In what extent was culture part of the creation or maintenance of the british empire?

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« In what extent was culture part of the creation or maintenance of the British Empire ? »

Imperial propaganda was extensively broadcast through cultural means. Public interest in the colonies and imperial expansion date back from 1867 onwards . This seems a bit surprising since imperial matters never played any important role in British elections .
The thread examined in the following essayis an attempt to show how culture in its various forms asserted Englishness as an hegemonic identity. This study is divided into three main parts. We will first try to see how the notion of Englishness was created in order to obtain or reinforce a national identity disseminated through various means to society. We will finally focus on the possible interactions both at home and abroad betweenBritish culture and that of the colonized.

This notion of ‘Englishness’ is a concept that highlights the dynamism of the English : it led them to make history in acquiring new territories. Furthermore, the British Empire was the most powerful in Europe, and this explains why the English felt they were ‘distinct’ from their European counterparts. This feeling of superiority partly stemmed from theearly industrial revolution which brought an economic growth which allowed property to become productive and self-expanding . Britain soon needed more raw materials which were far cheaper in the colonies. Added to this was the need to create strategic new political alliances. Thus, by 1820, Britain ruled 26% of the world total population .

It was important for the imperial propaganda toconvince the English of their natural superiority. Writers such as Bishop Percy largely contributed to that with his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1764) which is a racial narrative retracing the history of ancient races displaying the superiority of an intra-European racialism . The conservative Edmund Burke also stressed the superiority of the English political system, the importance ofpatriarchy, traditions and order which characterized England compared with the chaos and anarchy the French Revolution brought about in his controversial Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Englishness was also constructed in opposition to myth concerning the colonized. Natives were thus collectively portrayed as having as thievish, lazy or backward nature . Englishness on the contrary waspresented as a network of historical, moral and heroic values which legitimized the possession of colonies .

This notion of ‘Englishness’ had the merit to engender a national cohesion. This feeling of belonging to the same community of heroes was displayed at various levels. Education was a powerful means to inculcate love of the mother country. All kinds of entertainment were pervaded withrepresentation of the English, faithful to the Queen, building the Empire and showing incredible resourcefulness and ingenuity. Imperial propaganda was to herald patriotism and an English identity as well. Meath (1841-1928) played a major role in devoting his time to imperial organisations such as the Navy League or the Boy Scouts Association which were closely connected with public schools . He wasconvinced that the English youth needed a better understanding and awareness of the Empire to insure its survival. He believed in the power of ritualised acts : Empire Day for instance, would start with saluting the flag, reciting Kipling and singing the national anthem . Little boys and girls were encouraged to act dutifully to serve the country since the expansion of the Empire depended on themoral value of its people. Each English man and woman was committed and involved into the building of the nation’s identity. The strength of the Empire also relied on the fact that the torch had to be handed to the next generation, so that the English spirit would never extinguish. This was extolled by Baden-Powell in her book intended to Guides : ‘girls have great power and influence, and can serve...
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