Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire

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9780140297614: Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire

The British Empire has generally been seen as a racist empire (most influentially in Edward Said's ORIENTALISM). While not wholly denying this, Cannadine, in this funny, often horrifying book, suggests a different dynamic. The British rulers were motivated not by race but by class - they loathed Indians or Africans no more or less than they loathed the great majority of Englishmen, dreaming of an empire based on deference and feudalism. The often farcical gap between these views and reality make ORNAMENTALISM both highly enjoyable and extremely provocative for anyone wishing to understand how the British Empire really worked.

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Product Description:

The British Empire has generally been seen as a racist empire. The British rulers were motivated not by race but by class - they loathed Indians or Africans no more or less than they loathed the great majority of Englishmen. This book is suitable for those wishing to understand how the British Empire really worked.

Review:

Like it or loathe it, there has never been any shortage of books about the British Empire. However, what David Cannadine's Ornamentalism shows is that until recently Britain itself has tended to be left out of the story. Serious academic research on the Empire has been dominated by specialists on Africa and India, or, in earlier generations, by experts on the 'white' colonies. Cannadine, the current Director of London University's Institute of Historical Research, and one of the most prolific historians of modern Britain, challenges this myopia in his provocative book. He argues that in its heyday--from the 1850s to the 1950s--the British Empire was based on a conscious effort to export a model of class hierarchy and status from home out to overseas possessions. The Indian Raj and the tropics of Africa were run as though they were the ornate stately homes or broad-acred landed estates of southern England. Readers of two of Cannadine's earlier bestselling books Aspects of Aristocracy and, more recently, on Class in Britain--will recognise and enjoy the extended airing he gives to these themes. As usual, Cannadine is at his best in chapters on the monarchy and honours system, when describing the whole flummery and symbolism of British imperial culture. Critics will no doubt complain that he marginalises the less flamboyant aspects of empire--race and economic exploitation most notably. And it might be objected that he has described only the "toffs'" view of empire. But whether you admire or abhor the Ornamentalism, there is plenty here to make you think.-- Miles Taylor

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