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Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: The people and the empire

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Historians on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that the empire was not an issue of popular interest in late nineteenth-century Britain and the United States. In this free course, Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: The people and the empire, we shall look more closely at the evidence available to assess the truth of this argument. Were the working people, as opposed to the political leaders, interested in the issue of expansion? Was such interest evident only among certain sections of the community? Was it predominantly an enthusiasm for empire, or not? We shall also try to identify some of the reasons underlying the nature of the response. And we shall be interested in how far politicians found it worth their while to 'play to the gallery' and to manipulate popular opinion. Through it all, we shall be facing some acute problems of evidence: is it possible to discover what 'ordinary' people thought about expansionism?

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate an awareness of the problems related to evidence for supporting claims on ‘ordinary’ people’s attitudes
  • demonstrate an awareness of popular responses to the South African War (1899-1902)
  • understand attitudes to imperialism held by Americans.

By: The Open University

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Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: the people and the empire

Introduction

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Historians on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that the empire was not an issue of popular interest in the late nineteenth-century Britain and the United States. This course examines some of the evidence available to assess the truth of this claim. More broadly, the course raises questions related to evidence: is it possible to discover what ‘ordinary’ people thought about expansionism?

‘I couldn't give a damn’; ‘I don't know anything about politics’; ‘Why don't they leave us to get on with it?’ How often do we hear sentiments similar to these from the people on the proverbial street today? Yet there are some political issues which do arouse popular interest and concern. Historians on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that the empire was just such an issue in late nineteenth-century Britain and the United States. They urge that the question of expansion drew an enormous response from among the workers.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 3 study in Arts and Humanities [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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