Sign up for Our Newsletter

November 2011

In this issue:

I.    Special Offer: Purchase or Renew Your Membership for 2012 Before 2 December and Save!
II.   The British Scholar Society Website is getting a Facelift
III.  Call for Monthly Op-Ed Writers
IV.  Introducing the Speakers’ Corner Feature
V.   “Empire State of Mind: Articulations of British Culture in the Empire, 1707-1997”
VI.  Book of the Month
VII. Featured Scholar

I.  Special Offer:  Purchase or Renew Your Membership for 2012 Before 2 December and Save!

Escalating production costs along with the continuing weakness of the Dollar against the Pound have forced us to increase our membership dues from $46 to $55 for 2012.  However, if you purchase or renew your membership before 2 December you will still enjoy the 2011 rate of $46.

Membership in 2012 will provide you with all of the features you love including two copies of Britain and the World: Historical Journal of The British Scholar Society, online access to current and all archived issues of the journal, and discounted registration rates to attend the Britain and the World Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.  But membership in 2012 will come with new perks including 20% off all Palgrave Macmillan history titles, 20% off all Edinburgh University Press books, and 10% off all Edinburgh University Press journal subscriptions. Additionally, we are negotiating discounts with other major publishers that we plan to have in place before the New Year.

Purchase or renew your membership in The British Scholar Society today by visiting our website at, clicking on “Become a Member”, and paying securely through Paypal.  You may also send a check in U.S. Dollars to:

The British Scholar Society
5102 Woodview Avenue
Austin, TX. 78756

Please make the check payable to “The British Scholar Society”.

Remember to purchase or renew by 2 December to enjoy all of the 2012 membership benefits at 2011 rates.

II. The British Scholar Society Website is getting a Facelift

December 2011 will see the introduction of a brand new look for The British Scholar Society website.  We have been working on the redesign over the past three months and we think you’re going to love all of the new features including our very own digital newspaper that will be updated every day.  All of the Society’s upcoming events as well as any events pertaining to Britain and the World will be included right on our home page.  If you have an event coming up that you would like to advertise to our readers please let us know and we will be happy to include it here.  Plus, we will reintroduce many of the resources that made Scholars’ Corner such a popular feature.  These will include a funding finder, our listing of important archives throughout the world, as well as links to your favorite newspapers and universities.  We will also offer webspace to anyone who is interested in working with graduate students with our new “Find an Advisor” feature.  We will provide you the space to discuss your interests, your university’s program, and application procedures for prospective graduate students. Every time we add a new Advisor under this feature, we will send out a message through our Twitter feed and to numerous lists that reach more than 4000 people.

We are very excited to bring you the new and improved British Scholar Society website next month.  An alert will be sent out to the listserv as soon as the site goes live.

III. Call for Monthly Op-Ed Writers

Deadline to apply:  15 December

The redesigned website will also feature new op-ed pieces written by members of The British Scholar Society community.  From historical quagmires to archival discoveries and from political happenings to the state of British history in these turbulent economic times we want to feature your thoughts through your voice.  If you are interested in writing a monthly op-ed piece for The British Scholar Society please send us your ideas along with a CV to editoratbritishscholardotorg  (editoratbritishscholardotorg)   by 15 December.  Those chosen will be provided with 1000 words for their monthly editorial, a free membership in The British Scholar Society for the duration of their tenure, free registration to the 2012 Britain and the World conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a page featuring their work on our website.  A maximum of six op-ed writers will be chosen. Decisions on op-ed writers will be made by 31 December.  Apply today and have your voice heard!

IV. Introducing the Speakers’ Corner Feature

Speakers’ Corner is a new feature of The British Scholar Society website under the Outreach tab.  The purpose of Speakers’ Corner is to provide lectures on Britain and the World for you to enjoy.  We are especially interested in showcasing lectures featuring members of The British Scholar Society community.  So if you have a recorded lecture that you think would interest the more than 3000 people who visit our website every month please send it along and we will be sure to post it.

The very first featured lecture on Speakers’ Corner is by our General Editor, Bryan Glass.  On 25 October he presented a public lecture entitled “Piracy through the Ages” at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.  Watch the lecture now at and don’t forget to send your recorded lectures to us at editoratbritishscholardotorg  (editoratbritishscholardotorg)  .

