In this free course, National identity in Britain and Ireland, 1780–1840, you have considered the formation of a new state, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. You have also analysed the emergence of ‘nations’ and ‘national identity’ in the modern period in general, and the role that national identity played in British and Irish popular politics during the period.
You have seen that ‘Britishness’ was a national, or rather supranational identity that could mean many different things to many different people. It was also an identity that could be, and was, embraced by people living in England, Scotland and Wales, and one that had an appeal across religious, linguistic, class and political divisions. For Colley (2003), defending the ‘liberties’ guaranteed to the people by the constitution was at the heart of British national identity after Catholic emancipation was achieved in 1829. Although the period after the Union saw a distinct national identity emerge in Ireland, a widespread interest in the liberties guaranteed by the British constitution remained discernible in Irish popular politics at this time. Overall, you have seen that in the cases of both Britain and Ireland, the bulk of the people of the United Kingdom were endeavouring to make their voices heard within the existing political system. In both countries, similar activities – petitioning, the formation of political organisations, appeals to the public through print, and peaceful public protests – were employed to achieve political and social reform.
While the important legislation you have studied in this course – the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 and the Reform Act of 1832 – can be seen to have helped to make the United Kingdom a more inclusive and ‘democratic’ state, you will have noticed that there remained notable divisions between different groups of people living in the state.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course