The British Empire between reform and repression

Professor Sir Christopher Bayly, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge

Co-presented with the Department of History, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry (SOPHI),Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the International Office, University of Sydney

24 July

Two decades ago, the study of the British Empire seemed on the verge of becoming an antiquarian project as, even in the Dominions, national histories surged ahead. The fraught debate about the existence, or otherwise, of American imperialism and the appearance of Western troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya has revived a vigorous debate about its supposed precursor. Opinions, however, 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. This lecture seeks both to create a typology of forms of empire and also to show how its form and impact on indigenous peoples varied greatly from period to period. While it considers political and economic history, the lecture is particularly concerned with the intellectual history of empire and the manner in which subject peoples took up, adapted and rejected European ideas in the light of their own traditions and beliefs.

Professor Christopher Bayly

Professor Sir Christopher Bayly is the Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge. The main focus of his work has been on India, and his most recent book on this subject is Recovering liberties: Indian thought in the age of liberalism and empire(2011). He is the Director of Cambridge's Centre of South Asian Studies and the co-editor of The New Cambridge History of India. He has also published on imperial and world history, particularly, The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global connections and comparisons (2004). In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2004 was awarded the prestigious Wolfson History Prize for his distinguished contributions to the discipline. In 2007 he was knighted for his ‘contribution to history outside Europe’.