At its peak in the early 20th century, Britain's empire was the largest in the history of the world, greater even than that of ancient Rome. It embraced more than a fourth of the world's population and affected the course of Western civilization in ways almost too numerous to imagine.
Even today, with the advantages of historical perspective and hindsight, it is still nearly impossible to overstate the scope and importance of its stunning legacy.
- British colonists brought to the New World ideas of liberty, justice, and political stability-ideas that formed the foundation of our own revolution and Constitution and are still reflected in the aspirations of emerging democracies the world over.
- British exploration, mapping, and colonization of remote areas of the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries accelerated our scientific knowledge.
- Britain was the first nation to undertake large-scale industrialization, and it contributed to a host of technological advances that revolutionized manufacturing, navigation, international communications, travel on land and sea, and more.
- Britain was the first major world power to make the moral choices to end its own extremely profitable slave trade and then to work toward the abolition of slavery worldwide.
That is only a bare sampling of a legacy that also encompassed language, literature, the invention of sophisticated modern banking and insurance systems, and the foundations of modern capitalism.
Yet only seven decades after achieving its unprecedented global reach, the British Empire had virtually disappeared, swept aside by historical forces as powerful as those that had first propelled it into being.
How and why did this happen? What were those forces that thrust the British Empire to its extraordinary position and then just as powerfully drove it into decline? And why are the lives of not only Americans but also of the citizens of nearly every nation on earth, in one way or another, the consequence of the British Empire?
In the 36 lectures of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, award-winning Professor Patrick N. Allitt of Emory University leads you through four centuries of British power, innovation, influence, and, ultimately, diminishment-four profound centuries that literally remade the world and bequeathed the complex global legacy that continues to shape your everyday life.
It's a remarkable course that will give you fresh insights into world history in a wide range of areas-political, economic, technological, social, and more. And it will also give you a comprehensive overview you won't find offered anywhere else-a context into which you can integrate new knowledge about this country, as well as understand the background of current events in so many other countries that were once part of Britain's empire, from Ireland to China, and in Africa and the Caribbean.
Indeed, it seems fair to say that one cannot truly understand the most important aspects of world history without a firm grasp of the history of the British Empire.
In giving you that grasp, Professor Allitt draws on a vast range of critical events, riveting personalities, revealing anecdotes, and eloquent quotations-which become virtuoso performances in the hands of the English-born Allitt, who invests each line with the political, social, or moral implications that would have been obvious to contemporary readers and listeners.
Meet Some of History's Most Riveting Personalities
Unlike them, however, trapped in their own specific moment in time, you get to take the entire fascinating journey, encountering as you do some of history's most important, forceful, and interesting personalities, often from a totally new vantage point:
- Winston Churchill, the very personification of the British Lion, who, after inspiring his nation to unexpected survival during the darkest days of World War II, was rewarded with defeat at the polls.
- Robert Clive, who rose from his beginnings as a teenaged clerk for the British East India Company to avenge the brutality of the infamous "Black Hole of Calcutta," achieve British hegemony in India along with great personal power and ill-gotten wealth, and ultimately die at his own hand, imprisoned by both depression and his addiction to opium.
- Orde Wingate, the British general whose achievements in the Ethiopian campaign and in the Zionist guerrilla war against the Arab revolt in Palestine could never obscure his personal eccentricities. One of those was a proclivity to wander about naked, often with a raw onion suspended around his neck, from which he would take hearty bites while inspecting his troop.
- William Wilberforce, the Christian evangelical and Member of Parliament who provided the political leadership and moral lifeblood for Britain's antislavery crusade, and who lived long enough to see his nearly half-century struggle culminate in the 1833 abolition of slavery throughout most of the British Empire.
And that, of course, is only a small sample of a course that encompasses rulers and slaves, politicians and scientists, explorers, inventors and fighters, and even the importance of cricket! Sir Francis Drake, Mohandas Gandhi, John Hancock, Adam Smith, Captains James Cook and William Bligh, the Zulu warrior king Chaka, James Watt, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery—these and many, many others all step forward during this comprehensive course.
Understand How Britain's History Helped Define the Shape of Its Future—and the World's
And as they do, with Professor Allitt leading you through the British Empire's extraordinary history, he explains not only the hows and whys of its momentous events and conflicts, but leaves you with a nuanced understanding of just what kind of historical pathways were set into place for succeeding generations to follow:
- You learn that although the British could often be ruthless in projecting their power, suppressing customs and traditions in alien cultures, an intellectual minority among them also began to study those cultures with interest and sympathy, helping to develop not only a missionary tradition but also new disciplines like anthropology and comparative religion.
- You gain a new appreciation of perhaps the most widespread of Britain's bequests—the language that is not only spoken here, but that remains the most widely spoken around the world.And you come to understand the full extent of that gift, as well, as Professor Allitt explores the British Empire's ongoing literary legacy.
- You grasp how Britain's finest writers, including the Brontë sisters, Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, and George Orwell, by exploring the social and moral implications of almost every aspect of the British Empire, have left us a profound cultural record—a record since added to by subsequent generations of British authors and by the greatest writers of her former colonies.
In organizing a vast wealth of historical material, Professor Allitt approaches his subject from a variety of perspectives as he traces the mercantilist, imperial, and free trade ideologies that fueled the development of the empire.
Key among these is his thorough discussion of both the role of slavery in building and maintaining the empire and the evolution of Britain's ultimate decision to end its participation in the practice.
He explains the innovations in banking and insurance that fueled British prosperity and enabled Britain to finance the military power necessary to fight its wars and protect its far-flung colonies. He explores cultural and political changes inside Britain and their impact on Britain's global decisions. And he examines the changing cultural manifestations of the empire as it evolved.
Just as important, he never allows himself to settle into an Anglocentric view of Britain's empire. He discusses not only the experiences of Britain's colonists, but also those of the native peoples of those colonies, whose own lives—as well as the destinies of their countries—were irrevocably shaped by British imperialism.
Compelling, comprehensive, and astonishing in the force of its narrative power, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire will give you a refreshing new understanding of what made the British Empire both great in its achievements and vulnerable to its eventual downfall.