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The British Empire between reform and repression


20 July 2012

Opinion is divided between whether the British Empire represented oppression and genocide or an expansion of free trade, says Professor Sir Christopher Bayly.
Opinion is divided between whether the British Empire represented oppression and genocide or an expansion of free trade, says Professor Sir Christopher Bayly.

The next Sydney Ideas lecture will look at the history of the British Empire, in particular how the empire's subject peoples took up, adapted or rejected European ideas in light of their own traditions and beliefs.

Presenting the lecture is Professor Sir Christopher Bayly, the Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge and Director of Cambridge's Centre of South Asian Studies.

"Opinions are violently divided between those who see the history of the British Empire as a long litany of oppression interrupted by occasional genocide, and those who see it as an exercise in the expansion of free trade and political representation," he notes.

Glenda Sluga, professor of international history at the University of Sydney, says Sir Christopher Bayly's visit to the University "marks the exciting resurgence of imperial studies, and of the new global history".

"An historian of India, Professor Bayly is the author of a number of studies that have renewed our understanding of modern history by incorporating the non-European world into the main narrative of that story", she says.

Professor Bayly's new history of the 19th century, The Birth of the Modern World, "has changed the way in which we think about the history of the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, nationalism, internationalism, and, of course, imperialism," Professor Sluga says.

"This is breathtaking stuff. It inspires scholars and students alike. We are very pleased to have him at the University sharing that perspective on the past, and the methods and knowledge that enable it, with our colleagues and our graduates."

Professor Chris Bayly is in Australia as a guest of the postgraduate intensive Empire and International History hosted by the University of Sydney, held in collaboration with Harvard University, and the École Normale Supérieure (ENS).

Professor Sir Christopher Bayly is the Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge. His most recent book is Recovering Liberties: Indian thought in the age of liberalism and empire (2011). In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and in 2007 he was knighted for his 'contribution to history outside Europe'.


Event details

What: The British Empire between reform and repression, a Sydney Ideas lecture co-presented with the Department of History, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the International Office, University of Sydney

When: 6pm, Tuesday 24 July

Where: MacLaurin Hall, the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Cost: $20, concession $15

Bookings: Seymour Centre Box office on 02 9351 7940


University of Sydney staff, students and alumni are eligible for free registration via this separate form (a staff, student or alumni number will be required).


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Media enquiries: Kath Kenny, 0478 303 173, 02 9351 1584, kath.kenny@sydney.edu.au