The 19th century is “the British century”, when Great Britain establishes its empire over much of the world. Its means are very varied, and are not confined to pressure or military intervention. There is even talk of an "informal Empire", outside the Empire. Understanding this British domination would be fundamental to understanding today's globalization, which would only be an extension of it. However, the collective work, The British Century, based on the most recent research, goes against this preconceived idea.
The 19th century, "the British century par excellence"
In his introduction, A. Enders insists that the work is not in the "Historical revisionism" making the 19th century British Empire "The midwife of the modern world", with for example the diffusion of liberal ideas. In contrast, England did a great job in shaping the century it dominated.
What is original about the book is the diversity of its authors (including their nationality) and their field of study, which goes beyond England and the British Empire itself. The ambition is thus to present original aspects of the historiography of the British world, in full revival in recent years, including in France, as shown by the presence of the theme "The British world, 1815-1931" in the competitions. teaching in History (aggregation and CAPES) over the past three years.
The first theme of the British Century, "Imperial Circulations" ("Circulation" to be understood in the broad sense), first returns to the historiographical debates around British society and its relationship to the Empire (article by F. Bensimon), very heated debates in Great Britain. British historian Catherine Hall tackles the history of the slave trade and slavery, a major theme in the historiography of the Empire. The other two articles (by J.M. MacKenzie and V. Caru) focus on the museums of the British colonies, and on the "coincidences" between the colonial management of social housing in Bombay, and developments on the same subject in metropolitan France.
Control of the world
The next theme asks how the British are doing to control the world in their best interests. This requires intervention in different forms, including in areas where they are not present in force, especially militarily. The example of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium on Sudan is therefore cited (article by A-C. De Gayffier-Bonneville), that of Arabia, a "White spot" (D. Foliard) on the British world map (studied, for her part, by I. Avila). Finally, J-F. Klein explains the role of opium, "An imperial weapon" which allowed Britain to exert its influence in Asia, particularly at the expense of China.
Empire outside Empire
The last topic dealt with is the main originality of the book, since it leaves the "British world" to focus on "the informal Empire". This is first of all the case of the Portuguese and Brazilian monarchies, "Under British protection", which is studied by A. Enders. Then, G. Verdo refutes the conventional wisdom that it was the French Revolution that influenced the Latin American independence revolutions, before showing the "decisive role" of England in this process. In final. Dupont explains the making of Samuel Miles' bestseller, Self Help, and its influence in the Arab reformism of the XIXth century, and therefore in the long term in the Arab and Egyptian nationalisms.
Notice of History for all
The collective work The British Century is at the forefront of historiography on the British world and the Empire in the 19th century. This is its great quality, but also its limit. Indeed, it is primarily intended for students and researchers working on this subject, and it will be essential for them. On the other hand, a wider public will have difficulty finding its account and will have to turn to more general works or textbooks, especially those released during competitions (we recommend the one published by Atlande).
- F. Bensimon, A. Enders, The British Century. Variations on global supremacy in the 19th century, PUPS, 2012, 370 p.