V. “Empire State of Mind: Articulations of British Culture in the Empire, 1707-1997”


Lingnan University

Carol C. L. Tsang, Penelope Ching-yee Pang, and Zou Yizheng[1]

More than a decade after the United Kingdom surrendered its last major colony, the study of British imperialism remains a prominent focus of academic enquiry among scholars of history, literary studies, politics and sociology, many of whom recently met at a lively conference held at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.  Organised by James Fichter and Mark Hampton, the conference included four plenary lectures and eighty shorter papers that collectively demonstrated the many ways in which British culture was manifested in the empire, as well as its continuing legacies.[2] It was fitting that the conference took place in Hong Kong, one of Britain’s most successful colonies by any measure, and yet one that has arguably received short shrift in the scholarship on British culture in the empire.  It was equally fitting that the first evening included a reception hosted by the British Council in its building, followed by dinner at the Helena May, an institution founded in 1916 to provide safe and affordable short-term lodging for visiting women of modest means.[3]

The conference set out with the principal questions of how British culture and national identity played a role in shaping the experience of Britons in the empire, and how such experience redefined their Britishness and in turn reformulated the work of imperialism.  Numerous scholars in the past generation have examined how the empire influenced metropolitan culture and defined Britishness in the domestic context.[4] The view that imperialism profoundly affected domestic British culture has become something of a shibboleth among many British historians.  As this conference’s attendees amply demonstrated, though, cultural influence went in both directions. While many participants demonstrated how British culture was appropriated, adapted, or even resisted in the colonies and the Commonwealth, others argued that the transmission of British culture to the empire formed a transnational cultural network and enhanced Britain’s national power. Some also connected Britain’s colonial legacy to the contemporary world and argued that British culture endures and is still widely influential in many former colonies and Commonwealth nations following the waves of decolonisation.

The terms of debate were set out in Philippa Levine’s plenary address: ‘Naked Natives and Noble Savages’. Levine surveyed the representations of nakedness in European paintings, arguing that unlike the nude art in French, German and Dutch cultures, nakedness was a contested marker in British colonial history. In the artistic representations of British missionaries and colonials, ‘savages’ were painted as almost completely naked and in the British Protestant tradition nakedness was a symbol of savagery, lust, shame and sin. In highlighting the naked state of savages, the British justified their control over the ‘wild colonies’. As some British paintings suggested, the savages had to don clothes if they were to make civilisational progress. The presence of clothing, Levine argued, distinguished the disorderly naked natives from the orderly noble savages.

Like paintings, travel writings and war memoirs highlighted the perceived inferiority of the indigenous population in relation to British colonial governance. This idea was well-illustrated in Stephen Keck’s paper, ‘Inventing Colonial Burma: Between War and Memory’, and Andrew Wells’s paper, ‘Cooking the Books: Constructing Racial and Sexual Identity in Britain and the Pacific, 1767-1791’. Through looking at the travel writings and war memoirs written by British officers between the 1880s and 1920s, Keck demonstrated how they portrayed themselves as humane as in contrast to the inhumanity of native soldiers in war practices to justify the necessity of the British to govern Burma. Andrew Wells, looking at British explorers’ accounts of the voyages to the Pacific a century earlier, likewise observed that Britons’ contrasting representations of Tahitian women as homely and clean and members of the aristocratic Arioi society as sexually rapacious and cruel to infants provided a basis for the French colonists to facilitate their rule in the Pacific islands by dividing their peoples into two ‘races’, Melanesians and Polynesians.

While the representation of indigenous peoples as inferior was the norm in the high time of imperialism, scholars at the conference also showed that the British representation of the racial otherness of indigenous peoples was complicated and by no means entirely negative. For example, with a case study of the British boys’ story writer Charles Hamilton, David Lloyd Smith’s paper, ‘Billy Bunter in China:  a Conservative Sinophile Negotiates the Yellow Peril’, demonstrated how British writers represented the racial otherness of the Chinese in literary discourse. In contrast to nineteenth-century depictions of Chinese as villains, Hamilton’s series for the Magnet in the 1930s illustrates that the negative representations of Chinese gave way to portrayals by British sinophiles, both radicals and conservatives alike, that used China as a mirror to reflect their discontent with various aspects of modernity.

