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Editor: Stuart Ward

The demise of British imperial power in the three decades following the Second World War is a familiar theme in the study of post-war British politics, economics and foreign relations. This book is the first major attempt to examine the cultural manifestations of the demise of imperialism as a social and political ideology in post-war Britain. It stresses and strains of imperial decline were not safely contained within the realm of high politics. British governments had to steer a delicate course between a firm display of British authority and control. The book begins with an overview of the persistence of imperialism in popular culture in the post-1945 era. Although an elitist and unashamedly 'establishment' grouping, the Round Table had always been actively engaged in the wider dissemination of an imperial outlook. The Commonwealth anaesthetic was at its most effective at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in June 1953. The book then examines the remarkable coincidence of the coronation and the conquest of Everest, an event that became heavily imbued with late imperial hubris. An account of the complex picture of a British theatre, post-war cultural scene, the anti-establishment sentiment, and the shortcomings of Britain's ruling elites, follows. The book also examines Britain's steadily dwindling imperial power was mirrored by the demise of English cricket. The culture of imperial decline, namely that of popular children's literature is discussed. The book talks about the nostalgic trail of post-imperial British travellers, immigration divide, and the relationship between western feminism and colonial nationalism.

Stuart Ward

John M. MacKenzie's Studies in Imperialism series was launched in the mid-1980s, with the publication of MacKenzie's own Propaganda and Empire. The Series masthead, in its conviction that 'imperialism as a cultural phenomenon had as significant an effect on the dominant as on the subordinate societies', was both a response to, and an elaboration upon, a range of social, political and intellectual cross-currents. At a time when the neo-jingoism of the Falklands War was a recent memory and the pervasive 'Raj revival' in British popular culture seemed ubiquitous, there was indeed much to be said for pursuing the idea of a deep-rooted British popular preoccupation with the culture of empire. The nature, function and scope of imperial influences have also been revised over the course of one hundred volumes. The most recent departure is the comparative European experience of popular imperialism, with MacKenzie once more at the helm.

in Writing imperial histories
Reveries of reverse colonization
Stuart Ward

Stuart Ward discusses how conservatives have harnessed history to their cause, tapping into a vein of popular anxiety rooted in readings of the colonial past still prevalent in Australia, Britain, and other former British settler colonies. Invoking the memory of colonization, they stir memories of the very conditions of post-war decolonization that had originally burst the bubble of White Australia. The spectre of a “home” defiled by peoples once kept in their colonial place was remarkably reminiscent of the Powellite moment in 1960s England, and the wider dislocations of an unravelling empire. Moreover, it was consistent with the very earliest invocations of “decolonization” that invariably harboured fears of “the colonized becoming colonizers”. This chapter draws out the Australian perspective on white nationalism in the Anglosphere.

in Global white nationalism
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The anatomy of break-up
Stuart Ward

This introductory chapter addresses two key issues. First, the anatomy of ‘break-up’ as a recurring theme in British historiography and social commentary since the 1960s, and the long habit of ascribing the loosening bonds of the Union to the ‘dynamic absence’ of empire. Here, it is shown that the link between the end of empire and the ‘break-up of Britain’ is rarely, if ever established beyond a crude caricature. Second, the absence at the heart of the equation is squarely addressed, surveying the interpretative possibilities (and the conceptual difficulties) of endowing the properties of ‘break-up’ with a much wider territorial and cultural remit. It is argued that the end of empire was not simply an inert backdrop to the realignment of national allegiances in Britain but entailed simultaneous challenges to notions of collective selfhood among a vast constituency of peoples and cultures around the world, equally engaged in extricating themselves from the obsolete totems of empire and Britishness – unevenly and with widely varying outcomes. Indeed, valuable perspective can be gained from putting the travails of the Union in their proper perspective; as just one of any number of civic ruptures occasioned by the serial dislocations of decolonisation.

in The break-up of Greater Britain
The ‘rude awakenings’ of the Windrush era
Stuart Ward

