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Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Rise and Fall of the British Empire

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Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Course No. 8480
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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4.4 out of 5
75 Reviews
82% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8480
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features more than 900 portraits, illustrations, and maps. Portraits offer revealing looks at British figures like Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill, as well as figures from British colonies, including Mohandas Gandhi and Chinua Achebe. Illustrations recreate important historical moments during Britain's imperial rule such as the Opium Wars and India's independence. And maps offer visual insights into the colonization (and decolonization) of Africa, the conquests of India and Canada, and Britain's retreat at Dunkirk during World War II. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

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.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Sun Never Set
    Learn how history's greatest colonial empire came about not according to a master plan, but in response to great shifts in the currents that move nations. This lecture previews the roles played by military power, trade, slavery, industrialization, and many other forces in motivating Britain to acquire, maintain, and, ultimately, relinquish its empire. x
  • 2
    The Challenge to Spain in the New World
    Britannia didn't always rule the waves. See how jealousy over Spanish and Portuguese wealth combined with religious rivalry and advances in nautical knowledge to push England toward its own role in the New World. x
  • 3
    African Slavery and the West Indies
    Although a more enlightened Britain would eventually do away with both its African slave trade and then slavery itself, it originally looked on the issue as strictly economic. Gain a grasp of slavery's importance to not only Britain's New World colonies, but to its entire economy. x
  • 4
    Imperial Beginnings in India
    For its first 150 years, the British East India Company —granted a monopoly by the queen in 1600—had no intention of becoming the political overlord of India. Explore how circumstances overrode that intention and set the stage for British rule. x
  • 5
    Clive and the Conquest of India
    See how a rapidly rising young officer named Robert Clive, who initially attempted to quell local instability, won a succession of victories that quickly earned him fame, power, and ill-gotten wealth. His actions laid the foundation for British domination of India. x
  • 6
    Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada
    Britain's victory over the French in the Seven Years' War redrew the world's map in Britain's favor—including control over Canada—but at great cost. The debt was so massive it would ultimately contribute to England losing her American colonies. x
  • 7
    The Loss of the American Colonies
    Britain's desperate need for revenue ended years of "benign neglect" of its increasingly prosperous American colonies. Colonial resentment of "taxation without representation" triggered the American Revolution that, with French help, inflicted a stunning defeat on the empire. x
  • 8
    Exploring the Planet
    Although it was trade that prompted Britain to build an empire, the path was marked by great strides in exploration, invention, and science. See how accelerating scientific knowledge in the late 18th and early 19th centuries connected directly to British exploration, mapping, and colonization of previously remote areas of the world. x
  • 9
    Napoleon Challenges the Empire
    The French Revolution, the overthrow of France's monarchy, and the rise of Napoleon created an unprecedented crisis for the empire. But Britain's domination of the seas and an innovative banking system that enabled it to fund more than two decades of war ultimately proved too much for even Napoleon. x
  • 10
    The Other Side of the World
    The Indian model—a massive indigenous population dominated by just a handful of colonizers—was only one model of British empire building. Learn how Australia and New Zealand illustrated the other—an indigenous population vanquished by disease and war, which cleared the way for large-scale white settlement. x
  • 11
    Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery
    With slavery widespread throughout history, the surprise is less that Britain used slavery than that it eventually decided to abolish it. This lecture gives you insight into the motives that led Britain to reverse course on what had become an economic pillar of its empire. x
  • 12
    Early African Colonies
    Britain first gained a colonial foothold in Africa by seizing Holland's Cape of Good Hope settlement during the Napoleonic Wars. See how its 1833 abolition of slavery intensified the still-simmering tensions between Britain and the region's Dutch settlers. x
  • 13
    China and the Opium Wars
    Witness the mid-19th century collision between the British policy of free trade (logical for a nation that enjoyed industrial and nautical supremacy) and the closed culture of the Chinese. It was a collision China could not win, as Britain used its military might to impose total domination on China and compelled it to accept the lucrative opium trade. x
  • 14
    Britain—The Imperial Center
    Watch as Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the most powerful nation on earth. Its industrial revolution, sophisticated banking and insurance techniques, political stability, and social mobility each contributed to its ability to project power around the world. x
  • 15
    Ireland—The Tragic Relationship
    In the first of two lectures devoted to Britain's troubled relationship with Ireland, you gain insight into how religion, politics, and social factors—including a catastrophic famine—combined to create this most puzzling and tragic element of British history. x
  • 16
    India and the "Great Game"
