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Is there ANYTHING positive about the British Empire?


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#1 suhaylee

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 12:49 PM

Hi,

I was wondering if any of you can think of any benefits of the British Empire? I was going to go for trade, transport and language but you could argue these are just further examples of control and imposition of a 'superior' culture onto another. I mean trade was only there to benefit Britain who told people of the Empire what to produce and paid them slave wages for it (often literally). Transport, was surely about the effective movement of goods and anyway, Britain didn't actually build the infrastructure, did it? Language; again imposing the 'better' culture onto another. There's 'demoracy' but that wasn't really the case either as the power remained in control of the British. Couldn't we argue that many of the problems of today have their roots in the British Empire?! Anyway, has anyone got one thing that the British actually gave its Empire- something it did which wasn't just another way of controlling the folks in it? Thanks for your help.

I can say that it depended upon who you were in the Empire. Perhaps if you were helping the British, you did pretty well for yourself. Also, even though the British partitioned India- many Pakistanis today are very 'proud' of their country and have a strong sense of 'nationhood'. Then, it made communication in one language across the World easier. However, again with all of these, the British didn't intend these results, did they? The intentions at the time was control, money and power. Is the old line, 'we can't judge actions on the past with our values today'? That's surely not the case as plenty of people died fighting the British,,,so they clearly weren't happy. So,,,,I don't have one benefit! Anyone?

Suhayl.

Edited by suhaylee, 22 March 2009 - 01:00 PM.


#2 Giles Falconer

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 01:25 PM

Many of the countries of the British Empire were given Cricket - and then they learned to beat England at it (think: West Indies, India, Pakistan ...)


PS I think you'll find much of the infrastructure in the empire (esp. railways) was built by the British, and there were also developments of legal systems, education and, yes, even democracy which was introduced as a result of the period of imperial rule, the newly independent countries being left with democratic systems. Would ones based on (say) tribal loyalty be better?

Edited by Giles Falconer, 22 March 2009 - 01:34 PM.


#3 neil mcdonald

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 01:29 PM

Democracy - the long term results of the empire resulted in democracy being spread across the globe.

Hong Kong has a level of control no-where else in China has
India - Parliamentary system
America took the Magna Carta as a blue print of their declaration of Independence
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#4 rharris

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 03:20 PM

I would go with governance and civil service. Though partition was disastrous, the civil sercice infrastructure left by the British enabled the world's biggest democracy to be governed more effectively, although it wasn't perfect.

It's hard to think of anything positive for the British in Africa!

#5 JohnDClare

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 04:10 PM

http://www.youtube.c...re=channel_page

http://www.johndclar.....sh Empire.ppt

http://www.johndclar.....sh Empire.swf

And why not get your pupils to contribute to the debate.


This is probably best for a pupil: http://www.learningc....gov.uk/empire/, and a brief set of notes: http://www.victorian...pire/index.html

I would recommend this site: http://www.britishempire.co.uk/
And have you seen this: http://www.friesian.com/british.htm

#6 D Letouzey

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 05:49 PM

We had this debate in 2005 when a few rightish MPs took advantage on a law about harkis
to oblige history teachers to focus only on the "positive consequences of the French ruling overseas".
These MP put hospitals, road, railways in the balance.

There was a vigourous answer from leading historians :
if you take empires as system, you can't play this game.
Of course, you can speak about India.
But what about South Africa before 1989, or Zimbabwe until today ?

(if you can read French, there are several papers on this website :
http://cvuh.free.fr/
http://cvuh.free.fr/....php?rubrique13

Nothing is definitively settled.
In his 2007 Dakar 's speech, Sarkozy read a paper from Guaino.
The bad side of empires is shown,
but also a surprising : " the African man has never entered history..."

DL

Edited by D Letouzey, 22 March 2009 - 07:36 PM.


#7 Russell Courts

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 08:35 AM

I seem to remember a story about one of the colonial governors in the 60s telling Denis Healey that the only monuments the British empire would leave behind for the world would be the game of Association Football and the expression F-Off!
I think I'll have strawberry...

#8 Dafydd Humphreys

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 09:32 AM

If it wasn't for the English Empire (I'll never call it 'British') - we'd never have the film 'Zulu' - so it's thumbs up from me!
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#9 Russell Courts

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 10:15 AM

If it wasn't for the English Empire (I'll never call it 'British')


Where do the Scots who ran the thing fit in under this categorisation?
I think I'll have strawberry...

#10 Chouan

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 10:31 AM

It's hard to think of anything positive for the British in Africa!