Besides constituting a channel through which the imperial mind was articulated, literary works and artefacts also served as a means to promote friendships and understandings between people in Britain and in the colonies. For example, by situating Canadian-born journalist Sara Jeannette Duncan’s 1904 novel, The Imperialist, in the broader politics of empire, Christopher J. Armstrong argued that the novel reflected and responded to the forces of cultural and economic integration in the era of ‘New Imperialism’ and demonstrated the enduring power of Canada as a British colony. Similarly, Marian Walker explored Thomas Cook’s Australasian Traveller’s Gazette between 1889 and 1939 and maintained that Cook’s tourist business broadened the social and cultural horizons of the British and served as a remarkable organ of acculturation of the British Empire. This phenomenon of acculturation was also stressed by Bronwen Everill and Tillman Nechtman. Everill explored the ways in which material culture and commodities, such as British furniture and luxury goods, shaped the lives of settlers in Sierra Leone and their interactions with both the metropole and the rest of West Africa. By examining Britons and their collectibles in late-eighteenth-century India, Nechtman argued that many Britons had an expanded sense of national identity and included India’s landscape and culture as part of their notion of what it meant to be British—an expansion that rendered them aliens to their fellow Britons upon returning ‘home’.

Christopher Bayly’s plenary address, ‘British Radicals in Asia and the Persistence of Empire’ illustrated how such acculturation of the British Empire contributed to intellectual debates and contestations on a transnational scale. Bayly explored the stories of a wide variety of radical liberals in Indian politics and society between the mid-eighteenth century and late twentieth century, and argued that these radicals reshaped Indian politics by bringing into the political discussion moral sentiments such as radical spiritualism, Christian spiritual relativism, and ethical socialism. This group of mavericks, Bayly noted, formed the ‘unorthodox backwaters of British colonial history’. Instead of confronting the native Indians, Bayly argued that these expatriate radicals and their natives allies were the ‘co-authors’ in the making of Indian nationalism. By interacting with the Asians, these radicals introduced a benign form of Orientalism that contributed to the striking longevity of the empire.

Bayly’s argument was echoed by a number of presenters, one of whom provided a personal account of his encounters with the indigenous population as a former British colonial official. Accompanied by his daughter, Anne Carver, Brian Stewart shared his experience about imperial governance as a former civil servant in British Malaya. Stewart situated his oral accounts in the larger framework of the British Empire and argued that rather than exerting direct control over the local people, colonial officials often acted as observers and travelled around the empire to listen to local voices. Similarly, Christopher Prior’s paper on colonial officials and British identities in Africa from 1900 to 1939 suggested that the impact of the partial detachment from the metropole occasioned by service in Africa affected colonial officials’ sense of imperial mission and conceptions of Britain.

This notion of the ‘constructedness’ of British national identity was perhaps best illustrated by Linda Colley’s plenary address on ‘Words and the World: Britain, Written Constitutions and Empire, 1780-2000’. Colley surveyed Britain’s active participation in a new kind of constitutional writing, arguing that by introducing written constitutions in its empire, Britain offered a language of citizenship to its colonies and justified its own imperial deployment. Ironically, Britain did not have its own written constitution, as Britain took pride in its late-nineteenth-century invented tradition of an ‘unwritten constitution’, one that was believed to be inherited by the British people. It was the absence of a written constitution in Britain that embodied the essence of Britishness and conveyed the perceived British innate superiority over all other peoples in the world.

Such an idea of British superiority was further promoted by British imperial trading and transportation networks. Scott Anthony explored the ways in which British civil aviation firms, including Imperial Airways and BOAC, attempted to influence and re-imagine the nature of empire by rapidly developing their public education programmes. He argued that these programmes reflected changing political realities and stimulated ‘modern’ pan-imperial cultural ties from London to Australia and all across Asia.

The putative sources of Britain’s perceived superiority occasionally clashed with each other.  Philip Harling, for instance, highlighted the growing tensions between the ostensibly ‘peculiar’ British commitment to Free Trade and to anti-slavery in the mid-Victorian British Caribbean. In so doing, he drew attention to the multilateral interplays between Britain’s political and economic histories. Rather than solely focusing on the British-French conflict in the long nineteenth century like many Anglophone historians have, James Fichter argued that British-French conflicts coexisted with cooperation and it was their mutual support that sustained the empire. Between 1840 and 1870, the French navy relied heavily on the coal provided by Britain and its colonies, while French vessels also supplied coal for Britain. Such intimate cooperation between Britain and France also anticipated their collusion during the Crimean War and the Second Opium War.

