual meeting of the Society, which will be held 2-4 April 2015 in Austin, TX. As always, we are accepting both individual paper and complete panel submissions.  The deadline to submit abstracts is Monday, 17 November 2014.  Please refer to the following link for more information on the conference and instructions for the submission of abstracts:

III. Some Thoughts on Scottish Independence and The British Scholar Society

A note on the Scottish independence referendum from Associate Editor, Leslie Rogne Schumacher:

Our annual conference in Newcastle coincided with the lead-up to what will, with little doubt, be regarded in the future as one of the key political and cultural events in modern British history, namely the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Although the union was ultimately confirmed by a margin of 55% to 45%, we have now learned both the strength and the limits of the bonds that tie together the United Kingdom—and, indeed, the British World as whole, given the coverage, concern, and debate that was in evidence throughout Britain’s former colonies, the United States, and beyond. We have also learned of the high degree of political involvement that exists in Scotland, with an astonishing 85% turnout of eligible voters—a number that, even more astonishingly, includes newly enfranchised 16 and 17 year-olds voting for the first time. As an example of the spirit of democracy, there can be no doubt of how heartening this last statistic is.

In the last few months, The British Scholar Society suddenly found itself at the heart of modern politics, which is not surprising given the Society’s role in providing a corrective to the exclusion of the Scottish space in British Studies (not to mention the Society’s strong representation of Scottish scholars among its members). General Editor, Bryan S. Glass, has been very active, providing his insights on the referendum and Scottish history more broadly both in public appearances and to the press. Last week, the Chairman of the Society’s Advisory Board, Sir Tom Devine, was interviewed on Newsnight, engaging in a fascinating, must-watch debate with Harvard professor Niall Ferguson ( on the issue of Scottish independence. As a testament to the powerful dynamic that is emerging between social media and scholarship, other Society members—such as Karly Kehoe, Martin Farr, Mikki Brock, Robert Whitaker, and myself—found themselves in a rolling, near-constant debate on Facebook—a too-often-belittled forum that, for scholars, never fails to expose the narrow gap between one’s work and one’s life.

Looking back on the mixture of emotions I have seen in the last few months—of fascination, anxiety, pride, resentment, and (more than anything) that rare and sought-after sense of being present during an auspicious event—I can only say that I am glad to be a part of this organization and to have so many thoughtful, concerned colleagues and friends. Although what we do may often appear to be just a small, routine contribution to the task of organizing the vagaries of history, we should feel lucky to have had a chance to take part in the present and, more importantly, be of use to it. There is no greater gift a scholar receives than the opportunity to have an impact.

IV. Additions to “Britain and the World” Book Series

Two new books the Society’s “Britain and the Worldbook series from Palgrave Macmillan are now available. Barry Gough’s Pax Britannica: Ruling the Waves and Keeping the Peace before Armageddon provides an analysis of the global role of Britain’s navy between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War. More information on Dr Gough’s book can be found at Erik Nielsen’s Sport and the British World, 1900-1930: Amateurism and National Identity in Australasia and Beyond looks at transnational themes in the history of amateur sports in Australia and New Zealand. One can find out more at,-1900-1930-erik-nielsen/?isb=9781137398505.

V. New Issue of Journal Now Available

The new issue of Britain and the World: Historical Journal of The British Scholar Society is now available both in print and online. Members can access it at the following link:

VI. Associate Editor on the British Royal Family

Associate Editor of the Society Helene von Bismarck has written a piece on the centrality of the family to the popularity of the British monarchy overseas. Please go to the following link to read Dr von Bismarck’s fascinating article, titled “The Cambridges in Australia: Balmorality 2.0?”:

VII. Call for Review Article Submissions to Britain and the World

Britain and the World is seeking submissions for review articles that trace the historiographical direction and current state of the field of any topic that fits the mission of the journal.  Britain and the World publishes review and archival-based articles that present new knowledge on any geographical region or theme that evidence meaningful interaction with Britain.  Please inquire with Professor Gregory A. Barton, Editor-in-Chief, at gabartonatbritishscholardotorg  (gabartonatbritishscholardotorg)  .

VIII. Needed: Book Reviews Editor for Britain and the World

The British Scholar Society is issuing a call for a new Book Reviews Editor for its journal, Britain and the World. Those interested in taking on this responsibility should email editoratbritishscholardotorg  (editoratbritishscholardotorg)   with inquiries or to submit your name for consideration. Please include a current CV and a brief note explaining your background, your experience, and the resources you would offer if you took on the position.

