History 151C - Spring 2014

Maker of the Modern World? Imperial Britain, 1714 to the present

Professor James Vernon -


For many years Britain was seen as the crucible of the modern world. Over the past three centuries this small, cold and wet island was arguably the first to develop representative politics, the idea of the individual, an industrial economy, sustained and rapid population growth, rapid transport, a predominantly urban population, mass culture, the nuclear family, and, of course, an empire upon which the sun famously never set. And yet, despite this precocious modernity, imperial Britain remains a deeply traditional society that has failed to rid itself of ancient institutions like the monarchy, the aristocracy and the established church. 


The class explains this paradox through an account of the rise, fall and rebirth of ‘liberalism’.  We will see how during the eighteenth century Britain’s ancien regime spawned a ‘liberal’ critique of it by those who believed free trade, representative government, the rule of law, individual self-improvement and meritocracy would bring prosperity and civilization to all who deserved it. While ‘liberalism’ reformed much of the ancien regime during the nineteenth century it failed to deliver wealth and civilization at home (let alone across the empire) or to keep Britain abreast with its new global competitors.  Although this lay the foundation for the growth of Britain's welfare and security state in the twentieth century, we will see how social democracy emerged embedded in the remnants of the ancien regime, liberalism and the empire.  These multiple inadequacies of social democracy produced an evangelically reborn form of ‘neo-liberalism’ that has subsequently become the common sense of our age. 


The class combines economic, social, political and cultural history. Each lecture is supported by a podcast, a number of short readings consisting of primary web resources, and two set textbooks.  Students should come to lecture having listened to the podcast and read the textbook so they can ask questions and engage in discussions about the material.  Section time will be devoted to analyzing primary source documents, artifacts and films as well as developing your research and writing skills.


Assessment will be based upon section assignments and participation (30%), short weekly in class quizzes (30%) and a final examination (40%). Students, especially History Majors, are encouraged to write a short research paper (10 pages) in place of the final exam.


Lectures:             Tuesday and Thursday 12.30-2, 110 Barrows

Office hours:       Monday 2-4pm, Dwinelle 2214.


Mid-term:          7 March

Final:                   15 May, 3-6pm


GSIs:                    Gillian Chisom

                  Office hours: Wednesday, 10-12 noon

                           Sections:        101. Wednesday, 2-3pm, 259 Dwinelle

                                               103. Thursday 11-12 noon, 80 Barrows


Ivana Mirkovic

                                    Office hours:  Tuesday 2-3pm

Sections:        102. Thursday, 2-3pm, 223 Wheeler



Required texts: 

Paul Kleber Monod, Imperial Island: A History of Britain and its Empire, 1660-1837 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)  9781405134453


Jamie Bronstein and Andrew Harris, Empire, State and Society: Britain since 1830 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) 9781405181808







Lecture Schedule



21 January. Introduction


23 January.  A new imperial state

Monod, Imperial Island, ch.12&13

Burke on Warren Hastings [1788]

Richard Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country [1789]

Porter, Britain’s empire in 1815

The Peterloo Massacre (Preface) [1819]


28 January. An enlightened civil society?

Monod, Imperial Island, ch.11&18

The Spectator, no.3. Addison

George Eliot, Felix Holt the Radical, ch.31

The Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue [1787]

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano [1789], ch.5

John Brand Observations on Popular Antiquities [1777], both prefaces


30 January. The great transformation and the population question

Monod, Imperial Island, ch.15&20

Morgan, Trade and the British Empire

Overton, The Agricultural Revolution

Malthus Essay on the Principle of Population [1798], chs.1&2

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, v.2, ch.5


4 February. A liberal revolution in imperial government

Monod, Imperial Island, ch.19

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.2

Evans, Laissez-Faire and the Victorians

Poor Law Commissioners Report [1834], Remedial Measures II.I.I-25

The Northcote-Trevelyan Report, pp.1-11 & 22-23

Queen Victoria’s Proclamation on Government of India 1858


6 February. An empire of free trade?

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.3

Oldfield, British Anti-Slavery

Richard Cobden on free trade [1846]