    Deepen your understanding of the intricate relationship between Britain and India. This lecture gives you the opportunity to examine both the changing face of British domination and the disastrous results when Britain tried to safeguard that regional dominance against Russian encroachment by invading Afghanistan. x
  • 17
    Rebellion and Mutiny in India
    Track the factors that contributed to a growing unrest, which finally exploded in an outright mutiny among Indian soldiers of the East India Company's army. British forces violently suppressed the uprising, after which the British government dissolved the East India Company in 1858 and undertook direct government of the subcontinent. x
  • 18
    How Canada Became a Nation
    Learn how Canada, although remaining loyal to Britain during the American Revolution, also disliked being governed from the other side of the Atlantic without adequate representation. See how its provinces gained self-government and then unification without the need for large-scale revolution. x
  • 19
    The Exploration and Settlement of Africa
    Travel along with British explorers as they journey across Africa, mapping its mountains, tracing its river systems, and ultimately triggering a scramble among Europe's colonial powers to conquer Africa in the last three decades of the 19th century. The scramble intensified with the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa. x
  • 20
    Gold, Greed, and Geopolitics in Africa
    The 1886 discovery of gold near present-day Johannesburg transformed a pastoral backwater into a center of dynamic economic activity. The great wealth at stake ultimately brought military violence and even disease-ridden concentration camps in an ominous premonition of 20th-century warfare. x
  • 21
    The Empire in Literature
    The empire influenced British literature as much as it did British life. A fascinating tour through works both celebrated and obscure—including Shakespeare's The Tempest, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea—illustrates the colonies' role in introducing new ideas, new forms of wealth, and difficult moral questions to British audiences. x
  • 22
    Economics and Theories of Empire
    Throughout the 19th century, advocates of the empire claimed they were bringing progress to backward peoples: the blessings of honest government, Christianity, education, railways, medicine, and commerce. Above all, however, they were making money, and in this lecture you learn about the 19th-century debate over the ethics and economics of empire. x
  • 23
    The British Empire Fights Imperial Germany
    Follow the First World War from the perspective of Britain's colonies as you track the participation of colonial populations, the role of the colonies in providing necessary supplies, and the impact of the war on the empire itself. x
  • 24
    Versailles and Disillusionment
    Learn how Britain and France secured the vengeful peace treaty they desired, circumventing Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which would have brought the European powers' colonial empires to an end. Nevertheless the war undermined British confidence in its imperial mission, even as independence movements began to arise in many colonies. x
  • 25
    Ireland Divided
    Return to Ireland and learn the history of its battle for self-government. You conclude with the 1922 creation of the Irish Free State and the loyalist North, and the ensuing civil war in the Free State between those who accepted partition and those who rejected it. x
  • 26
    Cricket and the British Empire
    Enjoy a fascinating look at the game that was both the sport of the British Empire and a metaphor for many of the ideals Britain saw itself spreading. Even as colonies struggled for independence, they often used cricket analogies to force the British to admit the contrast between their ideas of fair play and the harsh reality of their use of power. x
  • 27
    British India between the World Wars
    Follow the early career of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, as he led the struggle for independence. Although since World War I the British had conceded in principle the idea of eventual Indian self-government, they still retained all the apparatus of repression. x
  • 28
    World War II—England Alone
    Hamstrung by strong antiwar feelings after World War I, Britain began World War II woefully behind in munitions and research and development. Early defeats and a humiliating retreat from Dunkirk brought Winston Churchill to the premiership with a grim determination to prevail. x
  • 29
    World War II—The Pyrrhic Victory
    Follow the progress of the war—the tide of which turned in 1942 with a British victory at El Alamein and an American victory over the Japanese at Midway. Despite the Allies' ultimate triumph, the 1945 election brought a jarring shock as Churchill was defeated and the new Labour government of Clement Attlee began to dismantle the empire. x
  • 30
    Twilight of the Raj
    Watch as India's long-awaited 1947 independence comes at a ghastly price: the death of a half-million people in Hindu and Muslim massacres before and after the historic date—and the assassination of Gandhi. x
  • 31
    Israel, Egypt, and the Suez Canal
    Learn how Britain's attempt to partition Israel and Palestine in 1948—a strategy unsuccessfully attempted in both Ireland and India—suffered a similar fate. See also how the Suez Crisis of 1956 demonstrated that Britain was no longer capable of unilateral imperial action. x
  • 32
    The Decolonization of Africa
    Although postwar Britain had once harbored hopes of preserving its African colonies in spite of India's and Israel's independence, the Suez crisis prompted a shift in policy. Britain began to offer early independence to its ill-prepared African colonies, with politicians from both major parties feeling they had no real alternative. x
  • 33
    The White Dominions
    Gain fresh insights into the 20th-century evolution of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All three countries tried to balance the increasing allure of America as their principal partner in questions of trade and defense against the sentiment, loyalty, and ethnic traditions that bound them to Britain. x
