Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Course No. 8480
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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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.

Consider:

  • 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
 |  Average 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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Reviews

Rise and Fall of the British Empire is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 94.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mediocre Once again, I find myself in the minority. Allitt provides an adequate narrative account, but he's far too superficial--far too much reliance on anecdote, not nearly enough effort to explore context or structure. There are many better ways to get a grip on the British empire.
Date published: 2012-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Being English himself, Professor Allitt might be forgiven for being slightly prejudiced toward the good side of the British Empire, which he is. Yet he does not shy away at all from reporting the many atrocities it committed along with the very real benefits it often brought, eventually, to backward and barbaric peoples. The Empire's leading role in eliminating slavery from most of the earth was among the latter. Overall, I found the course balanced, very informative, and very interesting. His description of the American Revolution from the British perspective was fascinating, and certainly unlike anything any American high school student, or adult voter, ever hears.
Date published: 2012-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Britain from a different perspective. I frequently travel to England and find it helpful to have more than a casual knowledge of my host country. This course is a big help. Most history of England and the British Empire approach the subject chronologically by ruler. Professor Allitt takes a broader and more helpful view by treating the Empire as a political continuum. I find that names and dates are easily forgotten; causes and concepts seem to make more sense. For this reason I found this course to be both interesting and instructive.
Date published: 2012-04-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some Refining Would Be Beneficial This series of lectures covers the whole history of the British Empire from its inception in the 16th century to Mrs. Thatcher’s Falkland’s war. The breadth of the topics covered is at once an asset and a liability. It is indeed quite enjoyable to listen about India in one lecture, Africa in the next and Ireland in the third. Clearly, however, Professor must rely on a limited number of sources for each lecture. In the case of 19th Canadian century, for instance, this leads to serious misinformation. It is not even hinted that Canada was not yet industrialized what led a very sizeable portion of its population to emigrate to the United States, a phenomenon emphasized by the fact that French-speakers and Catholics in general were discouraged from settling in the Canadian Prairies. Although there are definitely some repetitions from one lecture to another and that a whole (superfluous) chapter is devoted to cricket and another two to literature, there are strange omissions. Newfoundland, the oldest colony is hardly mentioned if at all. The same applies to the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Cyprus, etc. This series, certainly not as well done as ‘Victorian Britain’ by the same lecturer, can sadly not be recommended in its current state. Those interested are advised to wait for a second edition that will be riper and better balanced.
Date published: 2012-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Summary of a Big Topic Professor Allitt cautions us not to judge prior actions by today’s standards, and he tries very hard throughout the lectures to avoid doing that himself – with only a few obvious exceptions. It is an important reminder because, for some reason, it is harder to avoid being judgmental about these more recent events than it is those that occurred in more ancient times. However, keeping this caution in mind during the course resulted in a much better understanding of the decisions that were made as the British Empire evolved and then disintegrated. A lot of information is packed into these lectures and I found myself wanting to know more about some of the events that are mentioned. Several times after a lecture I went online to do some research, but that is not a bad thing and is no criticism of the course. There is clearly no time to fully address all aspects of the world’s history during this period, and Professor Allitt does a great job of keeping his focus on the empire. Some reviewers commented that the course seemed jumpy or disjointed. I can appreciate those comments because the course was organized in a fairly consistent chronological manner, thus events in India, for example, were visited several times. There was far less transition from one lecture to the next as compared to most of the other Teaching Company courses I’ve taken, as each lecture addressed a particular topic. Personally, I believe this approach offered the best understanding of the empire’s rise and fall within the context of the world at large and have no objection to it at all. It is a pleasure to listen to Professor Allitt. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and would definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2012-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Summary of the British Empire Prof. Alliltt covers essentially three phases in this course: the beginnings of an eventual empire that was not originally planned, then by the mid-18th century an empire in fact and spirit, and finally an empire in decline and ultimate dissolution. Allitt explains how the British were primarily interested in increased trade, exclusively their own, while fending off rivals like France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. With their dominate navy and comparatively efficient governmental administration they were able to maintain control of nearly all of their colonies for centuries, most notably India (and the glaring exception the American colonies). Dr Allitt then traces the decline of the empire in the early 20th century, beginning with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and finally ending with the many African states that gained independence in the late 1950s-mid-1960s. Lectures 30-32 detail the heartbreaking consequences of the newly-formed nation-states such as India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania. Allitt takes some interesting detours when presenting British literature and the sport of cricket. These lectures show the British in self-reflection as it relates to the Empire. Prof. Allitt's presentations are crisp, factual and engaging. In nearly every lecture he reads excerpts from the writings of participants and observers during the empire. He doesn't moralize and I think he gives balanced coverage of the many failings of those who controlled the Empire's colonies along with the the Empire's contributions, such as general political stability. In terms of content I have two minor complaints. First the professor should have fleshed out the outlines in the accompanying course guidebook with a bit more detail. And second he hardly discusses New Zealand. A terrific overview of perhaps the last worldwide empire.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Brit Empire In general, a good overview. However, had I realized that this was Allitt, who also did the last 1/3 of the US history course, I doubt I would have purchased it. He repeats himself-after a quote, for instance he invariably says something like "in other words" and goes on to tell me what I just heard. He does get questionable point of view into his lectures as well.
