Understanding the British Empire draws on a lifetime's research and reflection on the history of the British Empire by one of the senior figures in the field. Essays cover six key themes: the geopolitical and economic dynamics of empire, religion and ethics, imperial bureaucracy, the contribution of political leaders, the significance of sexuality, and the shaping of imperial historiography. A major new introductory chapter draws together the wider framework of Dr Hyam's studies and several new chapters focus on lesser known figures. Other chapters are revised versions of earlier papers, reflecting some of the debates and controversies raised by the author's work, including the issue of sexual exploitation, the European intrusion into Africa, including the African response to missionaries, trusteeship, and Winston Churchill's imperial attitudes. Combining traditional archival research with newer forms of cultural exploration, this is an unusually wide-ranging approach to key aspects of empire.
Ronald Hyam is Emeritus Reader in British Imperial History at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow and former President of Magdalene College. He is the author of several books on the British Empire, including most recently Britain's Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation 1918-1968 and, with Peter Henshaw, The Lion and the Springbok: Britain and South Africa since the Boer War (2003).
Introduction: perspectives, policies, and people; Part I. Dynamics: Geopolitics and Economics: 1. The primacy of geopolitics: the dynamics of British imperial policy, 1763-1963; 2. The partition of Africa: geopolitical and internal perspectives; 3. The empire in a comparative global context, 1815-1914; 4. The myth of 'gentlemanly capitalism'; Part II. Ethics and Religion: 5. Peter Peckard, 'universal benevolence', and the abolition of the slave trade; 6. The view from below: the African response to missionaries; Part III. Bureaucracy and Policy-making: 7. Bureaucracy and trusteeship in the colonial empire; 8. Africa and the Labour government, 1945-51; 9. John Bennett and the end of empire; Part IV. Great Men: 10. Winston Churchill's first years in ministerial office, 1905-11; 11. Churchill and the colonial empire; 12. Smuts in context: Britain and South Africa; Part V. Sexuality: 13. Empire and sexual opportunity; 14. Penis envy and 'penile othering' in the colonies and America; 15. Concubinage and the Colonial Service: Silberrad and the Crewe Circular (1909); 16. Greek love in British India: Captain Searight's manuscript; Part VI. Imperial Historians: 17. Imperial and Commonwealth history at Cambridge, 1881-1981: founding fathers and pioneer research students; 18. The Oxford and Cambridge imperial history professoriate, 1919-81: Robinson and Gallagher and their predecessors; Published writings of Ronald Hyam on imperial history.