  • 34
    Britain after the Empire
    After World War II, Britain had to decide what its primary international partners would be once the empire had gone, choosing between its former colony—the United States—or the rest of Europe. See how Britain ultimately recognized the need to take its place in a Europe fast becoming commercially and politically united. x
  • 35
    Colonial and Postcolonial Literature
    Returning to the world of literature, learn how the literature of the 20th-century British Empire and its aftermath dealt in dramatic contrasts, passionate extremes, ideas about exoticism, and questions of divided loyalty. Professor Allitt offers several examples from some of Africa and India's finest writers, including Alan Paton, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, V. S. Naipaul, and Salman Rushdie. x
  • 36
    Epitaph and Legacy
    An opportunity for added perspective: Was the British Empire just a disgraceful episode of greed, exploitation, and racism? Was it an unmatched achievement in the advancement of Western civilization? Or was it some potent combination of both? And what does that say about the nature of empires and the prospect that they will persist? x

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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Rise and Fall of the British Empire is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 75.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Overview of a Broad Topic Like many of TTC's history courses, this one covers a broad topic that's difficult to treat thoroughly in 36 lectures. Nevertheless, Professor Allitt does a good job of covering the highlights and presenting the important themes. Considering the Empire's multiple human rights abuses, it would be easy to present a PC version of this course, but Allitt avoids doing that, though he certainly doesn't shy away from an honest discussion of the topic's delicate issues, like slavery and apartheid. Allitt is one TTC best presenters. He's engaging, humerous, and polished, but without an affected manner. He mixes historical facts and events with anecdotes and vignettes, and his courses move at a measured and easy-to-follow pace. His British accent adds some color to the topic, but it's certainly the substance of his lectures that carries them. This is my second course with Allitt and I'd rate him as one of TTC's top professors. This is a solid five stars.
Date published: 2011-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course, Very Informative Professor Allitt was excellent, great perspective.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dry as British toast The information presented by Professor Allitt should lend itself to riveting presentation - it is, after all, a history populated with fascinating individuals and events that shaped the English-speaking world. But Professor Allit's penchant for reciting detail, dates, and relying on quoted descriptions from other writers made for a very dry experience. It led me to question the credibility of the lecturer selection process of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2011-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top Draw Professor Allitt does a superb job explaining the rise and fall of the British Empire, balancing the panoramic view and the close-up to great effect. He does what every good professor in such a series should do: he explains the most important points, people, events, and institutions to us so that we get why the subject is still relevant to us today. He has obviously read, digested, analyzed, and synthesized a vast wealth of knowledge and gives us only what counts. A truly impressive intellectual feat. As such, he reminds me of another superb teacher, Thomas F.X. Noble. Under his direction, I better understand why the Brits rose to power, how they extended their reach, what prompted them to consolidate their masterful grip on the people they governed, and why and how their empire finally dissolved. Dr. Allitt has given me insights about the political, financial, military, religious, and social forces that brought the Brits to prominence. But he's also shown me the intrinsic problems with the empire (the 'Irish' problem, for instance) and how these problems, over time, aided in the eventual unwinding of the entire system. Allitt obviously loves teaching his subject. His presentation-style is lively, humorous, and approachable. He knows the fascinating stories about key people which will illuminate their personalities. In this way, Allitt makes the subject 'come alive.' Yet he never allows the anecdotal material to take over. He always remains in control of his aim to edify. Also, I thoroughly appreciated the teacher's realistic approach to ticklish subjects, such as slavery. He portrays the subject as a complex phenomenon. Both the slave traders and the abolitionists are described 'as they were.' Allitt obviously finds slavery an odious institution, but rather than simply moralize, he explains how it began and why it flourished for so long. Also, he explains who ended slavery, why they ended it, and how they ended it. This way I was provided with the 'narrative arc' of slavery within the British Empire. It makes so much sense. Thus, he explains why and how a great civilization with a high moral standard reformed a very immoral and deeply criminal enterprise but--and this is the clincher--he does so without ever sacrificing the complexity of the situation. A very tough thing to pull off. And that was only one lecture...I am a Canadian who loves history but Dr. Allitt taught me things about my own nation I'd never heard before. He situates each lecture in the broader context, which is wonderful. You see the give-and-take of the immediate situation within the larger context of the global empire. I cannot say enough good things about this series. I have enjoyed several of your courses: one on the ancient Greeks, another on Late Antiquity, and yet another on Faith and Reason. Allitt's on the British Empire is, in some ways, the climax of all these others, since the Brits borrowed heavily from previous civilizations.
