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To What Extent Was Empire A Source Of Pride For People In Britain

1551 words - 7 pages

To What Extent was Empire a source of pride for people in Britain during the period you have studied so far?

By 1868 the British Empire governed 10,000,000 square miles of territory, and 400 million people came under the control of the Empire. Britain by this period had adopted the role of policing the world, and was un-matched by any country in terms of power and influence. The Empire has always been a topic of intense historical debate. Recently there has been constant debate among historians about the effects the British Empire had on Victorian and Edwardian society. Historians have debated whether Victorian and Edwardian society felt a sense of pride towards the British Empire. ...view middle of the document...

From songs like ‘Tommy Atkins your Alright’ historians can show that Empire was a source of pride for people of the time, but also part of their everyday life as it was sung about, through a popular source of entertainment. However in Frank McDonough book The British Empire 1815-1914 (1994), Penny Summerfield argues1 against the music hall being a source of pride for the society at the time. Summerfield goes on to argue how pro-conservative imperialists ‘Pushed jingoism at the working classes’2 by using the music hall. Summerfield goes further to say that an emphasis on English racial superiority began to appear widely in the music halls after 1900.3

John Mackenzie goes on to further discuss in his book Imperialism and Popular Culture4 (1986) that through forms of Victorian and Edwardian popular culture that imperialist propaganda was fashioned into these cultural forms. This is especially evident in the press and literature of the time. Both Rider Haggard and G.A Henty, were prominent imperialist writers of their time. Haggard and Henty’s protagonists were always white and held Christian values and usually of nobility. In contrast the characters they discovery in the foreign lands they adventure to, are usually uncivilised and lack the ‘The English Qualities’ which make Haggard and Henty’s characters succeed. McDonough goes on further to say how ‘Their stories glorified the use of force to achieve Britons imperialist aims.’5 While McDonugh promotes the theory that Haggard and Henty promoted jingoism6 in their books, other critics argue that both Haggard and Henty showed both sides of the coin when it came to imperialist themes. Africans are shown both in the stereotypical Victorian fashion but also as heroes and civilised people. This therefore contrasts MacDonough and Mackenzie’s view, that literature was a propaganda tool. Even though Haggard’s books are not devoid of racism, they do expresses much less prejudice than other books in this genre of the time, you could argue they express a sense of mystery, and delight towards the empire. This shows the literature could evoke a sense of pride in Victorian and Edwardian society towards the empire.

Through pieces of art done at the time it is possible to argue that art was used as a platform to promote a sense of pride towards the Empire. There is an emphasis during the later years of the 19th century for grand military paintings of epic battles, depicting the Empire up against the foreign savage enemy. Paintings such as Charles Edwin Fripp’s painting of the British defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana is able to give a sense romance to a disastrous British defeat during the Zulu War of 1879. Paintings like this and many more done around the late 19th century and early 20th century would have invoked a huge sense of pride for the Empire among the classes, especially the upper and noble classes. Portraits like Fripp’s demonstrate the British imperial qualities such as being heroic, standing up...

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