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Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera

Read as part of my continued participation in The History Teacher Book Club on Twitter. And again, another excellent read. Notes are below:

Don't give a damn comes from India. A damn was the lowest coin in Indian currency.

New Amsterdam was traded to the British in exchange for the Indonesian Island of Run (the world's best nutmeg producer, a crop with a 32000% price mark up when taken to Europe). The Brits were not impressed that they'd been forced into this concession by the Dutch and so it inspired Oliver Cromwell to re-issue the Royal Charter for the East India Company, so now they were licensed to not just trade, but also to be able to hold and control land - with an eye to ensuring no future Runs were lost. The birth of empire with a Cromwellian pen stroke.

A reminder of the two phases of Empire. Sugar (Caribbean and North America) which came to a close with the War of Independence and then the age of Spice (my phrase) when they went for India and Africa and which was dominated by the EIC.

When it comes to returning artifacts Britain hosts 90%ish of these artifacts in storage, not on public display. We are also significantly behind France and Germany in returning items. A very successful and respected museum in Senegal shows how African nations can be entrusted with their own histories! Putting paid to the lie of "they're safer in our hands".

"Britain has long struggled to accept the imperial explanation for its racial diversity. The idea that black and brown people are aliens who arrived without permission, and with no link to Britain, to abuse British hospitality is the defining political narrative of my lifetime."

-- "Surviving Roman inscriptions often mention residents with African backgrounds, and a skeleton discovered in Greyfriars monastery in Ipswich is believed to be that of a slave brought to Britain from Tunis during the Crusades in 1272."


The Mughal Emperor made an exception for the British so they could drink alcohol as he said they needed it like fish needed water.


The Imperial legacy can be seen in speeches about the Falklands, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The tone and vocabulary of all British Prime Ministers is haunted by the history of the Empire.

It haunts the discussion of what Britain's new identity should be or could be. "In the Imperial imagination, there are only two states: dominant and submissive, colonizer and colonized. This dualism lingers. If England is not an imperial power, it must be the only other thing it can be: a colony".

- especially true in the context of Brexit.


Part of the incentive of 'policing' the slave trade after is abolition was to ensure other nations couldn't get a competitive advantage by using it when Britain was not.

The Free Trade movement in the mid-1800s, represented by the Corn Laws and The Economist was in tone anti-imperialist - that we should break up the preferential trading agreements inside the Empire and freely trade through national self-interest.


He proposes that the campaign for a wider understanding of colonialism become less about tearing stuff down and more about building stuff up (new statues, next to the old) and that the curriculum be 'widened' rather than 'decolonised'. This, he suggests, is a more productive way of achieving understanding without inciting the resentment that goes hand in hand with the challenge of direct actions. I tend to agree.


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