Date published: 2012-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course! I think Prof. Allitt's course deserves high marks. He presents a comprehensive, balanced assessment of the British Empire, and as always, spices his lectures with interesting readings and anecdotes. His map selections are a great improvement over many TTC courses and are a compelling reason to opt for the DVD version of this course. As those who have heard him before can attest, Prof. Allitt is very articulate and with his English accent, wears very well over 36 lectures. In sum, another excellent course from an outstanding lecturer.
Date published: 2011-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why do empires rise and fall? I give all 5 stars to professor Allitt for his brilliant lecture series in terms of who, what, where and how of a great story of westernization of the world. On the other hand, why do empires rise and fall? The Greeks, the Roman, the British, and now the Americans - not yet to fall. This question has been asked for centuries and no scholars have really come up with a convincing answer. The true answer may be incredibly simple - don't be an one at the first place? The last lecture, professor Allitt reviewed the pros and cons of world domination by the British (or in his term of Anglo-American empire during the series). It all boils down to one simple question - is it morally right or wrong? Of course that would go beyond the scope of this history course if professor Allitt discussing in details like he did in the course of American religious history. Morality is not as simple and obvious as sati (widow burning) as repeatedly mentioned in the lecture as an evidence of British civilizing the backwards. Morality is not as obvious as slavery and eugenics. Why was there eugenics anyway? Does it have to do with the idea of being chosen? Why being chosen and followed by being unchosen sound more like empires rise and fall? The idea of freedom and democracy is frequently brought up in the lecture as the major value of western civilization - it's universal in the western literature. However, what is democracy? Is democracy just a rule of the game, or even rule of the jungle? (I'm not saying tyranny is right.) Where is Lincoln-redefined democracy? If the value of social diversity is so great, how come the British (and Americans) having problems in their backyard? So, don't be chosen or you'll be unchosen. Or just want to be the chosen one - that's what really matters, and that's the meaning of life? Live free or die.
Date published: 2011-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Sun Never Sets... A Trip Worth Taking Professor Allitt, with his authentic British accent, and his engaging style is the perfect host for this fascinating tour through British history. The reach of the British empire is mind boggling when considered in the light of it's status as the largest empire in the history of the world. Dr. Allitt covers the growth of the empire and reviews the ebb and flow of the relationship with the various colonies in an organized and entertaining discourse that left me wanting more even after 36 lectures. "Side trips" into literature, Cricket, and economics helped to provide additional perspective into the culture of the times. This lecture series helped me to "connect the dots" between my episodic understanding of the scope of the British empire. For example, in discussing slavery and William Wilberforce's campaign to eliminate slavery (well told in the recent movie "Amazing Grace") , Dr. Allitt mentions that acting against it's own economic "self interest", Britain eliminated slavery without a war. Contrast that with the unfortunate American Civil War and it is indeed a great accomplishment. This is yet another example of how the "Great Courses" series are truly that.
Date published: 2011-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from multi-faceted coverage -- very engaging This is a truly multi-faceted coverage of the rise and fall of the British Empire -- political history, economic history, social history, cultural history. The perspective is culturally cosmopolitan, accounting for the different perspectives of the various people groups involved, but without the "always blame the West" superficiality of political correctness that prevails in American academia. The lecturer's style is sophisticated, engaging, easy-going, and really quite entertaining, perhaps even inspirational, without sacrificing the intellectual depth.
Date published: 2011-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly outstanding Professor Allitt really is an excellent lecturer and this course is superb and fascinating. There will never be one source of information about the British Empire, but Professor Allitt finds really interesting aspects of the survey of Britain as an Empire. He comes across as warm and interesting and his English accent is a joy to listen to. As someone who teaches medical residents and patients every day, I can really appreciate someone with a gift of teaching, and Professor Allitt is one of them. This is why I love lifelong learning and the Teaching Company. My learning never ends. Thanks Professor Allitt!
Date published: 2011-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Witty, Insightful Overview Professor Allitt handles a complicated topic with balance, humor and grace, all the while presenting telling insights or questions that challenge the listener. The lectures are incredibly well organized, which is crucial to this topic that spans across time and geography. It's obvious much thought and work went into these presentations. Professor Allitt's laid-back, gentle style, and tendency to throw in choice quotes and anecdotes, either from his own life or the biographies of one of the historical or fictional characters he's discussing, make the lessons memorable and convincing. It's a pleasure to drive to work listening to a man so passionate about his subject and desire to help us learn from it.
Date published: 2011-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good This is based on the downloaded version. I like professor Allitt. I first heard him in the History of the United States course. I liked the way he presented the material. He has a pleasant voice, good delivery and his presentation is nice, easy to follow and understand. He has a great sense of humor and often makes you smile. This course is no different. I found the material interesting and informative. The professor was just as pleasant as he was in the other course. Some reviewers called him “dry” but I strongly disagree. He does have a British accent, but he is not dry at all. The words I would use to describe him are “pleasant” and “nice.” The course covers a lot of history, so obviously some things are not discussed in excruciating details. But if you want to get a general overview of the British Empire I think this is a great course. I think you may appreciate this information better if you listen to other courses that cover earlier history of England, such as Story of Medieval England and History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts. But it is not absolutely necessary. I enjoyed this course and I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2011-04-01
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 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 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
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