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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

What ‘British history’ may be taken to mean is complex. No simple solution to getting it ‘in focus’ exists. On one level, given the global impact of Britain since 1800, culturally and commercially, and the existence of ‘English-speaking Peoples’, it is an aspect of ‘world history’ and cannot be understood without this wide-ranging context. That manifested itself most specifically in the expansion of the British Empire, its consolidation and subsequent disintegration. ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Greater Britain’, for some minds, constituted the ‘whole’. Yet, however global the mindset of policy-makers (and perhaps people) became, the history of the British Isles could not be detached from that of the European continent. ‘Isolation’ could only ever be ‘relative’. On another level, looking inwards, the ‘British Space’ has embraced a multiplicity of overlapping, interlinked, yet distinct nations, regions and localities. Sometimes such identities have been forged or strengthened in opposition to ‘Britishness’, sometimes they have coexisted contentedly with it. At whatever level, the ‘British space’ is inherently a contested one.


Dimensions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The word ‘British’ has been attached to many ‘spaces’ in the two centuries after 1800.1 How ‘Great Britain’ is perceived in historiography entails engagement with all six terms employed in this article – world, empire, continent, nation, region, and locality. Its essential locus has been complex, fluid and contentious.2 The account that follows begins with the ‘big picture’ and ends with ‘little places’. It might equally have reversed the order. To start with ‘world’ might suggest that it is the global order which determines the significance of the other elements. That is to be ‘top-down’. To start with the ‘local’ might suggest that it is the foundation of identity, giving way, perhaps, in ‘modernization’ to larger entities. That is to be ‘bottom-up’. No account, of course, can do both things simultaneously. It is obvious, too, that groups and individuals ‘start’ from different places. Historians, qua historians, do not inhabit any uniform location in this descending or ascending hierarchy. These are issues of great significance, but their theoretical dimensions cannot be pursued here.3 The ‘British space’, however, is of particular interest. In the historiography of Great Britain/The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland/The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland/the British Isles, the global and the local, and the intervening entities, are articulated in a particularly complex way.4

World

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The British space was emphatically a world space. There was scarcely a corner of the world with which the British did not have some form of contact – whether as explorers, soldiers, sailors, missionaries or merchants. Their leading politicians, in the second half of the century and beyond, habitually travelled the world to see it for themselves – India, the Far East, the Antipodes, North and South America, South Africa.5 Information was shared in specialist societies and published in specialist journals. There was a strong market in travel books. James Bryce, Victorian historian, politician and diplomat published his ‘impressions’ to a remarkable degree but was not unique in such activity.6 The British were not infrequently perceived to be peculiarly addicted to ‘tourism’. The world, in turn, impinged on the British to an exceptional degree. Of course, this did not mean that as a totality it had become a ‘British space’ but it did mean that ‘the world’ had become part of the mental furniture of a significant portion of the Victorian political, cultural and academic elite. Such an external awareness did not of course begin in 1800. One hitherto ‘British world’ had collapsed with the successful American War of Independence. The propensity to ‘travel the seas’ had been identified by many writers, both British and foreign, as an endemic British characteristic. Hegel, for example, made much of the sea as the explanation of ‘Britain’ and the reason its life contrasted with land-locked communities of the European continent. The outcome was that Britain accumulated worldwide connections of a kind which ensured that it was a ‘world power’ in a literal sense. Its political, military and commercial elites became accustomed to thinking globally during the age of the Pax Britannica and its ‘world status’, if not world power, has been maintained since 1945 by its position as a Permanent Member of the Security Council of the United Nations and its involvement, militarily and politically, ‘out of area’. This ‘British world’ of course raises some different issues, as historians have been recently specifically addressing, from the traditional historiography of the ‘British Empire’, though not surprisingly it is the latter which is more extensive.7

Empire

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The British space was imperial, though what that then entailed for the constituent parts of the ‘home bases’ could vary significantly.8 It was not just ‘contact’ that the British had with the world. They directly or indirectly ruled significant chunks of territory.9 Of course, the ‘world awareness’ referred to above both contributed to and reflected this global imperialism. The commonality of this ‘British space’ was expressed in a British Empire coloured red on maps. Of course, what was precisely included would depend on the date of publication. If the mandated territories under the League of Nations are included, its territory reached its zenith after 1919. Even granted that there is no template of ‘empire’, however, this British space was imperially peculiar. It was an empire without an emperor – Queen Victoria did indeed become ‘Empress of India’ in 1872 but that was a sub-continental affair. Empire consisted of two fundamental elements. On the one hand, territory in which, by one means or another, the British ruled over ‘native peoples’ but where, apart from the infrastructure of administration and a military presence, they did not ‘settle’. On the other hand, there was territory with substantial settlement from the British Isles. ‘Colonists’ dominated indigenous populations and created polities which were ‘British’. Such a categorization scarcely does justice to the complexity of the arrangements for the governance of this empire. ‘Imperial policy’, some might argue, scarcely existed as a single, uniform and coherent ‘strategy’. It was, rather, a set of ad hoc reactions on the ground, loosely concerted at ‘the centre’. The empire, of course, was that of a sea-power with ‘outposts’ in every corner of the world. It followed that it was not an empire with accumulated and directly connected territory. No conquered and settled territory was directly incorporated into the ‘mother country’ as, in theory at least, happened with France and Algeria. India, ruled by a Viceroy, with a Secretary of State in London, might be ‘the jewel in the Crown’ and be conceived, in some minds at least, to have a ‘special relationship’ with Britain. Macaulay had taken the view in 1833 that at some point the public mind of India might expand under the British system until it had outgrown that system. He did not claim to know when that day might come but he would never attempt to avert or retard it. ‘Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history’. There was, however, an empire which was exempt from all natural causes of decay – it was ‘the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws’. Such satisfaction was all of a piece with the Macaulay of the ‘constitutional nation’.10

This theme of a transition from barbarism to civilization – even if that terminology was later modified – under British rule became something of a leitmotiv for generations of British imperial historians. It was a confidence, only mildly moderated a century after Macaulay spoke, expressed in the volumes of the Cambridge History of the British Empire published between 1929 and 1959. By the latter date, of course, the empire of its commencement was no more. ‘Commonwealth’ had existed uneasily alongside ‘empire’ for decades but now took over. ‘British’ could still initially be prefixed to it but was then abandoned. Whatever the Commonwealth quite was, and whatever the relationship Britain now had with its other independent members (all of whom, with the exception of ex-Portuguese Mozambique, had once been ‘British’), the Commonwealth space was no longer ‘British’. Historians in the inter-war years, and even into the 1950s, devoted much attention to constitutional issues. The evolution of the British past, it was believed, still offered guidance for the collective Commonwealth future.11 It soon became impossible to think in terms of metropolitan initiative and co-ordination. One-party states and republican, presidential and military regimes in Asia and Africa eroded the notion of a ‘Commonwealth’ style that was ‘British’. Whatever ‘Commonwealth History’ was, it could not be a perpetuation of ‘Colonial History’.12

It was also the case that that ‘Greater Britain’– to pick up the term used by Charles Dilke in 1868 with a racialist connotation – namely the aggregate of the countries of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ settlement, had failed to materialize. The First World War is generally taken to be the turning point in the ‘national’ self-consciousness of the self-governing ‘Dominions’ (as these countries were termed). Australians and New Zealanders and Canadians, for example, might still in some sense be ‘British’ but they were now ‘different’.13 There might be still be a ‘British family of nations’– as the collective response to the Second World War demonstrated – but a single ‘kith and kin’ community was no more. Only such a community, nineteenth-century historians like J. R. Seeley and J. A. Froude had believed, could enable Britain to be on equal terms with the United States and Russia, the coming states, but it was not to be. Even so, since there has been no formal rupture, and elements of a ‘family’ history remain intertwined.14 The relationship between Britain and the United States and equally that between Australia/New Zealand, Canada and the United States, constitutes a further kind of intertwining.15

