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Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: The people and the empire
In this unit we shall look more closely at the evidence available to assess the truth...
In this unit 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 unit you should have:
- an awareness of the problems related to evidence for supporting claims on ‘ordinary’ people’s attitudes;
- an awareness of popular responses to the South African War (1899-1902);
- an understanding of attitudes to imperialism held by Americans.
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Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: the people and the empire
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 unit examines some of the evidence available to assess the truth of this claim. More broadly, the unit 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 material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Understanding Comparative History: Britain and America (AA303) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Social & Economic History courses or view the range of currently available OU Social & Economic History courses.
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Originally published: Friday, 24th June 2011
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