The Bible and British Maritime Empire

While historians of early modern Britain have long noted the ubiquity of Old Testament typology in religious-political discourse, its enduring potency thereafter has received much less attention. In part this is because of the flexibility of such rhetoric, for while posing as a ‘new Israel’ worked for embattled states like sixteenth-century England, this was not the only rhetorical option available; nor was it always the most apposite comparison, especially in the era of British global hegemony. This chapter argues that maritime imperial expansion lent particular weight to one set of passages, those concerning ancient seagoing Tyre and Tarshish. What they stood for was seldom stable: they were read prophetically, as literally presaging Britain’s current greatness; typologically, as warnings against the besetting sins of commercial greed and pride; and moralistically, as examples of the problems caused by imperial overstretch. I seek to show that British people in the nineteenth century continued to map the world and their place in it in biblical terms, to an extent that has sometimes been underplayed. What that meant, however, was increasingly open to interpretation.

in Chosen peoples
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The disposal of the war’s dead

This chapter argues that the dead body can continue to work for the wartime nation, but that it also has the power to extraordinarily disruptive. In the ‘people’s war’, this meant the bodies of ‘ordinary’ citizens, both military and civilian. While the army and navy were able to adapt pre-existing traditions of burial to manage and honour the bodies of combatants killed in action, there were no such traditions in place for the burial of civilians killed by aerial warfare, or for the many thousands of air crew who died in bombing raids over mainland Europe. Beginning with a survey of debates about the amount of compensation that should be paid to the relatives of the dead, the chapter considers, firstly, the management of the military dead, including postwar attempts to identify the dead of the RAF, and secondly, the management of the civilian dead, looking at the collective burial of those killed in Coventry, Belfast and Clydebank.

in Dying for the nation
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The personal and the political

The conclusion argues death is central to war. Not only for individuals, who have to find ways to cope with the threat of death and the loss of loved ones, but for nation states, that have to manage the dead, and the grief of the bereaved, in order to ensure that these most disruptive of emotions and experiences don’t undermine wartime morale, but also in order that they be put to work for the national war effort.

in Dying for the nation
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Belief and agency in wartime

The British people, faced with the prospect of a second, devastating ‘total’ war for the second time in just over twenty years, drew on a wide range of beliefs, rituals and superstitions as they attempted to cope with the demands of this new conflict. This chapter surveys religious practice and religious belief during the war years, including the widespread interest in spiritualism and the possibilities of continued contact with the dead. It goes on to look at other rituals and everyday beliefs, such as astrology, superstition and the development of particular rituals by individuals and by groups. It concludes with an examination of beliefs about death, drawing on material collected by Mass Observation during the war years.

in Dying for the nation
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Death and destruction of the body in war

This chapter examines how neoliberalism engineers its own unique rendition of the nationalist crisis through recourse to discourses of meritocratic competition, the entrepreneurial self and individual will, alongside its exaltation of a ‘points-system’ approach to the ills of immigration. A traditional concern of the neoliberal right posits that a market-society ideal is hampered by cultures of welfare dependency and the absence of individual responsibility. This neoliberal position individualises outcomes of success and failure, muting in turn issues of structure and access. But, again, important questions arise regarding the imperative of this neoliberal frame to also racialise conceptions of failure, dependency and national crisis. This is a neoliberal denigration of the racialised outsider that operates through the categories of blackness, the Muslim and the pervasive notion of the inadequate and undesirable migrant. As regards the pathologisation of immigration, particular emphasis will be placed on the unique shaming of the Roma that has recently found a place in British commentary and visual culture.

in Dying for the nation
Death, grief and bereavement in Second World War Britain

This book places death squarely at the centre of war. Focused on Second World War Britain, it draws on a range of public and private sources to explore the ways that British people experienced death, grief and bereavement in wartime. It examines the development of the emotional economy within which these experiences took place; the role of the British state in planning for wartime death and managing and memorialising those who died, and the role of the dead in the postwar world. Arguing that cultures of bereavement and the visibility of grief in wartime were shaped by the Great War, the book traces the development of cultures of death grief and bereavement through the first half of the 20th century. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers, magazines and government papers, it considers civilian death in war alongside military death, and examines the ways that gender, class and region shaped death, grief and bereavement for the British in war.

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The emotional economy of interwar Britain

Chapter Two discusses the emotional economy of interwar Britain, Examining the range of different cultural texts that advised people on the management of emotions, and the desirability of restraint and stoicism, it shows how the British people were encouraged to be self-reflective and to work to understand, and thus manage, their emotions. Self-restraint, it argues, became seen as a key and desirable aspect of modernity. The chapter begins by examining the impact of the Great War on grief and religious practice in the interwar period before examining the development of a historically specific emotional economy that valued self-reflection and restraint. It concludes by discussing the growth of a popular psychology in the 1930s, and the impact of this focus on emotional self-management on British people as they prepared for a second, devastating, war.

in Dying for the nation
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Bereavement, grief and the emotional labour of wartime

Like the dead, the grief of the bereaved could be put to work for the nation, or it could disrupt morale and collectivity. It thus had to be carefully managed. This chapter considers the ways that the British people were expected and encouraged to undertake the ‘labour of loss’ in ways that could be mobilised for the war effort. Beginning with a discussion of the multiple ways that grief was represented in cultural texts, it goes on to explore some of the texts that record individual’s own attempts to understand, and manage, their emotional response to wartime loss. Grief, it argues, could threaten both self composure, and the composure of the national wartime body.

in Dying for the nation
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Death, grief and bereavement in wartime Britain

The introduction argues that death is central to warfare. Demonstrating that a variety of factors, including the dominant emotional economy of the war years, have meant that the dead of Second World War Britain have been largely absent from the cultural memory of this conflict, it goes on to explain why it is important to write the history of death, grief and bereavement in wartime. It sets out the numbers of the dead, considers how they died, and provides an overview of the ways that the state attempted to manage wartime death. The chapter discusses the power of emotions in wartime, focusing on the disruptive potential of grief, and places this within a brief discussion of the ‘history of emotions’. Finally it sets out the three key arguments of the book, and provides a brief introduction to the themes of each chapter.

in Dying for the nation
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Imagining and planning for death in wartime

This chapter traces the development of British plans to prevent, mitigate and cope with the mass death of civilians that was expected in any future conflict. It sets these within the political, social and cultural history of the decade; in particular the growth of an emotional culture of self-management, discussed in the previous chapter, the failure of disarmament in the early 1930s, the bombing of civilians in that decade, and the widely shared belief that any future war would be apocalyptic. It argues that as Britain moved towards another total war, the state realised that the dead would include civilians alongside the military, and that the management of these dead, and of the grief of the bereaved, would be central to public support for the war effort, and for the maintenance of morale amongst a people asked to go to war once again.

in Dying for the nation