The historiographical aftermath of these developments is puzzling. In contrast to a century (c.1850–1950) in which, at various levels, the ‘imperial experience’ seemed to be central to ‘British history’, some recent general histories of twentieth century Britain or of the British Isles have marginalized or ignored it.16 The view that the empire never impinged significantly on the consciousness of ‘ordinary Britons’ may be seen as a parallel ‘marginalization’. Only a tiny minority of the population, it has been provocatively suggested, kept ‘the imperial project’ alive.17 A final twist has been given by a New Zealand historian – though one who has made his career across the English-speaking world. J. G. A. Pocock observed in the early 1970s, and in other subsequent writing, that Britain itself appeared to be bent on becoming ‘European’. He identified the commonalities in the ‘neo-Britains’ across the world. They were not, and could not be, European. Such a reflection was prompted by concern that Britain, in joining the then European Economic Community in 1973, was trying to draw some kind of line under its own history and becoming, instead, ‘European’.18

Continent

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The British Isles were isles ‘off’ a ‘mainland’. They were part of the continent. On the eve of the French Revolution a certain ‘Anglomania’ gripped both German and French intellectuals.19 They admired ‘the best form of government’ and attempted to probe the nature of ‘Englishness’ more deeply. It might constitute the pattern for the future. By 1800, in contrast to a century earlier, a sophisticated European would feel a need to speak or read English. It was ‘since the happy revolution of 1688’, wrote one French Anglophile in 1817 that ‘the English nation’ had increased more in population, in knowledge, in grandeur and political prosperity than any nation, ancient or modern, had been able to do in many centuries. ‘We led the way in human civilization’, commented an English peer in the 1820s, as he looked back over half a century of extraordinary development.20 Such confident self-estimation, amply endorsed by foreigners as it seemed to be, in turn came to be a part of the ‘national character’ itself. Of course, over the period under review neither that self-confidence nor that admiration survived in such a ‘pure’ form. ‘European civilization’ was protean and there were to be many rival national claims to ownership or custody of its central elements. Britain might not quite conform to continental conceptions of what being ‘continental’ entailed, but it was too significant in many spheres to be banished as ‘alien’.

Their geo-political position made the British uncomfortable with any notion which tried to identify a continental ‘core’ to which they might be thought ‘peripheral’. The ‘heart of Europe’ could not be defined by geography. So, whatever might be said about a diversity-within-unity as constituting European civilization, the pattern of the British relationship with ‘the continent’, in a political or military sense, oscillated between ‘intervention’ and ‘isolation’ at salient points in post-1800 history. It was necessarily influenced too by the challenges and responsibilities which stemmed from the ‘global’ and ‘imperial’ spheres which have just been considered. The ‘continental’ was an element in the ‘British space’ but only an element. What happened on the ‘mainland’, from Napoleon to Stalin, could threaten national survival but military intervention in its affairs was not automatic. Britain belonged in the European state-system but there could be no certainty about how, when and why it deployed its power and influence. So long as it could ward off invasion – which turned out to be the whole of the period under review – it could lead a semi-detached life. The other facets of ‘continental life’ as they were perceived and portrayed – with countries conquered and occupied, boundaries changed, populations shifted, regimes changed – all passed Britain by.21 Such a sketch, of course, cannot do justice to a complex relationship but, as a summary, it must stand.

It is not surprising that in general British historiography underpinned and confirmed these broad perceptions. A ‘British history’ conceived primarily as the history of a particular variant of ‘European history’ has not seemed an attractive prospect to historians, readers or publishers. It is not that British historians, as a breed, have been uninterested in the history of particular European countries. From Seeley to Bullock and Kershaw, for example, there have been substantial biographical studies of leading figures in modern German history (biography being a particularly British preoccupation). Likewise, from Carlyle to Cobb, there have been exemplary studies of the French Revolution. British historians, however, have tended to ‘adopt’ the history of particular European countries rather than write about ‘the continent’ as a whole, a shyness which is understandable given the complexity of the task.22 It was at the age of sixty-six, after a career as a historian, university administrator, investigator of public services in India and national politician that H. A. L. Fisher (1865–1940) turned to writing ‘The History of Europe’, the one volume edition of which appeared in 1936. It held the field for several decades, being translated into Magyar, Polish, Hebrew and Czech. An Italian edition, translated by Benedetto Croce, had to have certain passages removed. Only after the Second World War were German and Spanish editions published. As a young man, after Oxford, Fisher had studied in Paris, Gőttingen and Dresden. His own country could not be ignored in his book, but his purpose was not to ‘integrate’ its history with that of the continent.23 Despite the catholicity of his interests, therefore, he did not significantly stand outside the prevalent assumption that ‘British History’ was one thing and ‘European History’ another.

General texts on the modern history of Europe, both before and after the 1930s, written by British historians, were more likely than not to exclude Britain from their canvas. In part at least this reflected the fact that at the school level, and often at university level, British history and European history constituted different courses and were taught and examined separately. There might be something called ‘European civilization’ but the continent was dubiously perceived or experienced as an extension of ‘home’. It was where ‘foreigners’ lived. There is ample illustration, in satirical prints, of the shortcomings of such foreign ‘bugaboos’ as the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the Russians – with the French, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries being clearly ‘the supreme bugaboo’.24 The prevailing wisdom was that France was the polar opposite of England/Britain. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was perhaps the moment when contempt for, or suspicion of, France began to be replaced by fear of the new imperial Germany. Prussian militarism could be portrayed as the antithesis of English liberty. The two world wars of the twentieth century gave British historiography ample scope for identifying Germany, whether under Kaiser or Hitler, as the central enemy.25 Whether it was ‘Germany’, ‘France’ or ‘Russia’ which was identified as the prevailing ‘Other’, however, the location of the ‘troublemaker’ was perceived to be ‘continental’. Since the United Kingdom clearly did not cause trouble, its mindset could not be characterized as ‘continental’.26 Such bifurcation can in turn be seen as simply the working out of the pervasive spatial ambiguity to which attention has been drawn in the previous sections.

Home Base (England)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The four ‘territorial’ sections that follow in this article consider how historians have addressed, or failed to address, ways in which the complex terminologies of nation, region, province, principality, locality have been deployed to signal different degrees of commonality and difference. ‘England’ is not itself an island but only part of an island. It is more helpful to think of the totality as a group of islands, large and small, which existed off the coast of the ‘mainland’ (if that was the term) whose relations with each other and both their common and their distinct relations with that ‘mainland’ had been, and continued to be, historically complicated. There was no simple answer to the question of whether these distinguishable units were inhabited by territorial ‘nations’ or whether they were ‘merely’ regions of a single ‘whole’. Or, taken further, whether the whole was but an aggregate of ‘localities’. From 1800, with the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland, the islands formed one state, a united kingdom (though there were insular constitutional ‘oddities’ like the self-government which obtained, under the Crown, in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).27 Despite the continental propensity to speak of ‘England’ when referring to this state, a disposition frequently shared by its historians until at least the second half of the twentieth century, the United Kingdom was not England, nor did it consist only of ‘the English’. The pre-Irish Union, ‘Great Britain’ had itself been an accumulation. The regnal union of England and Scotland had begun in 1603 with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England. The two kingdoms were united in 1707. The Scottish parliament was abolished but in the ecclesiastical, legal and educational spheres distinctive institutions and systems were retained for Scotland. What this step meant for the continuance of ‘Scottish history’ and ‘Scottish national identity’ was problematic and ambiguous. One strategy was to emphasize a ‘Great Britain’ which transcended ‘England’ and ‘Scotland’. The island of Britain could be endowed with a fundamental unity so that its two chief territorial elements could be characterized as ‘North Britain’ and ‘South Britain’. It was rarely necessary, at this juncture, to think of ‘Wales’ as significantly distinctive. After the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 the principality was substantially absorbed administratively into England.

Early nineteenth-century Britain, and a fortiori Britain and Ireland therefore, puzzlingly combined ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’.28 On the one hand, there remained internal ‘markers’ which continued to give substance to the ‘national’ identities of its constituent territories. On the other, there was an emphasis on ‘Britishness’, an emphasis reinforced by the expansion of what was a British empire. The preponderance of England within Britain was evident. It set the tone. London did duty both as the capital of England and of Britain, not to mention its imperial role – and was an extraordinary centre in its own right. The great city was sui generis insofar as it did not fit into any regional categorization.29 By 1911, ‘Greater London’ contained as large a population as that of Scotland and Wales put together. English historiography could assume, it appeared reasonably, that it was the history of England that mattered, a history which was taken to be virtually synonymous with the history of Britain. In public life, few laboured to distinguish sharply between ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ and historians, in general, shared this indifference. The historian J. A. Froude, for example, happily wrote on ‘British subjects’ in the colonies of ‘England’. It seemed natural to Cardinal Newman to think in 1870 that ‘England’ might go to war with France.