Above all, military encroachment accounted for the foundation of the British Empire and facilitated the transfer of British culture to its colonies and dominions. Patrick Hase investigated the bloody British suppression of the Chinese in Hong Kong’s New Territories in 1899 and refuted the rosy picture of friendly collaboration between the British and Chinese presented by previous scholars. However, imperial control did not necessarily generate discontent among expatriates. Barry Crosbie drew attention to the close, informal bonds that existed between Irishmen within the imperial armed forces in India and how they gradually gave rise to soldiering networks based along ethnic lines. He argued that these networks served as conduits of cultural, financial and political exchange among Irish, Indian and Eurasian communities, and fostered a sense of imperial belonging among the Irish military forces.

One important result of the expansion of the British Empire was the creation of an imperial network. Through this network, ideas and people freely circulated between the metropole and the colonies. In addition to the settlement of the British in the colonies, people in the indigenous communities also moved around the empire. Shirleene Robinson provided an account of the experiences of indigenous children, a neglected group of this mobile population, in the British metropole through studying the policies of forced removal of Aboriginal children and Maori children from their families in Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Besides the forcible transfer of children from colonies to the metropole for the sake of ‘civilising’ the children, the British carried with them the well-being and the treatment of children as an index of civilisation in their passage across the empire. On a similar note, David Pomfret explored British ideas of childhood and demonstrated how these ideas influenced colonial rule and policies in Hong Kong and Singapore in the colonial discourses of health, sanitation and the built environment.

Such flows of ideas within the empire were also noted by many other presenters. Michael Collins explored the transnational politics of friendship between Rabindranath Tagore, C. F. Andrews and E. J. Thompson, arguing that their connections formed a trans-imperial cultural network between 1912 and 1941. This transnational network also shaped the development of liberalism, Britain’s most important political ideology, as Martin Wiener suggested. By exploring how the two interpretations of the British liberal heritage, individual liberty and ordered liberty, emerged and came into conflict in India and the West Indies, Wiener argued that these contrasting interpretations underpinned relations between official and non-official Britons in the empire through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries virtually down to the empire’s end.

Many of the presenters argued that this transnational network also extended to the periphery of the British Empire. John Carroll noted that Canton existed as a physical and epistemological space and a site of conflict and difference before the collapse of the Canton System. Based on accounts by British residents and travellers before the Opium War, Carroll argued that Canton served as a point for the British to understand China and Sino-British relations. Situated next to Canton, Hong Kong also provided us with a lens to scrutinise the transmission of British culture to the empire. Mark Hampton’s paper on ‘Chinese Britishness in Late Colonial Hong Kong’ argued that British ways of life subtly influenced the Chinese ways of life in Hong Kong till the present day. He identified capitalism, modernisation and order, and good governance as three main British values that have been passed on to and put in practice by ‘Chinese Hong Kongers’.  Hampton maintained that these ‘British’ legacies constitute the very values through which the Chinese in Hong Kong continue to define their civic identity as different from that of mainland Chinese.

To many historians, colonial higher education was perhaps one of the major means for Britain to exert control over its empire. However, a number of scholars in the conference suggested that Britain’s attitude towards promoting higher education in its empire was often ambivalent. Peter Cunich argued that despite the growing importance of higher education in many parts of the British Empire from the mid-nineteenth century, Britain in fact lacked an explicit imperial policy on higher education until the publication of the Asquith Report in 1945. To Cunich, the trouble in funding colonial universities in the early twentieth century and the fear that providing liberal and arts education would breed radicals resulted in Britain’s reluctance to develop higher education in the empire before 1945. Grace Chou Ai-ling’s paper on ‘Medium-of-instruction, Science Curriculum, and Modern Knowledge: British Values in Post-War Hong Kong Higher Education’ illustrated how important Cunich’s point was. Chou situated her paper in the debates on British colonial education policies and argued that by focusing on scientific subjects instead of the humanities, the British aimed to make Hong Kong Chinese serve the colonial interests.