Date published: 2011-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good treatment of overly ambitious topic As an attempt to cover a large and complex topic in a broad stroke, I feel this course does its job. It gives a flavor for the era, and a general introduction for those not familiar with it. Prof. Allitt is a pleasure to hear. The only complaint I have is that the course is a bit "jumpy"...the blame for which may or may not lie with him. I would dearly love to hear Prof. Allitt do a series on more narrowly defined topics. Perhaps a 36 or 48 lecture course on the British experience in India, and another on the scramble for Africa, perhaps a 24 lecture series on the 7 years' war, &c.
Date published: 2011-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! One of the best of the Great Courses I have taken. Engaging professor, logical and fair presentation of Britain's empire, how it changed over time (with insightful thoughts on why), and interesting tidbits I have never heard before.
Date published: 2010-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2010-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Informative This is a very enjoyable course. Prof. Allitt's presentation is always engaging, and he has a knack for zeroing in on those telling anecdotes or quotations that really convey a point and evoke the spirit of the times. The content is perhaps not exactly what an American would expect: e.g. British historians (that is, from Britain, not of Britain) of empire often focus more on India and rather less on Africa (except for southern Africa)--and Allitt is a case in point. Big and general themes perhaps get less attention than specific events or personalities. Then again, if you are interested in the course primarily for informative and entertaining enrichment--and only secondarily to understand fully the ins and outs of the history of the British Empire--this is a great starting point.
Date published: 2010-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top Notch! Another great course by Prof. Allitt. Detailed, yet not overly tedious in scope. How can you not love a course that spends an entire lecture just on Cricket! Loved his use of literature in two lectures to show how British writings reflected what was happening in the British Empire. So many memorable quotes and jam packed with information and though provoking information. Always heard of the phrases "The Black Hole of Calcutta" and "Limeys", but now I know their origin. Just a fun course to listen to and 30 minutes just seems to fly by.
Date published: 2010-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rise and Fall of the British Empire I had hesitated in buying this course as I've taken many courses on this subject as well as read many books. HOWEVER, besides telling the story of The Empire in an organized fashion, which is always useful, Dr. Allitt is always a marvel at bringing in so many interesting angles one might never gain from other sources. He is such a font of knowledge and so good at sharing it. I've taken over 40 Teaching Company courses, and Dr. Allitt is one of my favorite professors.
Date published: 2010-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Overview yet with detail and asides that add to one's understanding of the British Empire. Worthwhile. And Professor Allitt is, as always, entertaining and enlightening
Date published: 2010-07-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A narrative rather than a history I listened to this course with great interest. I have also read considerable amount of historical literature dealing with British experience in various parts of the world during its empire building. This was the first time I listened to a complete story of British Empire in one place. Thus, this can only be a narrative, not a detailed history. I wish the lecturer had mentioned points of view of the people British colonised. After all, for example, India had a rich and successfull history before the British came. One cannot say that India was never a one country. This just goes to show that the lecturer had not read the ancient history of Indian subcontinent. All in all I enjoyed the series of lectures because it refreshed my knowledge of this part of history.
