- 3 July to 11 August 2017
- Paul Mellon Centre
At its height, the British Empire encompassed close to a quarter of the world’s surface and more than a fifth of its population. London—the ‘very centre of the Empire on which the sun never sets’ in Joseph Conrad’s description—constituted a hub of diplomacy, trade, transport, finance, and culture, becoming quite literally, by the end of the 19th century, the center from which global space and time were measured. This course on the British Empire analyzes the rise, dominance, and decline of this unprecedented global system of political rule, military activity, and economic and cultural interactions by employing a unique two-pronged approach: 1) using London as a lens through which to think about empire and 2) using the British Empire as a means to think about the city of London as an imperial capital. We start with Britain’s expansion into the Atlantic World from the late 16C and conclude with decolonization in the mid-20C, considering the empire’s legacies in contemporary British life. Spatially, the course alternates between Britain’s overseas “periphery” and its metropolitan “core.” Taking advantage of the Paul Mellon Centre’s (PMC) central location, the course involves weekly excursions discovering, exploring, and unpacking a wide range of (to turn Pierre Nora’s phrase in this direction) imperial lieux de memoires, or “sites” where empire and its memory have been embedded into the fabric of London, from its built environment to monuments, archives, memorials, drink and foodways (i.e. from tea to tikka), and more.