These discussions on the transfer of scientific knowledge from the metropole to the colonies reached their peak in those papers that explored how the influx of British scientific and environmental theories into the colonial space synergised with local practices. Gregory Barton investigated the rise and decline of desiccation theory in the British world, arguing that the theory had a tremendous impact on land use, agricultural and developmental policies across the British Empire. By situating the desiccation theory in the global setting, Barton demonstrated how this phenomenon generated environmental practices such as organic farming. Stefan Petrow also found the origin of the current debate on the protection of animals’ rights in Britain’s colonial past. Through a case study of the establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Tasmania, Petrow showed how the legislation on the protection of animals and the humane treatment of animals in Britain enacted in the 1820s impacted upon Tasmanians’ initiatives to strive for animal rights in the 1870s.

The fixation on ‘civilising’ influences among the British did not exist solely in political discourse. Scholars at the conference also demonstrated how the British drinking culture served to divide between ‘the civilised’ and ‘the uncivilised’. Harald Fischer-Tiné’s paper on the British consumption of alcohol in nineteenth-century India discussed the exclusion of working class British from drinking clubs in the colony and how these British pursued their own drinking life outside these socialising institutions. Fischer-Tiné argued that the colonial authorities perceived the drinking habits of the lower class British that usually resulted in drunkenness as a threat to the British racial superiority and the British rhetoric of civilising mission. Dominique Connan likewise illustrated how the British drinking culture was spread to colonial Kenya in the form of social clubs and how these clubs helped stratify the European society based on gender, education and professional status from the 1890s to the 1960s.

British social life in relation to class was further investigated by Jeffrey Auerbach in his paper on the lack of recreational facilities for lower-class British settlers in mid-nineteenth-century Australia. Although it is widely accepted that Britons chose to settle in overseas colonies for pursuit of a better life, Auerbach suggested that such hope could not be materialised by every British settler as class played a determining influence in the pursuit of the ‘good life’ in the colonies. Because of their lack of means and employment opportunities, Auerbach argued that, unlike their elite countrymen, many working class British men and women were unable to re-create the kinds of social and cultural lives that they had enjoyed at home.  Empire in this case thus meant a step down, rather than up.

Michihisa Hosokawa made a similar point about Canada, indicating that some Canadians also felt alienated from the British Empire despite facing the wide deployment of media to cultivate British imperial identity during the First and the Second World Wars. On the other hand, Zou Yizheng’s paper reached a different conclusion about the strength of media in colonial Hong Kong, arguing that the South China Morning Post united British expatriates, strengthened British
identity, and preserved British heritage in the Far East.

This focus on the spectacular and representational qualities of the British Empire set the stage for David Cannadine’s plenary address: ‘Empire as Theatre’, on the final day of the conference. Echoing Linda Colley’s paper about the ‘constructedness’ of the British Empire, Cannadine argued that the British Empire was in itself an intrinsically theatrical enterprise. By putting the empire on show, not only could Britain accommodate the elites and aristocracy in the empire; it could also foster communication between the imperial authority and the less educated and illiterate in the colonies. Such alternating actions of expressing and disguising power, Cannadine suggested, were delicately shown by the British use of visual spectacles such as statues, coins and imperial buildings across the empire. Coupled with the incessant movement of people and circulation of elites within the empire, Britain was able to launch, propel, and end its empire through a series of gracefully theatrical pageants.

This conference invited participants to consider the articulations of British culture in the empire but not to lose sight of the global and contemporary resonance of this historical debate. During his address, David Cannadine urged the conference organisers to make this international conference a recurring event.  It is through this continuous interrogation of Britain’s colonial past that we can better understand our world that was once dominated by imperial rule, and the imperial legacies that are still shaping it.

 VI. Book of the Month – November 2011

VII. Featured Scholar – November 2011






[1]  The authors are grateful to John Carroll, Philip Harling, and Niccolò Pianciola for comments on an earlier draft of this article.

[3] The dinner was hosted by Mr Tam Kwong-lim.

[4] For example, David Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge, 2000); Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Colony and Metropole in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (Chicago, 2002); Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain (Oxford, 2004); Andrew Thompson, Imperial Britain: The Empire in British Politics, c.1880-1932 (Harlow, 2000).

This entry was posted in News, Newsletter. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.