Date published: 2010-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fair and Balanced Evaluation of the British Empire My first course in the history of the British Empire was as a Harvard undergraduate in the early 1950s. Churchill had recently regained his prime-ministership, resolving not to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire”. Although clearly in its twilight, the empire was still a functioning global entity on which “the sun never sets”. The consensus of that college course was that the empire had been, and still was, a net positive in world affairs, bringing civilization and order to the far-flung (and primitive) corners of the world. In preparing and delivering this excellent 36-lecture course, Professor Allitt has had another half century of retrospection to observe the decline and fall of the empire, and his evaluation is more balanced and nuanced, relating not just the glory of empire and the adventures of such larger-than-life characters as Drake, Burton, Rhodes, Lawrence and Churchill, but also acknowledging the often arrogant, heavy-handed and sometimes brutal tactics employed to achieve and maintain what Kipling called “dominion over palm and pine”. Covering such disparate subject matter is not easy, yet Dr. Allitt has succeeded in providing a clear and coherent presentation, going well beyond the usual treatment of political and military events by offering a vivid description of the economic, social and cultural environments of the various colonies. He even devotes two lectures to 19th and 20th century English literature inspired by the empire, as well as explaining the salutary effect of the sport of cricket on the colonies and its enthusiastic adoption by some native populations. His main concentration, presented in often colorful detail, is on India, Africa and the “White Dominions”. Dr. Allitt’s British accent and Oxford background also provide a special touch of authenticity. Typically I choose the DVD version of Teaching Company courses, in order to take advantage of the visual and graphic complements to the lecture itself. In this case, the audio version would be more than adequate, as the visuals in the DVD version are limited mostly to photos and drawings of colonial and native leaders and to the on-screen texts of numerous passages read by Dr. Allitt from various letters and books. A more imaginative use of visuals might have enhanced the presentation somewhat, but it is a testament to Dr. Allitt’s lecturing skills that this is a first-rate course even without extensive visual support.
Date published: 2010-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Allitt: I await your every course. And this was no exception. I end the course with some sadness: wanting more! Enjoy
Date published: 2010-05-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I felt that many of the Reviewers nitpicked the course details. However, I found the presentation annoying: Professor A. was obviously using a teleprompter and read his entire presentation; he constantly adjusted his sleeves, his glasses, rubbed his chin, etc.; his intonation had nothing to do with the importance of the material he was presenting at the time; and finally, although Prof. A. purports to divide his loyalties equally between Britain and the rest of the world, he very obviously supports the British position in nearly every phase of their activities in nearly every instance. The course had value as a general overview of the subject, but was far from the best that TTC has to offer.
Date published: 2010-05-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Goes well with the Long 19th Century When my husband and I started watching this course, we thought Professor Alitt was a little dry. We were wrong. His knowledge of all aspects of the British Empire, his ability to present information in a coherent, meaningful way, and his quiet enthusiasm - love of - his topic becomes obvious as the course progresses. One of the best things Professor Alitt does is read from first hand accounts and source material. He reads with annimated expression, and his choice of quotes enhances your understanding of the events from contemporaries' perspectives. We were sorry when the course ended. I recently took The Teaching Company's 'Long 19th century' and found it to be a good companion to the 'British Empire.' The two offerings work well together.
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sloppy This lecturer appears to be unable to distinguish between Britain and England. Lecture 28, for example, is entitled "World War II — England Alone". Well not quite, Prof Allitt: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all fought alongside England throughout the whole period 1939-1945, because Britain - not England - declared war on Hitler in 1939. Slipping, as this lecturer frequently does, from 'Britain' to 'England' in the course of a single sentence, just does not inspire confidence, I'm afraid.
Date published: 2010-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Allitt Strikes Again Professor Allitt haas delivered some of the most informative courses of all the Teaching Company courses and this is another one. This course covers much time and many places. One feels very comfortable listening to him. The only one of the lectures I found to be less than fully interesting was the one about cricket. More please by Professor Allitt.