IX. Book of the Month

Graeme Morton, Ourselves and Others: Scotland, 1832-1914

Reviewed by Christopher A Whatley (University of Dundee)

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September 2014: Ourselves and Others: Scotland, 1832-1914

41WkJB6IGIL._SY300_Reviewed by: Christopher A. Whatley (University of Dundee)

Graeme Morton. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. 312 pp. £19.99 (paperback)

Nineteenth century Scottish history is a crowded field. A vast range of topics have been investigated by specialist researchers who have published their findings in monographs, essay collections, and academic journals. Distinguished historians have written survey accounts of the era as a discreet period or included much on the Victorian and Edwardian decades in books with longer chronological frames (e.g. T. C. Smout, W. W. Knox and T. M. Devine). Graeme Morton’s challenge then has been to write a book that incorporates the best of what is a formidable body of research, but which also distinguishes itself from an impressive pack, and offers something fresh, in terms of his approach, arguments, themes, and material. In Ourselves and Others he certainly tries on each of these fronts.

Morton’s proposition is that the period c.1832 to 1914 was a singular age, when Scotland experienced more intense movements of people, ideas and information than ever before. Information is key, in that news became an industry (in which if publishing as a whole is included, Scottish firms played a major part), which meant that knowledge about the Scots themselves, and of others including Scots abroad, cascaded from the printing presses. Scots in the nineteenth century therefore came to know themselves not simply as not English or other than Catholic (if indeed it were ever as simple as this), but on the basis of how much more could now be known and understood. History and identity were therefore joined in dialogue. The principal device which Morton utilises to explore this dialogue is ‘objectification theory’, a concept he borrows from gender studies. Put simply, it is where the observer’s perspective is internalised and adopted by the subject. By ‘believing in how others have objectified our history’, argues Morton, we (the Scots) become subjects as opposed to historical agents (p. 5). Conscious of the drawbacks of applying such a model to the exclusion of all else, Morton prudently sets his theorising alongside a socio-economic narrative of Scotland’s history over the near century his book covers. Morton’s central concern however is with Scottish identity which, in his period, he concludes was much more than a response to the ‘other’ but rather, ‘a relentless eddy of historical developments from home and away, some engaged with completely, most only elliptically’ (p.16).  Global Scots are very much part of his story.

So does Morton’s book add to our understanding of Scotland in the century or so after the Great Reform Act? Where Ourselves and Others certainly succeeds is in the themes selected, and the fresh material Morton uses to illustrate these. Chapter 2, ‘Weather Scotland Will’ is a case in point. Notwithstanding the influence climate and weather have in determining how human beings in different regions live, they are forces largely overlooked by generalist Scottish historians – although this is clearly not so with environmental historians. If Morton’s conclusions are hardly profound (‘Scotland’s weather did what it always did: the rain fell, the wind blew, the frost came…the sun, on occasion, shone.’ (p. 54)), he does well to remind us that climate and weather are not aligned with national boundaries. But what his chapter does contain are fascinating examples of the Scots’ interest in the weather, from the long-preferred dependence upon folklore for weather prognostics (which was not infrequently confirmed by scientific analysis), to the fact that the Scottish Meteorological Society was evidently the larest and best-organised in Europe, with a reach far beyond Scotland’s shores. Morton’s encyclopaedic reading of secondary and primary sources has allowed him to write a book that is kaleidoscopic in its capacity to throw up unexpected insights. In this sense it compares well with some of the more familiar accounts of the period which (rightly) emphasise industrialisation, urbanisation and their consequent deleterious social consequences.  All this is to be found in Ourselves and Others, but in new guises.

For good reason Morton places great emphasis on the ways in which Sir Walter Scott’s influence and created Victorian ‘Scott-land’ (although others too played their part).  This is what many visitors sought, and those who found too little of it and were instead exposed to Scotland’s grim industrial landscape or even to parts of Edinburgh that resembled England’s suburbs, left disappointed. Scots too revelled in this romantic, mock historical objectification of their homeland. But one wonders if Morton doesn’t over-egg his argument. Robert Burns features in Ourselves and Others, sometimes in the same sentence as Scott, but has sufficient allowance has been made for differences there were in the ways the legacies of Scott and Burns were exploited by Victorian Scots? If Scott’s Scotland was in the past, Burns’s was only partly so. For the tens of thousands of artisan Scots who found succour in Burns’s works, the example of his life and his emphasis on the dignity of man and above all the democratic ideal, Burns was very much of the present and indeed the future, and an active historical agent. This is evident less in the empire-wide celebration and periodic commemoration of Burns which Morton reports, but in the energy, passion and sheer scale of many of these events in Scotland which contrasts with their more passive character in, for example, Australia and New Zealand.