This chapter examines the shock of alienation that has become a ubiquitous theme in scholarly treatment of the empire Windrush arrivals in Britain in the decades after the Second World War. It critiques the tendency to treat West Indian conceptions of Britishness as a species of false consciousness, awaiting correction upon exposure to attitudes in Britain itself, often couched in terms of a ‘rude awakening’. Such naïve readings take too much at face value and overlook a much longer history spanning both sides of the Atlantic of West Indian Britishness as ‘as an ideal continually betrayed’ (Putnam, 2014). Viewed in this light, the Windrush moment was not simply about the barriers of social and political exclusion in Britain suddenly disabusing ‘loyal’ black Britons of their former affinities. Rather the ‘rude awakening’ was itself an established feature of West Indian protest and critique, containing elements of deep continuity as well as rupture.

in The break-up of Greater Britain
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Stuart Ward

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book offers an overview of the persistence of imperialism in popular culture in the post-1945 era. It examines the remarkable coincidence of the coronation and the conquest of Everest, an event that became heavily imbued with late imperial hubris. The book also examines the ways in which Britain's steadily dwindling imperial power was mirrored by the demise of English cricket. It also offers an entirely different perspective on the culture of imperial decline, namely that of popular children's literature. The book explores the nostalgic trail of post-imperial British travellers. It looks at one of the undisputed enduring legacies of empire: the migration of British subjects to and from the British Isles. The book also looks at the theme of 'India in Britain' in a different context.

in British culture and the end of empire
The satire boom and the demise of Britain’s world role
Stuart Ward

This chapter looks at the ways in which popular British comedy reflected the reorientation of an entire generation, away from the former conception of Britain's world-wide imperial destiny and towards the awareness of Britain's place in the world. The ever-widening gap between the global reach of British national aspirations and the encroaching external realities of the post-war world provided new avenues for comic exploration of the imperial ethos and the myth of Britain's 'world role'. It was the idea of character and breeding as the key to political legitimacy that was most brazenly sent up in Beyond the Fringe. The end of empire provided fertile ground for new innovations in British comedy. The satire boom has generally been interpreted as a symbol of profound changes in the dominant values of post-war British society.

in British culture and the end of empire

How did the end of empire affect the projection of British identities overseas? British decolonisation is conventionally understood in terms of the liquidation of the colonial empire in the decades after the Second World War. But it also entailed simultaneous transformations to the self-representation of peoples and cultures all over the world, variously described as British, symbolised by the eclipse of the idea of ‘Greater Britain’. Originally coined by Charles Dilke’s 1868 travelogue of the same name, Greater Britain enjoyed widespread currency throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before falling into disuse from the 1930s. But Greater British modes of thought, feeling and action persisted into the second half of the twentieth century, becoming embroiled in the global upheavals of imperial decline. Over a remarkably short time span, the ideas, assumptions and networks that had sustained an uneven and imperfectly imagined British world dissolved under the weight of the empire’s precipitate demise. Although these patterns and perspectives have been explored across a range of specific local and national contexts, this collection is the first to examine the wider mesh of interlocking British subjectivities that unravelled at empire’s end.

The shadow of empire in devolutionary politics
Jimmi Østergaard Nielsen and Stuart Ward

This chapter examines four seminal moments in the evolution of this ambit claim: the three devolutionary referenda of 1979, 1997 and 2014, and the Hamilton by-election of November 1967. The crucial context was undoubtedly the victory of Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate Winifred Ewing in the Hamilton by-election, an event that remains seminal in party folklore as marking the arrival of Scottish nationalism as a credible electoral force. Ewing's victory at Hamilton sparked a series of events that would culminate in the first referendum on devolution in 1979. On the eve of the two devolution referenda in March 1979, several accounts were published that tapped into similar assumptions about the deflating effects of the loss of empire on national morale. During the final throes of the 2014 campaign, Colin Kidd debunked the entire notion of a post-imperial story in a Scotsman essay provocatively titled: 'Say No to Colony Myth'.

in Scotland, empire and decolonisation in the twentieth century