The Africa run by the British, mostly with a fairly light hand in comparison with other colonial rulers, I would suggest wasn't as bad as Africans would like us to believe. Post-colonial Africa is so terrible in many cases that the rulers thereof tend to blame the ex colonial powers for the failings of the post colonial governments rather than face up to their own responsibilities.
Many African countries were left with an established economic, political and social infrastructure on independence, which has subsequently completely collapsed; not because of the failings of the ex colonial power, but because of the failings of the subsequent governments. Look at Zimbabwe or Sierra Leone, for example, or Kenya, whose recent collapse into anarchy cannot be blamed on Britain!

#11 Dafydd Humphreys

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 10:45 AM

If it wasn't for the English Empire (I'll never call it 'British')


Where do the Scots who ran the thing fit in under this categorisation?


Lap-dogs.
My Youtube Channels: <a href="http://www.youtube.c...m/Learnhistory" target="_blank">LearnHistory</a> (RIP) :( and <a href="http://www.youtube.c.../Learnhistory2" target="_blank">LearnHistory2</a> and now <a href="http://www.youtube.c.../Learnhistory3" target="_blank">LearnHistory3</a>

#12 Russell Courts

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 10:47 AM

If it wasn't for the English Empire (I'll never call it 'British')


Where do the Scots who ran the thing fit in under this categorisation?


Lap-dogs.


Tell that to Niall Ferguson
I think I'll have strawberry...

#13 Dafydd Humphreys

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 11:25 AM

If it wasn't for the English Empire (I'll never call it 'British')


Where do the Scots who ran the thing fit in under this categorisation?


Lap-dogs.


Tell that to Niall Ferguson


I just left a message on his answer-phone.
My Youtube Channels: <a href="http://www.youtube.c...m/Learnhistory" target="_blank">LearnHistory</a> (RIP) :( and <a href="http://www.youtube.c.../Learnhistory2" target="_blank">LearnHistory2</a> and now <a href="http://www.youtube.c.../Learnhistory3" target="_blank">LearnHistory3</a>

#14 Roy Huggins

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 08:37 PM

Hi Guys,

Positives of the British Empire for colonies:

Pax Britanica - peace - law & order - government - civil service
Public Works - roads - schools
Technology - roads - canals - railways - industry
Freedom - home rule and democracy for Canada - New Zealand - Australia - Hong Kong - Singapore etc
Religion - Religious toleration - Christianity
Medicine - hospitals - vacination - infectious diseases
Commonwealth - shared values and ideals
Trade - Free trade within British Empire / USA and later with French Empire
Slavery - abolition of slave trade and later slavery within the British Empire
Language - India & africa - Unifying World language which helped to break down ethnic and cultural differences

I can't think of any others at the moment, but will add some later. However, beware about making unhistoric value judgements about the morality of the Empire. You have to look at concept of Empire within its historical context. 16th / 17th / 18th / 19th / 20th

For example, slavery was wrong in a 19th Century context, but which was the first European country to attempt to regulate the trade in the 18th and later attempt to abolish it? The Romans would have most certainly have admired the British Empire as would have the Spanish in the 16th Century. Italy, Belguim and Germany certainly wanted to copy the British Empire's success with the scramble for Africa. Within Britain at the time the Empire was seen as a source of prestige and a civilizing and modernizing experience for everyone else. With the rise of nationalism and self determination in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries this gradually changed. However, as with the abolition of slavery you also have to see it within its economic context. Gladstone was happy top try and get rip of some of the West African Colonies in the 19th Century and give Home Rule to Canada, New Zealand etc for both economic and political reasons, but was forced by both economic and political factors into becoming a reluctant imperialist by the Sudan.

I'm all for building Empires now that I've taken over the Geography department. My next target is RE and PD so that I can spread Pax History / Huggins

Kind Regards

Roy :jester:
"Men are disturbed, not by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen." - Epictetus

#15 Roy Huggins

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 08:45 PM

PS Dafydd - Its was the Scots, Welsh, Irish and English (British) cowboys who were at the forefront of wiping out the native Americans! Then there are the Aborigines in Australia!

PPS The assumption that it was the English who did terrible things presumes that the Welsh are somehow ethnically pure and special! I'm a true born Englishman - part Welsh, part Irish, part Scots, par Dutch, part French and somewhere a bit of 'English' and thats just from my family tree in the 20th Century! To be British is to be culturally diverse, tolerant and outward looking!
"Men are disturbed, not by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen." - Epictetus




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