Trevelyan on the Irish Crisis [1848], pp.183-201

Rev George Clayton, [Three] Sermons on the Great Exhibition [1851]

Engels, The Condition of the Working Classes [1844], pp.75-90


11 February. Learning to do democracy

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.5

BBC BItesize, Political Reform in Britain

The Poll Book for Whitehaven [1832], scan

Corrupt Practices Act [1883], pp.1-7

Chartist National Petititon [1838]

The League [1846]

The Northern Star [1847]


13 February. The uneven work of gender

Henry Mayhew, The Life of a Coster Girl [1864]

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management – The Mistress [1861]

The English Woman’s Journal, v.1 [1858]

Campaign for Women’s Suffrage


18 February. Religion, reason and the pleasures of the freeborn Englishman

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.4 & 7

Hone, The Everyday Book [1825], Explanatory Address

The Religious Census of 1851, pp.102-3.

Samuel Smiles, Self-Help [1882]

Thomas Wright, ‘Among the Gods” (1867)

Newcastle United v Liverpool [1901]


20 February. An industrial, urban and imperial nation?

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.6

Walter Bagehot, Lombard Street [1873], ch.1

William Booth In Darkest England [1890], Preface & ch.1

Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of Tomorrow [1902], intro


25 February. The discovery of poverty and the social question

Mearns, The Bitter Cry of Outcast London [1883], pp.15-25

Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps

Blease, New Liberalism and the Social Question [1913]


27 February.  Empire, immigration and national efficiency

Josephine Butler on abolition in India [1887]

Kipling and the White Man’s Burden [1899]

Hobson, Imperialism [1902]

E.Pankhurst, Why We Are Militant [1913]


4 March. The Great War

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.8

Diary of Private Donald Fraser, September 1915

Sassoon, Attack (1918) 

Questions in Commons on Conscientious Objectors in Prison [1917]


6 March. Rebuilding 'middle England'

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.9

Marie Stopes, Married Love [1918], preface and ch.1

Baldwin, ‘On England and the West’[1926]

The Commons Debate on General Dyer [1920] (especially Churchill from 1720)


11 March.Depression, planning and a new society

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.10

Huxley, Brave New World [1932], ch.1.

J.M.Keynes, The General Theory [1936], ch.24

J.B.Priestley’s English Journey [1934]

Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier [1937], ch.7

National Hunger March [1932]


13 March. Mass democracy and the problem of leisure

Eyles, Cinema in the 1930s

HYPERLINK ""Peckham Health Centre

Mass Observation (1937), pp.1-12


18 March. The People's War?

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.11

Churchill in the US 1942

Rationing in Britain

Prest, Evacuation

The Beveridge Report [1942]


20 March. Engineering the new Jerusalem

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.12

Let US Face the Future

The Festival of Britain

The Festival in London on film (1951)


25 & 27 March. Spring Break


1 April.  Affluence and consensus?

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.13

The Coronation on TV

Labour Party Political Broadcast [1959]

Goldthorpe et al, The Affluent Worker [1969], conclusion


3 April. End of empire and the invention of multiculturalism

The Atlantic Charter

Empire Windrush

Journey by a London Bus (1950)

Macmillan, Winds of Change [1960]


8 April. A new meritocracy – or whatever happened to the working class?

Film: 59 UP


10 April. The long 1960s and the ends of Christian Britain.

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.14

The Wolfenden Report [1957]

Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis

Civil Rights and the Troubles in N.Ireland

Spare Rib [1972]  


15 April.  Punk Britain.

Powell, Rivers of Blood [1968]

Conservative Party Manifesto 1979:Our Five Tasks 

Thatcher gets elected 


17 April.  New Times

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.15

Right to Buy

Images from the Miner’s Strike

Anita Roddick, Capitalism with a conscience

Millenium Dome


24 April.  Neoliberalism and the new Anglo-empire

Bronstein and Harris, Empire, State and Society, ch.16


29 April. Student Presentations


1 May.  Course Review