No observer supposed that England was all of a piece, although it was sometimes argued both in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that Britain was ‘probably the most homogenous of all industrial countries’.30 The American, Ralph Waldo Emerson, concluded in mid-century that what were thought to be English traits, as exemplified in prints and portraits in the capital, could actually be reduced to a small district. The further north you went, so the ‘world's Englishman’ was no longer found.31 Northumberland in the north-east had a very different heritage and ‘feel’ from Cornwall in the south-west. The latter, indeed, had only finally lost its Celtic language in the previous century.32 Both Northumberland and Cornwall were ‘peripheral’. But how were they to be described? Here the antiquity of England as a state is central. It had been in existence for some thousand years within borders which had little shifted to north or west. It had not ‘grown up’ by a protracted process of merger, conquest or dynastic accumulation in a manner experienced in the period under review in other European states. An awareness of difference was not embodied in long-established institutional expressions of that difference. The ‘counties’ into which England was administratively divided certainly constituted ‘communities’ and their ‘histories’ had been pursued by scholars and enthusiasts for centuries.33 In 1899, probably conceived as a tribute to Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, an ambitious scheme was launched to produce a historical encyclopaedia of England, county by county, parish by parish, in 160 volumes. A century later, 200 volumes had been completed but the project still had not been brought to a conclusion – a century, of course, in which what should be written about as ‘local history’ itself changed markedly. It was a scheme embarked upon a decade after the ‘democratization’ of local government by the introduction of elected county councils.34 The relationship between counties, and their relative wealth and importance, shifted markedly during the course of nineteenth and twentieth century urbanization.35

What such change entailed for the description and categorization of national/regional/local was and remained problematic. Reference to ‘the provinces’ did not refer to any specific provinces, for they did not exist, but to an aggregate of all that was not London.36 Nor did ‘regions’ exist in any clear-cut fashion. Various agencies and organizations might employ the term ‘regional’ but there was no uniform standardization. The dioceses of the Church of England marked a different set of ‘spaces’ (and Roman Catholic dioceses had different boundaries from Anglican ones). Cornwall, to revert, might be geographically ‘south-west’ but it would be fanciful to suggest that it recognized Bristol as ‘the capital of the South-West Region’.37 That there was and is a ‘North/South’ divide in England has been endlessly remarked upon, though chiefly by historical and other geographers rather than by historians, but definition can rarely be precise or all-embracing, notwithstanding assertions sometimes made to the contrary. The nature and concentration of particular industries has also given particular ‘regions’ their characteristic identity.38 There are now ‘English regional boundaries’ officially identified by central government but they have no public profile. ‘Local’ government is in fact substantially dependent upon central government for its revenue.39 This lack of ‘hard’ regionalism in England has periodically through the twentieth century proved irksome, and has resulted in some attempt to create a ‘hard’ regionalism. In 2004, however, a proposal by central government to set up a ‘Regional Assembly’ in the north-east of England, supposedly the prototype of other such assemblies elsewhere in England, was overwhelmingly defeated by the north-eastern electorate. ‘Regional Assemblies’ seem to have been abandoned.40 In short, regionalism in England is a strange case in which ‘now you see it, now you don't’. Local history continues to be energetically studied but it would appear that England does not wish to be ‘regionalized’.41 Research in ‘English local history’ has rarely supported an explicitly ‘regional’ political agenda.42 When the focus shifts beyond England to the United Kingdom and to the British Isles the terminology becomes ever more complex. In including ‘Scotland’ and ‘Wales’ in a ‘collection of studies of regions’, Professor Michael Thompson hoped that Scotland and Wales would forgive the ‘regional’ label, but some have not done so.43

Home Base (Scotland)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The relationship between England and Scotland was the key element in ‘Great Britain’. It had a troubled longue durée– not one to be explored here – which left ample legacies of battles long, and not so very long ago.44 It had been from Scotland that the two unsuccessful Jacobite challenges to the Hanoverian monarchy, in 1715 and 1745, had been launched. Culloden, the final battle on British soil, had left in its wake bifurcated memories. How was ‘Scotland's past’ to be fused into its British present? One solution was virtually to discard it. The historian who has recently devoted most attention to this issue argues that there was a failure to generate a comprehensively ‘British’ conception of national identity.45 The English constitutional model, arising out of the seventeenth century, was taken over comprehensively. The Scottish conception of liberty became associated with the benefits of Union with England. That Union, indeed, was held to have liberated Scotland from anachronistic feudal institutions. The historical sociologists of the Scottish Enlightenment were severely critical of such aspects of Scotland's past. There was, therefore, no new pan-Britannic formulation, something that was neither English nor Scottish but rather a kind of half-way house was attained in the form of an Anglo-British Whig identity, broadly acceptable to the ‘political nation’ in both England and Scotland. Macaulay himself was a second generation Anglo-Scot who sat at Westminster as an M.P. for Edinburgh. He saw ‘backwardness’ in Scotland. ‘Progress’ and ‘Union’ walked hand in hand.

In such circumstances, the special character of Scotland was somewhat problematic. At a certain level, the heroic deeds of Robert Bruce (d. 1329) or William Wallace (d. 1305) remained popular. The Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) and the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) stood out. The Declaration of Arbroath (1320) gave Scotland the constitutional pedigree which Magna Carta gave England. After a successful public appeal, a monumental tower to commemorate Wallace was erected at Stirling in 1869. Letters in support of the project had been forthcoming from Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, Blind and Blanc. It was neither the first nor the last such commemoration. The National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights (1852–56) had invoked the name of Wallace in its campaign to prevent Scotland ‘sinking into the basest of kingdoms’. However, while Wallace could be deployed in pursuit of ‘independence’ that was not the objective of the society. Supporting the idea of a monument to Wallace and Bruce in Edinburgh in 1859 it was claimed that the War of Independence had resulted, admittedly after a delay, in the Union of England and Scotland – a partnership not a submission. The National Association stated that Scots could glory in the triumph of a Marlborough, a Nelson or a Wellington (British heroes) and in Wallace and Bruce (Scottish heroes).46 There was ample material, here, for a full national political agenda but little disposition, in the first half of the nineteenth century, to exploit it to this end. Why Scotland ‘failed’ to seize the ‘romantic’ moment has been the subject of considerable recent historical discussion. For some, this ‘anomaly’ has been a puzzle which must be explained. For others, it is no great mystery. Integration still allowed for, indeed promoted, diversity. ‘Britain’ was an awkward and always unstable balance but it generally satisfied. ‘Unionist Nationalism’ was a reality and in the mid-nineteenth century, it is argued, Scottish civil society ‘governed’ itself.47 The increased presence of ‘central government’ later in the century changed the dynamics of this situation in Scotland – as it did elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We may therefore conclude that the Union of England and Scotland did indeed, at one level, constitute ‘a study of international history’, to be examined as such, but at another level it was producing ‘one history’.48 It was not until 1876 that a Royal Commission recommended the establishment of Chairs of History in Scotland's universities but there appeared to be little demand for teaching Scottish History specifically.49 English and English-trained historians frequently ‘came north’ bringing their own constitutional baggage with them. Richard Lodge, taking up the Chair in Glasgow in 1894 and giving his inaugural lecture on ‘The Study of History in a Scottish University’ acknowledged a debt to the novels of Sir Walter Scott but would not himself become a historian of Scotland.50 It is significant that W. S. McKechnie, a Scot and lecturer in Constitutional Law and History at Glasgow, produced a celebrated study of that English document the Magna Carta.