Date published: 2010-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Perfect Course! Amazingly good course! Professor Allitt held my interest at all times, and his presentation was professional and flawless. (I purchased the audio version.) I love a TTC course that makes me dig for the next CD, tape, or DVD, eager to plunge ahead. This course made my spare time while driving, walking, and exercising highly enjoyable. Dr. Allitt’s British accent is always a delight, and his courses are pretty much free of scholarly clichés, jargon, and other ‘junk English.’ I appreciated his personal anecdotes. I thought his seeming digression about comparing the game of cricket and the British Empire was creative and thoughtful -- if not downright brilliant. His discussions about Empire and literature were also exciting and instructive. At the end of the course, I immediately ordered a DVD of BBC’s ‘Seven Wonders of the Industrial World,’ which has a segment on the Great Eastern, the largest ship ever built (1858) at the time. This was the ship used for laying the TransAtlantic cable. This course is robust, crisp, and fresh. I found it irresistibly interesting and profound. It is TTC and a gifted professor at their best. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2010-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from thoughtful and interesting I enjoyed this survey of almost 400 years of British Imperial expansion and decline. I have a new appreciation for the fact that the Empire wasn't planned so much as it happened, and that most of it arose from what were initially commercial ventures. I really enjoyed the colorful portraits of some of the larger-than-life explorers, entrepreneurs, explorers and administrators who took great risks in search of glory or great profits, leading to the acquisition of so much territory by Britain. Prof. Allitt is a good lecturers, easy to listen to and obviously deeply knowledgeable about the material. I bought his course on Victorian England and will take it soon.
Date published: 2010-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Presentation on a broad topic I always enjoy Prof. Allitt's courses. He has an approachable speaking style and is always as objective as possible. This topic (like Conservatism) has its critics. Either you love it or you hate it. Allitt does a good job of saying good things about the empire but stressing the critiques of it at the same time. He clearly says that is his intention and he always does that. I personally like his approach. I'm in grad school right now, and I'm taking a course on the British Empire so this course is relevant to me. I do wish he would have gone into more detail on how Britain financed its empire. I do agree with the previous post that some of his material doesn't seem too relevant to the main topic. I didn't mind the cultural digressions, but I was hoping to learn more about the actual mechanics of the greatest empire the world has ever known. It was good to take alongside a grad school course though.
Date published: 2010-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was This the Rough Draft? I purchased Prof. Allitt's "Victorian Britain” (“VB” hereafter) lecture two years ago hoping for greater depth on the British Empire. I was disappointed to instead get the High School Social Studies outlook on that era. But for what it was, VB was a decent set of lectures. Having gotten the 'art' and the 'status of women' issues out of the way there, in "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire" I was prepared for a tour de force exploration of the acquisition, maintenance, and erosion of power during the transformative years between Elizabeth I’s power play during the decline of the Spanish Empire and Churchill’s dynamism during World War II. I was greatly disappointed and in several ways. The most glaring problem is the fractured nature of the lectures. Allitt introduces several points as if they have some relevance to larger events only to embark on a wholly different topic and never mention them again (e.g. he states that passengers steaming to India wanted port side cabins on the trip out and starboard returning-a factoid he also used in VB-but at least in VB it came across as a fully formed thought. In Rise and Fall what I just said is ALL he offers, raising the question who cares and what does this matter to the Empire? Secondly, he repeats other material across two or more lectures, introducing it each time as if he's said nothing about it before, even leaving out the chronological context (e.g. I still don’t know whether one post office was seized in Ireland and it was discussed twice, or if two separate post offices were seized each with different implications). Finally, and most disappointing, he again approaches the topic like a high school social studies teacher. After glossing over the meaty parts of the Irish conflict and the Boer War (a conflict that introduced new concepts to warfare, was significant in diplomacy internal and external to the Empire, and also had a number of fascinating events all of which he totally breezes past, Allitt wastes one whole lecture trying to prove that cricket - the game - was relevant to building the empire (which at best rates the status of 'color commentary' during a lecture of actual significance). He then spends another whole lecture on colonial literature. Which wouldn't be bad if it was both relevant and covered material of substance. However, the material covered has no impact on the empire nor does it offer insights. The whole lecture consists of him (inconsistently) saying a few words about this authors life (This guy was against apartheid. That guy favored the empire. Super, but totally irrelevant), but little or nothing about his book(s), or saying almost nothing about the author, but giving a short, worthless synopsis of the book. One such is synopsis basically says: This girl grows up in a politically active family and her family uses her for political purposes. Then she falls in love with an activist but he runs away. So she goes to Europe and becomes a hedonist. Then she has a conversation and becomes political again. So, how does that inform one about the British Empire in a way that justifies spending half an hour offering such snippets? There is enough decent content that I did not return the course in total disgust, but this is the lowest quality I’ve seen in the fifteen or twenty Teaching Company Courses I’ve viewed/listened to. It comes off like a term paper drafted the night before it was due. Get Allitt (or someone else) started on a Second Edition, have someone organize it, proof read it, and keep him on point.
