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British Empire


  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Gibraltar frontier conflict causing frustration for locals

    Bobbing on the port captain's launch off the coast of Gibraltar on Tuesday there was no evidence of how this calm stretch of sea could have caused such an international storm. A handful of craft fishermen cast their nets, seemingly oblivious to the fact that 10 metres below their dinghies lay the unlikely catalyst for a political row that has embroiled David Cameron in the UK's bitterest battle with Spain over "the Rock" since Franco.Here, late last month, Gibraltar dumped an artificial reef on a fishing ground favoured by Spanish scallop dredgers. Now the ripples from those dozens of concrete blocks are rocking a 300 year old British enclave that for some is an emblematic imperial redoubt and for others an awkward colonial hangover.On Tuesday Gibraltar said it was preparing for legal action against Madrid over its retaliation for the reef, which has taken the form of a frontier control go-slow that has caused residents to queue for up to six hours in scorching summer temperatures. Gibraltar has accused Spain of inhumane behaviour and is gathering evidence that could be used at the European Court of Human Rights....

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Paul Pirie: The American Revolution Was a Flop

    Paul Pirie, a former historian, is a freelance writer in Ontario.The easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy, particularly Canada, which experienced an influx of American refugees after the British defeat. The U.S. performance should also be assessed against the ideals the new country set for itself — namely, advancing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    David M. Anderson: Atoning for the Sins of Empire

    David M. Anderson, a professor of African history at the University of Warwick, is the author of “Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire.”WARWICK, England — THE British do not torture. At least, that is what we in Britain have always liked to think. But not anymore. In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Timothy Stanley: The British Must Not Rewrite the History of the Mau Mau Revolt

    Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."The Government has announced that Kenyans abused by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s will receive compensation totalling £20 million, and that it regrets the “suffering and injustice”. Be of no doubt: these people went through terrible things. Wambuga Wa Nyingi, a former detainee at the bloody camp Hola, who says he was not a Mau Mau fighter, claims that he was “battered on the back of my head and around my neck repeatedly with a club”. His unconscious body was mistaken for a corpse and dumped in a room with 11 murdered men. Mr Nyingi slept among the dead for two days before he was discovered.But before we express regret or say sorry for anything, we have to make sure that we entirely understand what we’re talking about. In the case of the Mau Mau uprising, only one side of the story tends to be told – a story that serves a particular political purpose. It’s the tale of an evil imperial power that used internment and torture to keep hold of a beautiful African colony that only ever wanted to be free. It is a fantasy version of history.

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Caroline Elkins: Britain Has Said Sorry to the Mau Mau. The Rest of the Empire is Still Waiting.

    Caroline Elkins is professor of history and African and African American studies at Harvard University and author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag, for which she was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 2006On Thursday nearly 200 elderly Kikuyu people travelled from their rural homesteads and sat before the British high commissioner in Nairobi. Over half a century had passed since many were last in front of a British official. It was a different era then in Kenya. The Mau Mau war was raging, and Britain was implementing coercive policies that left indelible scars on the bodies and minds of countless men and women suspected of subversive activities.

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Pankaj Mishra: Sun At Last Setting on Britain's Imperial Myth

    Pankaj Mishra is an Indian author and writer of literary and political essays. His books include Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond. His new work, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, is published in 2012.Scuttling away from India in 1947, after plunging the jewel in the crown into a catastrophic partition, "the British", the novelist Paul Scott famously wrote, "came to the end of themselves as they were". The legacy of British rule, and the manner of their departures – civil wars and impoverished nation states locked expensively into antagonism, whether in the Middle East, Africa or the Malay Peninsula – was clearer by the time Scott completed his Raj Quartet in the early 1970s. No more, he believed, could the British allow themselves any soothing illusions about the basis and consequences of their power.

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Mau Mau victims to be compensated

    The British government is negotiating payments to thousands of Kenyans who were detained and severely mistreated during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency in what would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule.In a development that could pave the way for many other claims from around the world, government lawyers embarked upon the historic talks after suffering a series of defeats in their attempts to prevent elderly survivors of the prison camps from seeking redress through the British courts.

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    William Dalrymple: The Last Days of the Americans in Afghanistan

    William Dalrymple is the author of eight acclaimed works of history and travel, including, most recently, Return of the King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839-42, currently a No.1 bestseller in India. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The Guardian.On my extended visits to Afghanistan to research Return of a King, I was keen to see as many of the places and landscapes associated with the First Anglo-Afghan War as was possible. I particularly wanted to retrace the route of the British forces’ catastrophic retreat and get to Gandamak, the site of the British last stand.

  • Originally published 02/21/2013

    PM Cameron visits Amritsar – but no apology

    David Cameron has been criticised for failing to meet the families of Indians killed by British troops as he tried to make amends for a "deeply shameful" Imperial massacre.The Prime Minister invoked Sir Winston Churchill as he lamented the "monstrous" killings in Amritsar in 1919.Mr Cameron flew to Amritsar at the end of a trade visit to Delhi and made a public show of British contrition over the massacre, which left at least 379 Sikh civilians dead.The Prime Minister visited a memorial in the Jallianwala Bagh gardens, laying a wreath and writing in a book of remembrance....

  • Originally published 02/11/2013

    The Afterlife of the British Empire

    Imperial student at the London School of Economics in 1946. Credit: Imperial War Museum.Most historical scholarship on the decline and fall of the British Empire deals with the diplomatic and political aspects of this transformation and ignores how imperial collapse affected everyday life in Britain after the Second World War. And historians have subscribed to the idea that “postwar” and “postimperial” themes are unrelated.In her new book The Afterlife of Empire (University of California Press), historian Jordanna Bailkin offers an original assessment of postwar Britain that interweaves “postwar” and “postcolonial” concerns while focusing on how the end of empire changed social relations and individual routines in the emerging welfare state.

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