East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The end of the Empire

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british_empire_board_game_boxMy course on the British Empire and its Controversies, held by the teachers and researchers of Exeter University and hosted by Futurelearn ends this week.

It’s been a great learning experience – fun, thought-provoking and all-around satisfying.
As part of the last installment, I have to write a 300-words-minimum essay.

“We’d like you to write a minimum of 300 words about what you think the legacy of the British Empire has been.”

And I thought… why not start and think about it and jot down some notes here?

568-1I think something that sets me apart from other students is, I am not a British citizen, nor a citizen of a nation that was part of the British Empire.
In this sense, to me, the British Empire has always been “something that happens to other people” – more the subject of fiction than history.
And indeed, my first experience of the Empire, and the most lasting one, was certainly through adventure fiction and movies.
To me, the British Empire was a cultural construct.

Because of this, I may be biased when I think that the most significant legacy of the British Empire is cultural.
Not only the English language is the de-facto lingua franca of the modern world, but a number of social and political structures were derived from the British system and adopted in former colonies. A law system based on the principle of habeas corpus comes to mind as an example of this.
And a case could be made that many of these colonial influences are actually positive.
On theother hand, as the course has demonstrated, a number of political and social legacies of the empire are less than savory. The political unrest in the Middle East we are witnessing right now has its roots in the way the British administration handled territorial issues; and by using quite often ethnic conflicts to divide and rule its subjects, the Empire did not promote integration, and possibly increased ethnic friction and tribal hatred.

So, all in all, to me the British empire is sort of a ghost made of wild adventures and larger than life characters, that left on the ground after its passage a mixed bag of good and bad.
An indifferent force of nature, the expression of a group of people that acted egoistically and sometimes with good intentions, misguided and idealistic at the same time.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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