Thursday, October 20, 2011

Richard Gott: Let's end the myths of Britain's imperial past

Richard Gott (author of Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, - published by Verso) has an interesting opinion piece in the Guardian about British nostalgia about the days of Empire and false notions of the history of colonialism.
Half a century after the end of empire, politicians of all persuasions still feel called upon to remember our imperial past with respect. Yet few pause to notice that the descendants of the empire-builders and of their formerly subject peoples now share the small island whose inhabitants once sailed away to change the face of the world. Considerations of empire today must take account of two imperial traditions: that of the conquered as well as the conquerors. Traditionally, that first tradition has been conspicuous by its absence.[...]
The British understandably try to forget that their empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination.

A self-satisfied and largely hegemonic belief survives in Britain that the empire was an imaginative, civilising enterprise, reluctantly undertaken, that brought the benefits of modern society to backward peoples. Indeed it is often suggested that the British empire was something of a model experience, unlike that of the French, the Dutch, the Germans, the Spaniards, the Portuguese – or, of course, the Americans. There is a widespread opinion that the British empire was obtained and maintained with a minimum degree of force and with maximum co-operation from a grateful local population. This benign, biscuit-tin view of the past is not an understanding of their history that young people in the territories that once made up the empire would now recognise.

I wonder to what degree current British school textbooks address these issues.

1 comment:

  1. Readers might be interested in my recent article RETURN OF STOLEN SKULLS BY GERMANY TO NAMIBIA: CLOSURE OF A HORRIBLE CHAPTER?