Britons and Irish imperial culture in nineteenth-century India
This chapter examines the role of Irish soldiers in British India during the long nineteenth century. Rather than focusing on familiar representations of the Irish soldier abroad, this chapter links Irish service in the Empire to contemporary imperial ideology and changing patterns of economic and political thought. Ireland was central to British imperial expansion in the East, a point vital to our understanding of the multifaceted and pluralized nature of the British imperial experience, an experience which embedded Irish Catholics into British India. This chapter draws attention to the close, informal bonds that existed between Irish individuals within the imperial armed forces in India, which gradually gave rise to soldier networks based along ethnic lines. This was bolstered by the presence of Irish Catholic chaplains, stationed in British military cantonments. These networks were important conduits of cultural, financial and political interchange between Irish, Indian and Eurasian communities. These networks transmitted material items, capital, information and knowledge across the Empire, adding yet more links to the imperial systems of mobility and exchange.
This book collects eleven original essays in the cultural history of the British Empire since the eighteenth century. It is geographically capacious, taking in the United Kingdom, India, West Africa, Hong Kong, and Australia, as well as sites of informal British influence such as the Ottoman Empire and southern China. The book considers the ways in which British culture circulated within what John Darwin has called the British “world system”. In this, the book builds on existing imperial scholarship while innovating in several ways: it focuses on the movement of ideas and cultural praxis, whereas Darwin has focused mostly on imperial structures —financial, demographic, and military. The book examines the transmission, reception, and adaptation of British culture in the Metropole, the empire and informal colonial spaces, whereas many recent scholars have considered British imperial influence on the Metropole alone. It examines Britain's Atlantic and Asian imperial experiences from the eighteenth to the twentieth century together. Through focusing on political ideology, literary movements, material culture, marriage, and the construction of national identities, the essays demonstrate the salience of culture in making a “British World”.
This chapter introduces the main historiographic themes of the book. It makes a case for understanding the British world system not merely as a contingent series of migrations, economic exchanges, alliances, and military relationships, but also as an arena in which various cultural interchanges took place. These connections—which included literary criticism, humanitarianism, legal cultures, political thought, travel narratives, material culture, and attitudes toward capitalism—helped to cement a “cultural British world” that transcended the frontiers between formal and informal empire, and between empire, metropole, and the wider world.