Date published: 2010-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Introduction to British Imperial History For the autodidact of history there are two excellent introductions to the history of British imperialism: James Morris' "Pax Britannica" trilogy and this course by Professor Allitt. They need not be mutually exclusive. Professor Allitt's eighteen-hour survey may well satisfy most Americans. For those who find the topic fascinating and want greater depth, Morris is the perfect complement. Allitt's content, presentation, and arrangement are not only interesting in themselves but bring together so much of American and modern world history into a meaningful package. He takes well crafted diversions into imperial, colonial, and postcolonial literature as well as the history of cricket in British and colonial history, a subject that even baseball fans will find interesting. The course moves along well and Professor Allitt's British accent is the perfect medium for presentation. I viewed this on DVD but found that this was not an essential element, since a good 5-10% of the course consists of screen images of quotations from sources, including many from James Morris. Thus, I find little advantage to the DVD over the pure audio other than the occasional map. The Timeline at the end is worthwhile, but I found both the glossary and the outline to be scant.
Date published: 2010-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Epic Topic While this is an epic topic, I feel that this course require a little more depth. The lectures seem to be choppy and going from lecture to lecture there is no flow of idea. I believe that the British Empire at its peak was grand, and I didn't get this understanding from this course.
Date published: 2010-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best by Far I've listened to a number of teaching company courses so far, all of which have been good, but I must say this is by far the best yet. The course is a sweeping panorama of the British Empire from its earliest beginnings in the 1500s until its official end in the 20th century. The narrative shifts from venue to venue (India, North America, Australia), updating the progress of the British colonies at various points in history. This format is punctuated by interludes characterizing important events such as wars (WW1 &2 eg), and several cultural glimpses, describing the progress of British literature and science, and even a segment on the importance of Cricket in the BE (I always wanted to know what "the Ashes" were all about)!! Prof Allit has a fluid rhetorical style very conducive to the audio format, very glib, showing a wide range of expressive ability. The lectures are studded with illustrative quotations from primary sources and short poetical interludes. The course almost synthesizes into a sort of artistic whole in its own right, conveying the glory and romance of the British Empire. Given the epic sweep of this enterprise, to sumarize 400 years of global history, obviously a lot of ommissions and summarizations are necessary. For example, it seems to me that New Zealand was totally excluded from the course. I suppose it was deemed too small to have impact. The lecture notes offer supplementary reading lists for individual episodes.
Date published: 2010-01-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2009-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I found this course to be excellent. Professor Allit did an outstanding job of presenting the course in a logical fashion and presenting both the positives and the negatives of the British empire and its influence on its colonial possessions even past their date of independence. I especially enjoyed the manner in which he read passages and quotations from authors and persons who actually participated in the events described in his lectures. Although I am a avid student of history, my favorite lecture in the course was the one he presented on British literature during the 19th century. This was an incredible course and would recommend it to anyone who would like to understand the influence of the British in the world as we know it.
Date published: 2009-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best available I fell in love with Professor Alitt's expertise and humanity in his study of the Victorian British, so this was a natural follow-through. Wise, thoughtful, insightful, he continually inserts the words of thinkers, writers, tradesmen, poets, of the time to give the true flavor for this subject. It's fashionable to despise the British Empire but, as all balanced historians agree, in all history there is both good and bad. I can't wait for his next course to continue learning!
Date published: 2009-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! This was a great synthesis of the course of the British empire over time and made connections that I would have missed without the bigger context. I think Professor Allit did a fantastic job!!!
Date published: 2009-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Part of a Series by Allitt There is much overlap between Dr. Allitt’s course on Victorian Britain and his course on The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, as one might expect. Unfortunately, some lectures are virtually interchangeable between the two courses – even to the point of reading the same passages from the same personal letters. Still, both courses work and I even recommend listening to them both back to back. (I also recommend listening to his course on Conservative Tradition since that course is yet a third perspective on the same era, thus giving even further depth to the era.) Dr. Allitt takes a generally geographic approach – the Empire in America, the Empire in Asia, the Empire in Australia, the Empire in Africa. He pulls no punches, often criticizing the British for short-sightedness, for corruption, for cruelty, and for racism. He does balance this with the classic historian’s plea to consider a people in their own terms and by pointing out contributions of the British Empire to humanity such as ultimately banning slavery within the Empire and the industrial revolution. Dr. Allitt’s course is well-structured and well presented. Look for his lecture on cricket.
Date published: 2009-12-01
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