In the early years of the twentieth century, however, Chairs of Scottish History were being established – though controversially – in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a fresh impetus given to the academic study of the Scottish past. The Scottish Historical Review was founded in 1904. A stateless nation needed history to sustain itself.51 At regular intervals, in their generation, Scottish historians of Scotland in the twentieth century wrestled with this burden. ‘Home-Rule-all-Round’, which had briefly emerged before 1914 as a solution to the government of the British Isles disappeared from the agenda afterwards. The inter-war history of Scotland produced both economic and cultural laments concerning the country's future. After the Second World War, a conspicuously British enterprise, the debate about Scotland's future resumed. Since the 1960s, in one form or another, ‘nationalism’ has been to the fore in Scottish life. Was Scotland still ‘essentially’ different from England and, if so, what did that entail politically? Historians, in general accounts, tried to get the balance right and in doing so often did little more than hedge their bets. A process of assimilating Scotland to England was held to have been ‘the general picture’ since 1707 but there were ‘trends running the other way’.52 Assimilation would ‘show itself in some forms more than in others’. The underlying structure of Scottish society would alter in the direction of uniformity within Britain as a whole but the national consciousness of the Scottish people would remain ‘and perhaps grow even stronger’.53 The future of Scotland was held by the revisers in 1978 of J. D. Mackie's standard History of Scotland (1964) to be something which any observer, however well-informed and intelligent – as historians, no doubt, were – could not ‘possibly predict with any confidence’. Scotland in the late 1970s ‘was not what it had been’ and in this very fact lay ‘the supreme and necessary evidence of Scotland's continuing vitality’.54 There was certainly vitality in Scottish historiography which saw the appearance (1968–75) of The Edinburgh History of Scotland. Specialist volumes on the social and economic history of Scotland opened up fresh enquiries at this time.55 It is not easy, however, to determine the exact relationship between these two ‘vitalities’. The devolution referendum of 1979 failed to achieve the majority which had been laid down. Twenty years later, however, after a further referendum gained a large majority the present constitutional settlement was established. Scotland again has a parliament which, within its UK-allocated budget, has virtually complete control over Scotland's internal affairs. The union, however remains and, with it, continuing ambiguity along the Scottish/British faultline. ‘History’ was appealed to from opposing quarters but, sadly, it was found to be ‘ambivalent’.56 In July 1999, however, when the first Scottish parliament since 1707 met in Edinburgh another leading historian was clear that ‘the Scottish nation undeniably embarked on another exciting stage in its long history’.57

Home Base (Wales)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The issue of sameness/difference, or inclusion/exclusion, which pervaded the nineteenth- and twentieth-century relationship between England and Scotland, further aspects of which will be shortly considered, also applied, within ‘Great Britain’ to the relationship between Wales and England/Scotland. It was, however, different in important respects. In comparison with Scotland, Wales lacked the institutional and administrative manifestations of nationhood. By 1800, it would have been difficult to argue that Wales constituted a definable and distinctive entity in legal, ecclesiastical, educational or political terms. ‘England and Wales’ existed as the everyday reality, with the former as the preponderant element. In that relationship, too, there was an important psychological element. The Anglo-Scottish relationship had been conceived and was still presented in terms of ‘partnership’ even though its terms could be differently perceived and argued over. In stages, Wales had been conquered and, over time, absorbed into the English state. The last but unsuccessful revolt had taken place under Owen Glyndŵr at the beginning of the fifteenth century. In 1800, what differentiated Wales was not the kind of institutional infrastructure which Scotland possessed but the reality of a different language spoken by the majority of its scattered and (relatively) sparse population, though it was not the language of justice or administration in Wales. It had no urban centre to compare with Glasgow or Edinburgh to provide an academic or cultural focus for Welsh life – paradoxically London had to serve, to some extent, in this role.58 One could speculate, therefore on what, when and even where ‘Wales’ was, but it was another if enigmatic ingredient in the British mixture. ‘England’ constituted its ‘Other’ but an ‘Other’ which was also in its midst. The intercourse of Wales with Scotland was limited. The Gaelic of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, although Celtic, was not comprehensible to Welsh speakers, and, in any case, Gaelic was not central to the presentation of the Scottish nation. Indeed, in independent Scotland in the seventeenth century Gaelic had been regarded as Irish/Catholic, a language to be marginalized if not eliminated.

In the mid-eighteenth century there were spasmodic efforts by individuals and societies in London and Wales ‘to rescue our national history from the dirt thrown upon it’– something which would require ‘the cultivation of the British language and a Search into Antiquities’. There was, however, no central archival repository and no academic institution to do the work. At the school level, ‘Welsh history’ did not exist. Insofar as history was given any systematic attention it was the history of England. Controversy erupted in mid-century following the publication of a report into education in Wales. Did not the ‘peculiar language’ serve to isolate the mass from the upper (and Anglicized) portion of society and from ‘progress’? There was a furious reaction and renewed debate, in both languages about the nature of Wales: nation, class, language, culture and religion became intertwined. The ‘national memory’, in these circumstances, was largely sustained in local and all-Wales eisteddfodau (cultural festivals) and through the expanding and vigorous periodical press. The underlying assumption of the history that was written (as in Scotland) was that ‘Welsh history’ had reached its logical teleology in the union with England. It was one which had even more force than in Scotland since the Welsh could regard themselves as the ‘true Britons’. They were, in a sense, ‘reclaiming’ a place in a ‘Britain’ that had once been. Welsh historiography struggled, with difficulty, through a landscape of myth and legend.59 Scholars expressed doubt whether the Welsh nation was descended from Gomer, son of Japheth, son of Noah. It was also a period in which much was said about ‘Celts’. According to Lord Acton, who sometimes lived on the English/Welsh border, writing in 1862, Celts were not ‘among the progressive, initiative races’ but waited for ‘a foreign influence’ to activate the rich treasure which simply in their own hands could be of no avail. Welsh, it seemed, was the language of obsolescent rural communities and their religious life.60 The ‘rich treasure’ which attracted attention was black and underground: ‘King Coal’ was transforming the nature and image of Wales. Further, by the end of the century it had established a university that was ‘national’, with three constituent colleges, and created both a National Library and National Museum. ‘For Wales, see England’ could not be an adequate approach to the historiography of a principality in which a million people spoke Welsh, some quarter of a million of whom were monoglot Welsh speakers. Teaching Welsh history, however, remained contentious, as was the place it was to occupy in history departs in the university colleges. A standard was set with the publication in 1911 of J. E. Lloyd's A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest in two volumes.61 The subsequent decades were by no means historiographically barren, but it was to be half a century before comparable systematic treatment of Wales in later centuries appeared. Since 1960, when the Welsh History Review first appeared, articles, monographs and general accounts have proliferated. The volumes of a History of Wales jointly published by the university presses of Oxford and Wales set a new standard. The series Studies in Welsh History gave the field a new depth.62 The title of Kenneth O. Morgan's Wales: Rebirth of a Nation 1880–1980 (1981) was emblematic. Devolution, although emphatically rejected in 1979, came to Wales after a further referendum twenty years later. The establishment of a Welsh Assembly, though by no means universally welcomed, gave ‘Wales’ a new political identity and fresh histories of Wales, by various authors, contributed to the consolidation of a still ambivalent national identity. Yet Wales is also thought of as a territory with distinct ‘regions: Y Fro Gymraeg (the substantially Welsh-speaking West), ‘Welsh Wales’ (the Valleys and the South-East) and ‘British Wales’ (the Anglo-Welsh border from north to south and south Pembrokeshire). Much previous historiography emphasized the difference between North and South Wales but in the ‘new Wales’ it may be a division between East and West which is of more significance for historians.

