Small Island, Big History
Written by Christopher Berg
The island of Britain may be small geographically but its proverbial reach touched every corner of the globe by the end of the nineteenth century. Exploration had been the impetus behind the Age of Discovery and the news of far-away lands intrigued governments and captivated the masses. Britain knew that the future lay in across these vast expanses of open ocean and made every effort to become a key player in the changing international landscape. This is a crucial point to remember because Britain did not become "Great" until she had invested the heart and soul of her people, time and again, into an idea that may easily have bankrupted the country or, worse, led to its conquest by weakening it to such a pitiful state. But the British people possessed an entrepreneurial spirit that could not be quenched and continually persevered no matter what situation or challenge they faced. This same spirit was the backdrop that fueled the Industrial Revolution. British attitudes and identity are directly correlated to Britain’s empire-building and help to explain why “Britain” and the “Empire” were indivisible to the British people.
This study is a collection of interpretive essays that investigate major aspects of Great Britain and her Empire from the seventeenth century until the years following the close of World War II. The objective of these essays is to explore events and issues that have shaped the course of British history. In essence, it will trace the evolutionary development of Great Britain’s Empire from its earliest stages until it began to fragment and dismantle after the Second World War. Special attention is given to broad themes that affected multiple areas of the Empire and include “informal” empire, British naval superiority, race relations, and the “End of Empire.”
Great Britain and the British Empire has once again become a popular topic among historians. Investigating the various components of Great Britain and the Empire, the justifications of Empire, the motivations behind Empire, and how decisions and events contributed either in strengthening Empire or in severely weakening it is crucial in understanding the Empire’s legacy. Studying the British Empire is still an important endeavor as evidenced by the resurgence in scholarly publications dealing with the Empire. These studies feature contributions made by scholars from neighboring disciplines ranging from Political Science to Geography to International Studies. Some of the essays contained here are written by scholars in these areas. Historians can greatly benefit from their intensive research, analysis, and conclusions. They allow an additional lens to analyze Great Britain and the British Empire. The torrent of scholarly investigation from scholars from diverse backgrounds is testament to the allure of Empire studies and endless possibilities of research that has yet to be done.
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