Perhaps it is Morton’s breathless pace that causes him on this and with other issues to rely on brief description and the creation of a fleeting impression before moving on, when what is called for is reflection and deeper analysis. If class and class consciousness have become unfashionable as the main tools of historical analysis, to interpret nineteenth-century Scottish society without even a reference to them, seems (to this reviewer) to be a step too far. To be fair however, from start to finish Morton sticks with his ‘objectification’ thesis. For this boldness – his preparedness to dispense with former ways of understanding Victorian and Edwardian Scotland – Morton is to be commended.

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Call for Papers: Britain and the World Conference 2015

2-4 April

Austin, Texas

Call for Papers:  The British Scholar Society’s Britain and the World Conference 2015

Dates:  2-4 April 2015

Deadline for Submissions:  Monday, 17 November 2014

Decisions on Inclusion:  Friday, 5 December 2014

Following our incredibly successful 2014 conference in Newcastle, England, Britain and the World returns to Austin for 2015.  This serves as a call for papers for the eighth annual Britain and the World Conference. The conference will be held in Austin, Texas at the Doubletree University Area, which is a five minute walk from the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, between Thursday, 2 April and Saturday, 4 April 2015. Papers will focus on British interactions with the world from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present and will highlight the importance of British history from a global perspective.  Established scholars, scholars at the beginning of their careers, and graduate students are welcome to apply and present at the conference.

Confirmed lectures for the 2015 conference include the fifth annual Frank Turner Memorial Lecture on Thursday, 2 April, the Keynote Address on Friday, 3 April, and the fourth annual Britain and the World Lecture on Saturday, 4 April.  More information about these lectures will appear in our Newsletter in the months ahead.  To receive our free monthly newsletter please sign up by visiting, enter your e-mail address at the top, and click Subscribe.

The Britain and the World Conference will include our Conference Icebreaker on Thursday night, 2 April, our Dinner Party on Friday night, 3 April, as well as a pub crawl through downtown Austin on Saturday night, 4 April.  These events will provide numerous opportunities for networking and merrymaking in and around the live music capital of the world.

The conference accepts both individual paper and complete panel submissions. Submissions of individual papers should include an abstract of 150-300 words as well as a few descriptive keywords. Panels are expected to consist of three to four papers and should be submitted by one person who is willing to serve as the point of contact.  Complete panels must also include a chair.  In addition to abstracts for each individual paper, panel submissions should also include a brief 100-150 word introduction describing the panel’s main theme. The conference does not discriminate between panels and individual paper submissions.

All submissions for inclusion in the Britain and the World Conference must be received by Monday, 17 November 2014. Decisions on inclusion will be made by Friday, 5 December 2014. Submissions should be made electronically to editoratbritishscholardotorg  (editoratbritishscholardotorg)  . Updates regarding the conference will be periodically posted to the Society website. It is hoped that participants will be able to call upon their departments for hotel and transportation expenses.

Information on hotel accommodation and conference registration will be forthcoming. It should be noted that becoming a member of The British Scholar Society entitles you to a discounted registration rate. We also offer a discounted registration rate for students.  Membership in The British Scholar Society for 2015 will be available on the British Scholar website by visiting our membership page at beginning on 1 October.  If you have any questions about the forthcoming conference, please contact the Conference Organizing Committee directly at conferenceatbritishscholardotorg  (conferenceatbritishscholardotorg)  .

Best wishes,
Michelle Brock
Bryan Glass
Robert Whitaker
Conference Organizing Committee 2015
The British Scholar Society

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The Cambridges in Australia: Balmorality 2.0?

Helene von BismarckDr. Helene von Bismarck, Associate Editor

Students of the British Empire and students of the British monarchy are faced with a similar dilemma: the lack of a clear set of rules that makes either system intelligible. The Empire, with its wide variety of complicated constitutional arrangements, its formal, semi-formal and informal parts, may be largely gone today, but its successor organization, the Commonwealth of Nations, can only be understood if it is put into the context of the gradualism and pragmatism that characterized British imperialism for centuries and that left its legacy for substantial parts of the globe. A historic approach is also essential for those seeking to grasp the political and cultural relevance of the British monarchy, an institution whose role has continuously evolved and changed over time in a country with no written constitution. The recently concluded visit to New Zealand and Australia by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their little son, Prince George, has been a good opportunity to look back on the historic relationship of monarchy and Empire-Commonwealth, and to discuss the consequences of the past for the present. In many ways, this royal tour can be interpreted as an attempt to breathe new life into two interrelated concepts that have defined the role of the British monarchy and its connection with the Empire, and later the Commonwealth, for at least a century: family and visibility.

