Activities in 2013

Richard Drayton - King’s College London

Where Does the World Historian Write From? Objectivity, Moral Conscience and the Past and Present of Imperialism

The contemporary historian, as she or he speaks to the public about the origins and meanings of the present, has important ethical responsibilities. ‘Imperial’ historians, in particular, shape how politicians and the public imagine the future of the world. This article examines how British imperial history, as it emerged as an academic subject since about 1900, often lent ideological support to imperialism, while more generally it suppressed or avoided the role of violence and terror in the making and keeping of the Empire. It suggests that after 2001, and during the Iraq War, in particular, a new Whig historiography sought to retail a flattering narrative of the British Empire’s past, and concludes with a call for a post-patriotic imperial history which is sceptical of power and speaks for those on the underside of global processes.