Home[?] Base (Ireland)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

Ireland became the fourth element in the United Kingdom in 1800, arguably displacing Scotland as the ‘second kingdom’. How the island's history should be interpreted was already a well-established battleground and, ‘rightly understood’ furnished lessons for the present. When that history ‘began’, who controlled it and in what direction it pointed, was fiercely contended, particularly in the circumstances of the union. Ireland was not part of Great Britain. The title of the state recognized that fact. No new name had been found, or perhaps could be found, which sublimated both ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Ireland’ in a new ‘national’ entity. Even so, the issue was whether de facto Ireland became, as it did in certain eyes, ‘West Britain’ increasingly assimilated into the greater whole or whether union was a temporary aberration, at least on the basis on which it had been established, to be challenged and rejected.63 There were, of course, ample and recent revolutionary strands to hand and a heady mixture of insurrection and suppression on which to feed. The failure of the United Irishmen was wrapped in oratory which still implied an independent republican future. Robert Emmet asked that his epitaph should not be written until his country again took its place among the countries of the earth. Yet even such an accomplishment might not necessarily imply a complete separation.64 There was, of course, no natural antipathy between the people of Ireland and the people of England. It was the British government which constituted the problem. What the liberation of Ireland really meant settled into a continuity of contention. Even the precise goals of ‘the Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell, could be variously interpreted.65 Was the Duke of Wellington an Irish hero? Could all the elements in the Irish past, conquerors or conquered, be brought to shelter under a common Celtic umbrella?66 And was ‘Irishness’ bound up with an Irish language now apparently in free fall? Who was inside and who was outside the Irish net? In Modern Irish, apparently, the word Albanach means both ‘Scotsman’ and ‘Ulster Protestant’.67 What message does that contain? The Nation newspaper, started in 1842, was the mouthpiece of Young Ireland and again advanced the notion of a shared race struggling against foreign domination. One of its founders, Thomas Davis, was much influenced by French historical writing, particularly that of Jules Michelet and Augustin Thierry. Much attention was given to ‘race’. By the late 1840s both friend and foe were using ‘Celt’ as a synonym for Gaelic Irish.68 The great potato famine of 1845–49 was a cataclysmic event. Its causes and pattern cannot be considered here but it cast a long shadow. A new generation of scholars, born in its aftermath, again drew messages. Eoin MacNeill (1867–1945), a Catholic Ulsterman who became professor at University College, Dublin, devoted himself to the early history of Ireland. His conclusion that there was a country-wide sense of Ireland from the sixth to the twelfth centuries fitted congenially with his own convictions as a political activist. In the years following the publication of Phases of Irish History (1919) he was to hold a number of portfolios in the new Irish Free State.69 The volumes of G. H. Orpen's Ireland under the Normans (1911–20) minimized the coherence of native Irish institutions and any sense of pan-insular ‘national’ consciousness. Orpen was a unionist. Such work, as has been observed, demonstrates that the transition from popular to scholarly history did not erase, indeed it confirmed, partisan commitment. W. E. H. Lecky (1838–1903), perhaps the most celebrated Irish historian of his time, was a noted figure both in Ireland and in England, and wrote on the history of both countries. It was not a Gaelic past, however constituted, which attracted but rather Ireland in the eighteenth century, in particular the period of Grattan's parliament. He contrived to be both an articulate opponent of Home Ruler and a critic of English rule in Ireland. His opposition to Home Rule, however, stemmed more from the assault on property which might accompany it than from a doubt whether Ireland constituted a nation. Latterly, he sat at Westminster as M.P. for Trinity College, Dublin and had happily collected honorary degrees from Glasgow, Oxford and Cambridge.70

Although the above remarks do not claim to constitute a full evaluation of all the Histories of Ireland that were written from mid-century to the eve of independence and partition, there are sufficient grounds for arguing that no ‘single track’ emerged. The ‘ownership’ of Irish history and the nature of the space that was Ireland remained contested.71‘Home Rule’ of course was on the political agenda in the latter part of this period but it eluded Gladstonian efforts. Whether ‘Home Rule’ then, or in its pre-1914 Asquithian form, would ever have ‘worked’ can only be a matter of speculation. ‘Home Rule’ might have allowed the continuation, indeed the elaboration of an ‘Irish-British’ historiography which did justice both to the particularities of Irish history and its place in pan-insular history. The nineteenth century witnessed the arrival of substantial Irish populations in the urban centres of England, Scotland and Wales. The circumstances of their arrival across the water, particularly after the famine, were such as to make the creation of stereotypes relatively straightforward. The greeting from ‘fellow-Celts’ was no warmer in South Wales and the West of Scotland from what it was in Manchester or London.72 The Great War of 1914–18 (and the suppressed Easter Rising within it), the subsequent armed insurrection (and the methods used to contain it), the creation of the Irish Free State (and the civil war that followed) all combined, in one way or another, to destroy historiographical bridges. A new state would naturally wish to be given an emphatic identity which eliminated complexity and saw the Irish past in simple terms. The history of Ireland, at least in school textbooks, was the story of seven centuries of struggle against English domination and oppression.

The fact of partition, however, and the creation of ‘another Ireland’, in itself rendered impossible the maintenance of a simple story line. Northern Ireland, equipped with an autonomous government in domestic matters in Belfast had a claim to be Irish even if, for the majority of its newly-created population, it did so in a way that was also ‘British’. Northern Ireland is customarily described as a ‘province’ (of Ireland, not of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the latter state is not divided into ‘provinces’). ‘Ulster’ is one of the four provinces (the others being Leinster, Munster and Connacht/Connaught) of the island of Ireland but in fact Northern Ireland consists of six of the nine counties which make up the province of Ulster. Use of the term ‘province’ to refer to Northern Ireland is therefore an ironic comment on its Irishness/Britishness. Further, the most northern tip of the island of Ireland is within the territory of the Republic of Ireland (sometimes referred to generically as ‘the South’). There is arguably an ‘objective’ basis in socio-economic terms for regionalization in the Republic of Ireland but it has been partly the existence of Northern Ireland which has fostered the notion that ‘the South’ is a homogeneous whole.73 It is not surprising, therefore, that the term ‘territories’ is often currently used. It avoids having to make a statement about either nationality or regionality within ‘the Isles’. None of this, of course, can be understood apart from history and historiography since 1800. It was not until the 1930s that Irish history took a regular and formal place in the teaching of the History Department at the province's then only university, the Queen's University of Belfast.74 The ‘Six Counties’ had no antecedent ‘national’ history and the ruling Unionist Party did not aspire to statehood, indeed, ironically, had simply opposed ‘Home Rule’ and not sought status as a statelet. ‘Ulster’ now needed its history and myths were not lacking.75 Ulstermen, locally or London-based, produced serious but justificatory studies.76 A Welsh cultural geographer saw in the distinctiveness he identified in Ulster megaliths a pointer to its twentieth-century separateness. A Dutch cultural geographer argued that the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State did indeed constitute a cultural divide of great antiquity. Structurally and organizationally, however, although they now existed in academic institutions in two different countries, many historians self-consciously sought to promote Irish Historical Studies, to take the name of the journal founded in 1938, in a way that catered for all backgrounds and allegiances. Decades later, a multi-volumed New History of Ireland emerged from this ambience. An associated ‘revisionism’ stood at a distance from the state orthodoxies then prevailing in both parts of the island of Ireland. For some, however, the ‘revisionism’ of this period was itself ossifying into an orthodoxy. It would be unwise to make a direct correlation between such historiography and political change in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the troubled decades since the suspension of the Stormont parliament in 1972. The twists and turns of this troubled period cannot be tackled here but historiography has undoubtedly played its part in an unsteady ‘peace process’ which does depend, for its ultimate success, on an accommodation with ‘Others’.77

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

The interplay of the national, the regional and the local, as expounded in this last section, has led latterly to much reflection on how to attempt an overall characterization of the British Isles insular space. Over recent decades it has seemed appropriate to some historians to write ‘a history of four nations’ (and latterly of two states). Even though he used the term, however, Hugh Kearney argued that these ‘national’ histories could only be properly seen within what he called the ‘Britannic melting pot’.78 In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as earlier, some of the most decisive events in the history of the various ‘nations’ have in fact transcended the national boundaries as these have come to be defined. He suggested that the ‘national’ units, which some historians have so carefully cultivated, dissolved into a number of distinctive cultures. In 1988 he thought that there were at least eight cultures co-existing in the British Isles, though he still did not dare to write ‘a history of eight cultures’.79 More recently, perhaps in reaction against the emphasis that has been placed, in varying degrees, on ‘otherness’ within the British Isles, there has been a stress upon the resilience of ‘Britishness’ and, with it, the capacity of United Kingdom to survive as a state.80

‘Difference’ cannot be objectively defined. Whether any given space coheres into a locality, a region or a nation has been, and continues to be, differently perceived by historians who, after all, have themselves to be located somewhere. Some have been more concerned with the ‘whole’ than particular ‘parts’, others with a ‘part’ to the neglect of the ‘whole’. Whether the individual nations of the territories of the British Isles each has a ‘core’ and a ‘periphery’ or whether there has been and is only one insular ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ may not admit of a single answer.81 The ground which has been fought over, most notably in the period under review between ‘Britain’ and ‘Ireland’, may be ‘narrow’ but ‘small differences’ (as they may be perceived to be by outsiders) may matter most to those involved.82 Likewise when ‘the Isles’ are placed in relation to ‘the Continent’ or ‘the Empire/Commonwealth’– and then in relation to ‘the world’. There is no space which is ‘essentially’ one thing or another. The historiography which has been reviewed here suggests that it is always shifting, contested and enduringly problematic.

