The Untied Kingdom: A World History of the End of Britain

INVITATION  Please click on the link to open

Inaugural Lecture by Professor Stuart Ward

Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies

University of Copenhagen

Respondent: Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, King's College London

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Lecture: 3.30 pm, Reception: 5.15 pm
Venue: Regensen (Storsal) St. Kannikestræde 2, 1169 Copenhagen K

Britishness, it is commonly observed, is in crisis - so much so that predicting the demise of the United Kingdom has become something of a national pastime in Britain. The idea of an imminent implosion of British identity first gained currency in the 1970s, popularised by Tom Nairn's seminal The Break-Up of Britain (1977). Since that time, countless books and articles have added weight to his prediction. The inauguration of the politics of ‘devolution' by Tony Blair in 1997 seemed - to many - to represent the culmination of three decades of internal drift. Whether the process be applauded or abhorred, pundits have been predisposed to read the last rites of the United Kingdom. One prominent explanation for the diminishing purchase of ‘being British' is the decline and fall of the British Empire. When Gwyn Williams declared in the 1980s that ‘the British nation and the British state are clearly entering a process of dissolution, into a post-imperial fog', his choice of metaphor posed an unmistakable causal connection. His logic has been reiterated in a constant stream of works, both scholarly and popular. Yet only rarely is the link between imperial decline abroad and the perceived crisis of Britishness ‘at home' developed beyond a crude caricature. Typically, the loss of empire appears as an undifferentiated, shadowy emblem that wields its corrosive influence in metropolitan Britain in unspecified ways. Although widely assumed to be self-evident, the imperial dimensions of the ‘British problem' are extraordinarily under-researched.

This lecture will explore the possibilities of a global history of the end of Britain. Recent historical scholarship has pointed to the crucial role of British settler communities around the world in shaping and sustaining the idea of Britishness throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is therefore worth considering whether the perceived ‘break-up of Britain' since the 1970s can be re-examined in the light of the contemporaneous dissolution of ‘Greater Britain'. Throughout the former ‘British world', the civic culture of Britishness has long since run its course - whether it be in Southern Africa, Kenya, Ireland, Canada, Australasia or elsewhere. In most of these cases, a culture of forgetting has served to obliterate any sense that being British ever meant anything at all. Yet rarely, if ever, are these experiences deemed relevant for the predicament of the United Kingdom today. The lecture will seek to draw parallels between the political and imaginative response to global decolonisation among these erstwhile ‘British' communities around the world, and contemporaneous developments in Scotland, Wales and England itself since the 1960s.

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The Institute of English, Germanic and Romance Studies invites you to participate in the continuing series of symposia on the theme of 'The Colonial'. The purpose of this symposium is both to bring together scholars working in similar or adjacent fields who might be institutionally separated, and to explore the ways in which a topic such as 'the colonial' might be relevant to scholars in diverse fields.

This semester's first meeting will be held NOT on 29 September but on Wednesday 22 September, and will be subsumed within the Inaugural Lecture as Professor of the History of the English-speaking World of

Stuart Ward:
The Untied Kingdom: A World History of the End of Britain
Wednesday 22 September 2010 at 15.30
Regensen (Store Sal, St. Kannikestræde 2, 1169 Copenhagen K)

After Stuart's lecture there will be a response by Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College London. For full details see:

This promises to be a most distinguished and enjoyable event, with a reception to follow.

The SAXO Institute will be holding two events of colonial interest on 22-23 September, happily not conflicting but forming a triptych with Stuart's lecture. On Wednesday 22 September, from kl. 10 to 13 in lok. 16.2.123, there will be a seminar, ‘Beyond Orientalism: Imperial Encounters', on which see:

And on Thursday 23 September (kl. 15-17: lok. 23.0.49) Sir Christopher Bayly, Harmsworth Professor of Imperial History at Cambridge, and Adjunkt Professor at the SAXO Institute, will speak on ‘The British Empire 1800-1950: between reform and repression'. See:

Thus the British Empire will be dismantled and the United Kingdom untied, with learning and wit, by three eminent scholars over just two days in Copenhagen.

The ENGEROM symposium will then meet from kl. 13 to kl. 15 on the afternoon of the last Wednesday of October and November. Please remember to keep these times free.

27 October, Claire Mclisky: ‘The Affective Colonial: Emotions in Transport'
24 November, Vera Alexander: ‘No harm in a garden? Plants as colonial subjects'

Place 23.4.39 Time: kl. 13-15

The language of the symposium will be English: all are warmly encouraged to participate, not least visiting professors and international students.

Refreshments will be served in the break between the paper and the discussion.