The Peculiar Modernity of Britain - Session D

History N151C

Summer 2014
Second 6 Week Session
John Corbally
109 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
MTuW 1-330P
For many years Britain was seen as the crucible of the modern world. This small, cold and wet island was thought to have been the first to develop representative politics, the idea of the individual, the nuclear family, capitalism and an industrial economy, a bureaucratic state, rapid transportation, mass cities, mass culture and, of course, an empire upon which the sun famously never set. And yet, despite this precocious modernity, for most of the last two centuries, Imperial Britain remained a deeply traditional society unable to rid itself of archaic institutions like the monarchy, the aristocracy and an established church.
Pride in empire was a centerpiece of British identity through this period. Yet the ideals championed by imperialist boosters at home were rarely presented to those people colonized, afflicted or affected by British expansion, whether Indian, Irish, African or otherwise. This class examines this contradiction. It scrutinizes the inconsistencies between virtuous ideals and their flawed application on the ground. It considers the awful abyss between intentions and outcomes, the hypocrisies of the ‘civilizing mission,’ and also the tangible benefits for those around the world impacted by British actions.
This course will also introduce you to the broad world-historical patterns of the last two centuries, exploring global events with an eye to the particular role of Britain and the British Empire. It will enable you to better understand the modern world’s complexity and the relevance of the British Empire in enduring global questions. Major themes we will address alongside the question of imperialism include the emergence of liberalism, the formation of the modern nation-state, the origins of the World Wars and the Cold War, the relationship between the individual and the state, various forms of resistance, and the process of globalization. To explore these themes we will use three books, film and selected readings.