Short Biography

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography

Keith Robbins was both an undergraduate and postgraduate at Oxford (1958–63). He was a lecturer at the University of York, and professor, successively, at the University of Wales, Bangor and at the University of Glasgow. He has held visiting posts in Canada and Australia. He has lectured in China, the United States and many European countries. A Winston Churchill Fellowship in 1990 enabled him to study the teaching of history across Europe from the Netherlands to Hungary. He has been editor of the journal History and President of the Historical Association. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, Lampeter (1992–2003) and concurrently Senior Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Wales (1995–2001). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and has been a Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society. He has written widely on modern British/European political, diplomatic and religious history, including the following books: Munich 1938, Sir Edward Grey, Winston Churchill, The Eclipse of a Great Power: Modern Britain 1870–1992, Nineteenth-Century Britain: Integration and Diversity, Great Britain: Identities, Institutions and the Idea of Britishness, History, Religion and Identity in Modern Britain, Politicians, Diplomacy and War in Modern British History, Bibliography of British History 1914–1989, The First World War, The World since 1945, Past and Present: British Images of Germany and Britain and Europe, 1789–2005. His latest book is England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales: The Christian Church 1900–2000 (Oxford University Press, 2008). He edits the following series: Profiles in Power, Turning Points, Inventing the Nation, Religion, Society and Politics in Britain, Britain and Europe, The Wiley/Blackwell History of the Contemporary World for various British publishers. Contributions to the following books British Culture and Economic Decline, History, Nationhood and the Question of Britain, Culture, Place and Identity, Uniting the Kingdom?: The Making of British History, Europaer des 20. Jahrhunderts are particularly pertinent to this survey.

Notes
  • *

    Correspondence address: Rhydyfran, Cribyn, Lampeter, Ceredigion, SA48 7NH, Wales, UK. Email: profkgr@clara.co.uk.

  • 1

    Norman Davies discusses the difficulties of nomenclature in The Isles: A History (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), xxi–xliii.

  • 2

    Keith Robbins, Great Britain: Identities, Institutions and the Idea of Britishness (London: Longman, 1998) looks at many of these issues over a longue durée. Robbins, The Eclipse of a Great Power: Modern Britain, 1870–1992 (London: Longman, 1994) is a general history over a shorter timeframe.

  • 3

    See, for example, contributions to the special issue ‘Viewed from the Locality: The Local, National and Global’ of National Identities, 4/1 (March 2002).

  • 4

    Keith Robbins, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales: The Christian Church 1900–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 5

    Keith Robbins, ‘“Experiencing the Foreign”: British Foreign Policy Makers and the Delights of Travel’, in M. Dockrill and B. McKercher (eds), Diplomacy and World Power: Studies in British Foreign Policy, 1890–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 19–42.

  • 6

    James Bryce, Impressions of South Africa (London: Macmillan, 1897); South America: Observations and Impressions (London: Macmillan, 1912); Memories of Travel (London: Macmillan, 1923) and other accounts.

  • 7

    Philip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis, Rediscovering the British World (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005).

  • 8

    John Mackenzie, ‘Empire and National Identities: The Case of Scotland’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 8 (1998): 215–31.

  • 9

    The new Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) in five volumes, according to its general editor, an American, ‘does not depict the history of the Empire as one of purposeful progress through four hundred years, nor does it concentrate narrowly on metropolitan authority and rule’. Rather, it attempts to explain ‘how varying conditions in Britain interacted with those in many parts of the world to create both a constantly changing territorial Empire and ever-shifting patterns of social and economic relations’. Further, it is not an account which deals simply with ‘the Expansion of England’ but one which assess the significance of the Empire for the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh’. Wm. Roger Louis, ‘Foreword’ to each volume. Such an enterprise therefore seeks to encapsulate some of the relationships which are the concern of this chapter.

  • 10

    George Bennett (ed.), The Concept of Empire: Burke to Attlee 1774–1947 (London: A. & C. Black, 1953), 74–5. Macaulay served in India as Law member of the Governor-General's Council.

  • 11

    A much fuller and general summary of the evolution of British imperial historiography than can be attempted here is Wm. Roger Louis, ‘Introduction’, in Robin W. Winks (ed.), Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. 5, Historiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1–42. Other contributors to this volume examine particular areas or issues.

  • 12

    Judith M. Brown, Winds of Change (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). The substantial presence of populations in Great Britain from Commonwealth Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in the second half of the twentieth century brought an unanticipated prolongation of ‘our island story’ and our ‘empire story’. It was time to look more comprehensively at the two sides of the coin, ‘metropole’ and ‘colony’, in their mutual perceptions over a long period of time. Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830–1867 (Cambridge: Polity, 2002).

  • 13

    J. Eddy and D. Schreuder (eds), The Rise of Colonial Nationalism (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988); C. Doran and E. Babby (eds), Being and Becoming Canadian (London: Sage, 1995); P. Phillips, Britain's Past in Canada: The Teaching and Writing of British History (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1989); J. D. B. Miller (ed.), Australians and British: Social and Political Connections (London: Methuen, 1987); see also the contributions in Deryck M. Schreuder and Stuart Ward (eds), Australia's Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 14

    In compiling his Bibliography of British History 1851–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976) New Zealand-born H. J. Hanham included sections relating to ‘the Indian Empire’ and to ‘the Colonial Empire’ distinct from ‘Foreign Countries’ but even so within the overall category of ‘External Relations’. In compiling the successor volume, Keith Robbins, A Bibliography of British History, 1914–1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), having also wrestled with this problem, necessarily included Empire/Commonwealth material but on a somewhat different principle of selection.

  • 15

    See, for example, C. C. Eldridge (ed.), Kith and Kin: Canada, Britain and the United States from the Revolution to the Cold War (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997); Anne Orde, The Eclipse of Great Britain: United States and British Imperial Decline, 1895–1956 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996); D. Cameron Watt, Succeeding John Bull: America in Britain's Place, 1900–1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

  • 16

    For example, P. Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900–1990 (London: Allen Lane, 1996); A. Marwick, A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914–1999; Circumstances, Events and Outcomes (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). This modesty may be explained by the fact that in the series in which Marwick appears a separate comprehensive volume on The British Empire is planned – but if so this publishing disjuncture is itself indicative of a ‘parting of the ways’. Contrast the tone of a popular school text of 1932, C. Magraw and B. Magraw, The Story of the British Peoples (At Home and Abroad) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932). The linkage in the title is reinforced by the fact that one of the authors (brothers) was Oxford-based and the other had taught at Bishop Cotton School, Simla, India. For a portrait of Simla, which became the official summer capital of the British Raj and a ‘little England’ see Pamela Kanwar, Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

  • 17

    Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • 18

    J. G. A. Pocock, ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject’, New Zealand Journal of History, 8 (1974): 3–21; ‘The New British History in Atlantic Perspective: An Antipodean Commentary’, American Historical Review, 104 (1999): 490–500; ‘Deconstructing Europe’, reprinted in P. Gowan and P. Anderson (eds), The Question of Europe (London: Verso, 1997), 297–317. His The Discovery of Islands (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) is a further collection of essays. See also C. Bridge and K. Fedororovich (eds), The British World: Diaspora, Culture and Identity (London: Cass, 2003).

  • 19

    Ian Buruma, Voltaire's Coconuts or Anglomania in Europe (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999); C. E. McClelland, The German Historians and England: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Views (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 4.

  • 20

    Cited and discussed in Paul Langford, Englishness Identified: Manners and Character, 1650–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 9.

  • 21

    Keith Robbins, ‘Insular Outsider? “British History” and European Integration’ a lecture given in 1990 and reprinted in History, Religion and Identity in Modern British History (London: Hambledon, 1993), 45–58 takes some of these points further. Keith Robbins, Britain and Europe, 1789–2005 (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005) is a comprehensive study which pays particular attention to the views of British historians at specific points. It is the latest in a series of volumes under his editorship which looks at Britain and Europe from the Romans to the Present. R. W. Seton-Watson, Britain in Europe, 1789–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937) largely concerned itself with diplomacy and high politics rather than with whether and in what sense Britain was ‘continental’. That said, Seton-Watson's personal involvement in Central and South-Eastern European affairs gave him an unusual degree of European ‘purchase’. Whether one writes of Britain ‘and’ or ‘in’ Europe comes close to the heart of the matter.

