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Alan Lester

The boundaries that used to delimit separate domains of British history, imperial history, area studies and the histories of former colonies have been traversed promiscuously. John MacKenzie's own challenge to the artificial boundary often placed between Britain and its empire has been amplified by the emergence of an already large and still growing body of work now conventionally referred to as the 'new imperial history', In more recent years geographers have participated in the new imperial history's revised understanding of colonial spatiality. The conventional way of escaping the confines of a singular spatial unit in order to gain broader perspective in the writing of history has been the comparative method. Julie Evans and her team, for example, tell the story of the betrayal of Britain's 'civilising mission' during the nineteenth century through the parallel histories of racial exclusion from the franchise in each of the settler colonies.

in Writing imperial histories
Alan Lester

Historians of humanitarianism have drawn attention to the year 1833 as a watershed in humanity’s sense of itself. The Antislavery Act passed in that year and abolishing slavery in British colonies was the result of a new extension of concern and responsibility for the plight of others and the culmination of a humanitarian sensibility that stretched back to the European Enlightenment. What is often overlooked is the racial and temporal specificity of this concern, and the even greater specificity of the remedial action taken by the government to address it. Enslaved people of African descent in the Caribbean were its primary targets, though they remained apprenticed to their former owners until at least 1 August 1838. Enslaved Indians were not to be freed; Africans liberated from other nations’ slave ships remained apprenticed to other British subjects and a spectrum of coerced labour relations continued to characterise the British Empire. This chapter examines the historical geography of emancipation as a case study of the realpolitik that always accompanied humanitarian concern.

in Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995
Selective humanity in the Anglophone world

This book examines the shifting relationship between humanitarianism and the expansion, consolidation and postcolonial transformation of the Anglophone world across three centuries.

Rather than exploring this relationship within a generalised narrative, an introductory essay sets out its key features throughout the imperial and post-imperial period, before carefully selected chapters explore trade-offs between humane concern and the altered context of colonial and postcolonial realpolitik with case studies distributed between the late eighteenth and late twentieth centuries.

Together, the collection enables us to tease out the relationship between British humanitarian concerns and the uneven imagination and application of emancipation; the shifting tensions between ameliorative humanitarianism and assertive human rights; the specificities of humanitarian governance; the shifting locales of humanitarian donors, practitioners and recipients as decolonisation reconfigured imperial relationships; and the overarching question of who Anglo humanitarianism is for.

Three centuries of Anglophone humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism
Trevor Burnard
Joy Damousi
, and
Alan Lester

Written in equal parts by specialists in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Burnard, Lester and Damousi respectively), this foundational chapter tracks the relationship between humanitarian discourse and practice on the one hand, and the rise, expansion and decline of the British Empire on the other, across three centuries. Not only does it set the scene for the case study chapters that follow, establishing the geopolitical context of Anglophone ameliorative governance and intervention across this longue durée; it is the first such targeted examination of this relationship in its own right. It seeks to take up the challenge posed by Skinner and Lester in 2012, to explore ‘the history of humanitarianism … as a fundamental component of imperial relations, a way of bridging trans-imperial, international and transnational approaches’.

in Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995