Rethinking the British World

Tamson Pietsch
2013 Journal of British Studies  
This article rethinks the concept of the "British World" by paying close attention to the voices of those who attended the 1903 Allied Colonial Universities Conference. They identified not one, but three different kinds of British world space. Mapped, respectively, by ideas and emotions, by networks and exchange, and by the specific sites of empire, this article suggests that, in the light of criticisms the British World concept has faced, and in the context of recent scholarship on the social
more » ... ship on the social and material production of space, this tripartite approach might offer a useful framework for British and imperial historians interested in the history of the global. S tanding in the lecture theater at Burlington House in July 1903 for the first Allied Colonial Universities Conference, the Liberal member of Parliament and historian James Bryce announced that the meeting was designed to facilitate cooperation between "the universities of the British world." 1 In doing so, he articulated a concept that since the late 1990s has animated historians seeking to recover the connections linking the countries "set going" by migration from Britain. Pursued mostly by British imperial historians and scholars from the former Dominions, this British World project flowered in the early 2000s, resulting in a series of conferences and publications. However, a decade after its inception, the movement reached something of an impasse, beset by definitional imprecision and criticized for its inattention to questions of power. Nonetheless, in the last few years, a number of books have emerged that again invoke the concept, utilizing it as a way of explaining the origins and processes of globalization. The appearance of these works suggests that it is time to reevaluate the utility of the idea of the British World. This article rethinks the concept of the British World by paying close attention to the voices of those who attended the 1903 Allied Colonial Universities Conference. At this meeting, the delegates identified not one, but rather three different kinds of British world space. Mapped, respectively, by ideas and emotions, by networks and exchange, and by the specific sites of empire, they pointed to the imagined, material, and local British worlds that reflected their lived experience of the globalizing connections of the period. This article argues that, in the context of recent scholarship on the Tamson Pietsch is lecturer in imperial and colonial history at Brunel University, London. She would like to thank Jay Sexton, Matt Houlbrook, Rahul Rao, Jared van Duinen, and Ben Mountford, as well as the reviewers and editors for the Journal of British Studies, for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this piece. 1 James Bryce, "Official
doi:10.1017/jbr.2013.53 fatcat:4vqjnm4rrvdxhcuvytj5grfvaa