  • 22

    See the discussion in Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1–46. He cites the view of his tutor (and that of this author) A. J. P. Taylor, that ‘European History’ was whatever the historian wanted it to be. It had evidently to be something which took place in or derived from the area called Europe. However, he was not sure what that area was meant to be. His ‘spatial agnosticism’ was not a uniquely personal handicap.

  • 23

    David Ogg, Herbert Fisher, 1865–1940: A Short Biography (London: Edward Arnold, 1947).

  • 24

    Michael Duffy (ed.), The Englishman and the Foreigner (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986), 31–9.

  • 25

    Keith Robbins, ‘Images of the Foreigner in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Britain’ reprinted in History, Religion and Identity, 59–74; Robbins, Present and Past: British Images of Germany in the First Half of the Twentieth Century and their Historical Legacy (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 1999); Stuart Wallace, War and the Image of Germany: British Academics 1914–1918 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1988) – chapter ‘Historians and the War’, 58–73; Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, ‘The Role of British and German Historians in Mobilizing Public Opinion in 1914’, in Benedikt Stuchtey and Peter Wende (eds), British and German Historiography 1750–1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 335–72.

  • 26

    A reading of G. Niedhart (ed.), Das kontinentale Europa und die britischen Inseln (Mannheim: Palatium Verlag, 1993) might, however, not lead to acceptance of the initial premise. Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment: The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of Two World Wars (London: Temple Smith, 1972).

  • 27

    John Belchem (ed.), A New History of the Isle of Man, Vol. 5, The Modern Period, 1830–1999 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000).

  • 28

    This ambivalence, of course, had not suddenly arrived. See, for example, Murray G. H. Pittock, The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present (London: Routledge, 1991) and Inventing and Resisting Britain: Cultural Identities in Britain and Ireland, 1685–1789 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997); Brendan Bradshaw and Peter Roberts (eds), British Consciousness and Identity: The Making of Britain, 1533–1707 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

  • 29

    Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2000); David Feldman and Gareth Stedman Jones (eds), Metropolis London: Histories and Representations since 1800 (London: Routledge, 1989); Francis Sheppard, ‘London and the Nation in the Nineteenth Century’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 35 (1985): 51–74; Jonathan Schneer, London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis (London: Yale University Press, 1999).

  • 30

    The contention of Jean Blondel, Voters, Parties and Leaders: The Social Fabric of British Politics (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), 20.

  • 31

    Cited and discussed in Keith Robbins, Nineteenth-Century Britain: Integration and Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 9–10.

  • 32

    Martyn F. Wakelin, Language and History in Cornwall (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1975).

  • 33

    See M. W. Greenslade, ‘County History’ in C. R. J. Currie and C. P. Lewis (eds), A Guide to English County Histories (Stroud: Sutton, 1994), 9–25. Other contributors to this volume discuss the histories of particular counties.

  • 34

    Two examples of ‘county political history’ are J. M. Lee, Social Leaders and Public Persons: A Study of County Government in Cheshire since 1888 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963) and J. D. Marshall (ed.), The History of Lancashire County Council, 1889 to 1974 (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1977).

  • 35

    M. Daunton (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, Vol. 3, 1840–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); C. H. Lee, ‘Regional Growth and Structural Change in Victorian Britain’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 34 (August 1981): 438–52.

  • 36

    D. Read, The English Provinces, c.1760–1960: A Study in Influence (London: Arnold, 1964).

  • 37

    P. Payton, The Making of Modern Cornwall (Redruth: Truran, 2002) and Payton (ed.), Cornwall since the War (Redruth: Truran, 1993). Payton's A. L. Rowse and Cornwall: A Paradoxical Patriot (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005) notes the role of one of the most well-known mid-twentieth-century historians of Elizabethan England in the projection of his native Cornwall.

  • 38

    As F. M. L. Thompson asserts in his editorial introduction (xiv) to the volume The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750–1950, Vol. 1, Regions and Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); A. R. H. Baker and M. Billinge (eds), Geographies of England: The North-South Divide, Imagined and Material (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); S. Rawnsley, ‘Constructing “The North”: Space and A Sense of Place’, in N. Kirk (ed.), Northern Identities: Historical Interpretations of ‘The North’ and ‘Northernness’ (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), 3–22; D. Russell, Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). G. C. Allen, The Industrial Development of Birmingham and the Black Country (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1929); Pat Hudson (ed.), Regions and Industries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Edward Royle (ed.), Issues of Regional Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Merfyn Jones, ‘Beyond Identity?: The Reconstruction of the Welsh’, Journal of British Studies, 31 (1992), 330–57. The relationship between nation, region and locality is further considered in Christopher G. A. Bryant, The Nations of Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Christopher Harvie makes use of the Atlantic littoral in A Floating Commonwealth: Politics, Culture, and Technology on Britain's Atlantic Coast, 1860–1930 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). For more general reflections on ‘character’ see Peter Mandler, The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 2006) and Kathryn Tidrick, Empire & the English Character (London: I. B. Tauris, 1992).

  • 39

    See Asa Briggs, ‘Local, Regional, National: The Historical Dimensions of Public Authority’ in A. M. Birke and M. Brechtken (eds), Communale Selbstverwaltung/Local Self-Government: Geschichte und Gegenwart im deutsch-britischen Vergleich (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1996), 13–24; Keith Robbins ‘Local Self-Government in Britain since 1945: Inexorable Decline?’, op. cit., 97–104.

  • 40

    See Patricia L. Garside and Michael Hebbert (eds), British Regionalism 1900–2000 (London: Mansell, 1989); John Mawson, ‘The English Regional Debate: Towards Regional Governance or Government’, in Jonathan Bradbury and John Mawson (eds), British Regionalism and Devolution (London: Kingsley, 1997), 180–214.

  • 41

    Christopher Harvie, The Rise of Regional Europe (London: Routledge, 1994) conceded then that regional identity remained ‘politically vague’, 73; Michael Keating, ‘Europeanism and Regionalism’, in Barry Jones and Michael Keating (eds), The European Union and the Regions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 1–22.

  • 42

    Current scholarly journals embrace Northern History, Southern History and Midland History but not ‘western’ or ‘eastern’ England. The most well-known academic location for the study of ‘English Local History’ is situated in the University of Leicester in the Midlands.

  • 43

    Thompson, Regions and Communities, xiv; B. Taylor and K. Thomson (eds), Scotland and Wales: Nations Again? (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999). One solution, used by both the BBC and the Open University, has been to speak, in this context, of ‘national regions’.

  • 44

    W. Ferguson, Scotland's Relations with England: A Survey to 1707 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1977).

  • 45

    Colin Kidd, Subverting Scotland's Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity, 1689–c.1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

  • 46

    Graeme Morton, William Wallace: Man and Myth (Stroud: Sutton, 2001), 114–15.

  • 47

    Graeme Morton, Unionist Nationalism: Governing Urban Scotland, 1830–1860 (East Linton: Tuckwell, 1999), 200.

  • 48

    J. Mackinnon, The Union of England and Scotland: A Study of International History (London: Longmans, Green, 1896).

  • 49

    M. Ash, The Strange Death of Scottish History (Edinburgh: Ramsay Head Press, 1980); I. Donnachie and C. Whatley (eds), The Manufacture of Scottish History (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1992).

  • 50

    M. Lodge, Sir Richard Lodge (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1946), 82

  • 51

    B. P. Lenman, ‘The Teaching of Scottish History and the Scottish Universities’, Scottish Historical Review, 52 (1973): 165–90; Gordon Donaldson, Scottish History and the Scottish Nation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964); R. G. Cant, The Writing of Scottish History in the Time of Andrew Lang (Edinburgh: St John's House, 1978); Keith Robbins, ‘History, The Historical Association and the “National Past”’, reprinted in Robbins, History, Religion and Identity in Modern Britain, 1–14.

  • 52

    R. L. Mackie, revised by Gordon Donaldson, A Short History of Scotland, rev. ed. (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1962 [1930]), 300. The same volume emphasized that Scottish voters preferred to vote for British parties – just at the point when an increasing percentage ceased to do so.