When Victorian writer Walter Bagehot famously remarked in his 1867 study of The English Constitution that ‘a family on the throne is an interesting idea’, he probably was not thinking of a baby prince on a play date in New Zealand.[1] However, little Prince George’s recent encounter in Wellington with a group of fellow toddlers selected carefully – and with due political correctness – from among his future subjects, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s informal meeting with their parents, could have easily been used by Bagehot as an example to illustrate his argument that the advantage of a family monarchy laid in turning the otherwise abstract concept of sovereignty into something ordinary people could understand and relate to.[2] The pictures of the happy young family on their trip Down Under fit neatly into a tradition which began with Victoria and Albert and their numerous children, was continued and reinforced by George V and Queen Mary, George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth II, but was drastically interrupted during the 1990s, when one widely publicized family drama after the other struck the House of Windsor. The whole idea of family monarchy has been based on the condition that the royal family would live and behave in a certain manner, conveying a set of values, ‘Balmorality’, as Sir David Cannadine calls it, that do not include scandal, adultery or divorce.[3] At least until now, the Cambridges have met that set standard, and in an age when any photograph of them travels the globe in an instant, everyone can see it.

The fact that the Duke and Duchess have chosen this trip to Australia and New Zealand, rather than public engagements in Britain, to finally give the world more than a glimpse of Prince George, and to introduce themselves as a small family jointly working for the monarchy, is also meaningful, and not only because of the continuity demonstrated by a visit of two future kings to their subjects on the other end of the globe. Since the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign coincided with the high age of imperialism, the British monarch has been portrayed and staged as the head of two different families, one real, one metaphorical: the royal family, and the ‘great imperial family’.[4] This was part of a process in the course of which the Empire gave the British monarchy a new role after it had been deprived of most of its political power at home: to act as a symbol of the connection between Britain and its colonial dependencies. Splendid ceremonial events, such as the Dehli Durbars of 1877, 1903 and 1911, when Victoria, Edward VII. and George V., were proclaimed Empress and Emperors of India, were used to reinforce that image.[5] The strategy of being seen and, following the invention of the wireless, being heard, both in Britain and across the Empire, was taken to a new level by King George V. and his wife, Queen Mary, after the First World War. Shaken by the series of revolutions that had swept away the monarchy in so many countries on the European continent and cost the King’s cousin, Tsar Nicholas II., his life, George V. and his consort added new elements to their roles by making themselves visible to the people, putting a greater emphasis on royal charity, cooperating with the press, broadcasting royal speeches and dispatching their grown-up children to tour the Empire. Their legacy for the British monarchy could be felt throughout the twentieth century and continues to do so.[6]

The Empire no longer exists, but the metaphor of family ties that have bound its former components together has survived and continues to resonate to the present day.[7] Interestingly, the use of this rhetoric is not one-sidedly British or restricted to the royal family. In his speech on ANZAC day 2014, delivered during a war memorial service attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott underlined the ‘family’ ties that in his opinion continue to bind his country to Great Britain, even if the latter could no longer be called Australia’s ‘mother country’.[8] New opinion polls show that support for the monarchy in Australia is much stronger now than it was during the 1990s, and especially pronounced among the young generation. This contradicts earlier expectations that the role of the monarchy in the Commonwealth realms would automatically phase out in the post-imperial age.[9] The question remains, of course, whether the revived popularity of the monarchy in Australia can be regarded as a sign of a continued link with Britain, or whether it results from the fact that, in the age of digital media, the Duke and Duchess, and now also their little son, have turned into global icons that are likely to attract great interest anywhere, not just the Commonwealth. In any case, the masterfully staged royal tour to Australia and New Zealand has shown that the next generation of the British royal family is ready to embrace the strategy of public Balmorality. The most important prerequisite for its use is in place: people are watching.


[1] Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (London 1963), p. 117.

[2] On Bagehot’s line of argument see Philip Murphy’s enlightening new book, Monarchy and the End of Empire. The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth (Oxford 2013), pp. 1-2.

[3]David Cannadine, History in our Time (London 1997), pp. 3-4.

[4] Cannadine, Ornamentalism (London 2001), p. 119; History in Our Time, p. 4.

[5] Cannadine, Ornamentalism, p. 101-107.

[6] Miranda Carter, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm. Three Royal Counsins and the Road to World War I (New York 2009), p. 422.

[7] Murphy, Monarchy and the End of Empire, p. 3.

[9] On the prominence of this perception during the age of decolonization see Murphy, Monarchy and the End of Empire, p. 8.

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