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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 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 subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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