  • 53

    J. G. Kellas, Modern Scotland (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1980), 182. A first edition appeared in 1968.

  • 54

    J. D. Mackie, A History of Scotland (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964). Mackie, of Scottish parentage, but brought up in England and educated at Oxford, was Professor of Scottish History and Literature in Glasgow from 1930 to 1957. He became H.M. Historiographer in Scotland in 1958 (a post which has no equivalent outside Scotland in the U.K.). The revision was by Bruce Lenman and Geoffrey Parker.

  • 55

    T. C. Smout, A History of the Scottish People 1560–1830 (London: Collins, 1969); B. Lenman, An Economic History of Modern Scotland 1660–1976 (London: Batsford, 1977). Smout, an Englishman who has spent his career in Scotland is the current H.M. Historiographer in Scotland. His successor volume A Century of the Scottish People 1830–1950 appeared in 1986. He argued in 1994 that Scottish identity was ‘much more firmly allied to a sense of place than to a sense of tribe’. Smout, ‘Perspectives on the Scottish Identity’, Scottish Affairs, 6 (1994): 107.

  • 56

    Michael Lynch, Scotland: A New History (London: Century, 1991), 449.

  • 57

    T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation 1700–2000 (London: Allen Lane, 1999), 617; Antonia Kearton, ‘Imagining the “Mongrel Nation”: Political Uses of History in the Recent Scottish Nationalist Movement’, National Identities, 7/1 (March 2005): 23–50.

  • 58

    Emrys Jones (ed.), The Welsh in London 1500–2000 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2001).

  • 59

    Geraint H. Jenkins, ‘Historical Writing in the Eighteenth Century’ in Branwen Jarvis (ed.), A Guide to Welsh Literature c.1700–1800 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), 23–44; ‘Clio and Wales: Welsh Remembrancers and Historical Writing 1751–2001’, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion 2001, n.s. 8 (2002): 119–36.

  • 60

    Cited in P. Jenkins, A History of Modern Wales (London: Longman, 1992), 310

  • 61

    Huw Pryce, ‘Modern Nationality and the Medieval Past: The Wales of John Edward Lloyd’, in R. R. Davies and Geraint H. Jenkins (eds), From Medieval to Modern Wales: Historical Essays in Honour of Kenneth O. Morgan and Ralph A. Griffiths (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004), 14–29.

  • 62

    A key figure in the development of Welsh history writing in this period was Sir Glanmor Williams. See Geraint H. Jenkins and Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), Degrees of Influence: A Memorial Volume for Glanmor Williams (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008).

  • 63

    Donal McCartney, ‘The Writing of History in Ireland 1800–1830’, Irish Historical Studies, 10 (1957): 347–62.

  • 64

    Marianne Elliott, Partners in Revolution: the United Irishmen and France (New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 1982), 369.

  • 65

    Angus Macintyre, The Liberator: Daniel O’Connell and the Irish Party 1830–1847 (London, 1965); Donal McCartney, ‘The Changing Image of Daniel O’Connell’, in K. B. Nowlan and Maurice R. O’Connell (eds), Daniel O’Connell: Portrait of a Radical (Belfast, 1984), 19–31.

  • 66

    What a ‘Celtic umbrella’ might be, is the subject of much current controversy. See M. Chapman, The Celts: The Construction of a Myth (London, 1992); P. Sims-Williams, ‘Celtomania and Celtoscepticism’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 36 (1998): 1–36.

  • 67

    John T. Koch, ‘Celts, Britons, and Gaels – Names, Peoples, and Identities’, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion 2002, n.s. 9 (2003): 41.

  • 68

    R. V. Comerford, Inventing the Nation: Ireland (London: Hodder Arnold, 2003), 70–3.

  • 69

    F. X. Martin and F. J. Byrne (eds), The Scholar Revolutionary: Eoin MacNeill, 1867–1945 and the Making of Modern Ireland (Dublin: Irish University Press, 1973).

  • 70

    Donal McCartney, W. E. H. Lecky: Historian and Politician, 1838–1905 (Dublin: Lilliput, 1994); Benedikt Stuchtey, W. E. H. Lecky (1838–1903): Historisches Denken und politisches Urteilen eines anglo-irischen Gelehrten (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997).

  • 71

    R. F. Foster, ‘History and the Irish Question’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 33 (1983): 169–92.

  • 72

    L. P. Curtis, Jr., Anglo-Saxons and Celts: A Study of Anglo-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England (Bridgeport: University Press, 1968); R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History (London: Penguin, 1995); Paul O’Leary, Immigration and Integration: The Irish in Wales, 1798–1922 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002).

  • 73

    Michael Holmes and Nicholas Reese, ‘Regions within a Region: The Paradox of the Republic of Ireland’, in Jones and Keating (eds), European Union and the Regions, 245.

  • 74

    J. C. Beckett, The Study of Irish History (Belfast: Queen's University, 1963).

  • 75

    Alvin Jackson, ‘Unionist Myths, 1912–85’, Past and Present, 136 (August 1992): 164–85; I. McBride, ‘Ulster and the British Problem’, in Richard English and Graham Walker (eds), Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives in Politics and Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), 1–18; James Loughlin, Ulster Unionism and British National Identity since 1885 (London: Pinter, 1995).

  • 76

    D. A. Chart, A History of Northern Ireland (Belfast: Educational Company, 1927); Cyril Falls, The Birth of Ulster (London: Methuen, 1936).

  • 77

    The ‘troubles’ have produced a vast array of writing, some of it explicitly partisan. Quite what constitutes the ‘history of Northern Ireland’ and how such history is also the ‘history of Ireland’ and ‘the history of Scotland and Ireland’ and ‘the history of England and Ireland’ and ‘the history of Britain and Ireland’ remains problematic. Alan O'Day and Neil Fleming (eds), The Palgrave Companion to Northern Irish History (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005) brings together a full compendium of information on an ‘entity’ a century or so after it can be said to have crystallized itself – though always in a contested form. Alan O'Day and George Boyce, The Ulster Crisis 1885–1922 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005).

  • 78

    Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 [1989]). Kearney has returned to this topic in ‘Four Nations History in Perspective’, in Brocklehurst and Phillips (eds), History, Nationhood and the Question of Britain, 10–19.

  • 79

    Keith Robbins (ed.), The British Isles: 1901–1951 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) acknowledges, though does not solve, the difficulties inherent in writing about the space that is ‘The British Isles’. Keith Robbins, ‘Location and Dislocation: Ireland, Scotland and Wales in their Insular Alignment’, in John Morrill (ed.), The Promotion of Knowledge: Lectures to mark the Centenary of the British Academy 1902–2002 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 163–80 and the ensuing discussion by other scholars from Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) was an early, though contentious working out of ‘internal colonialism’. Stephen Howe, ‘Internal Decolonisation? British Politics since Thatcher as Post-colonial Trauma’, Twentieth Century British History, 14/3 (2003): 286–304 considers these issues in the light of ‘devolution’.

  • 80

    Paul Ward, Britishness since 1870 (London: Routledge, 2004); Unionism in the British Isles (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005); Keith Robbins, ‘Britishness: Von nationalen Bewusstein zu nationaler Identität im 19 und 20 Jahrhundert?’, in M. Einfalt, J. Jurt, D. Mollenhauer and E. Pelzer (eds), Konstrukte nationaler Identität: Deutschland, Frankreich und Grossbritannien (19 und 20 Jahrhundert) (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2002), 279–94.

  • 81

    Keith Robbins, ‘Core and Periphery in Modern British History’, British Academy Lecture on History, 1985, reprinted in Robbins, History, Religion and Identity, 239–58; Robbins, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales: The Christian Church 1900–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 82

    A. T. Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground: Aspects of Ulster 1609–1969 (London: Faber, 1977); Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind: A Study of Anglo-Irish Conflict, 1780–1980 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1983); G. J. Ashworth and Brian Graham (eds), Senses of Place: Sense of Time (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).

Bibliography

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Dimensions
  4. World
  5. Empire
  6. Continent
  7. Home Base (England)
  8. Home Base (Scotland)
  9. Home Base (Wales)
  10. Home[?] Base (Ireland)
  11. Conclusion
  12. Short Biography
  13. Bibliography
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