“HANDS ACROSS THE SEA”: THE MASONIC NETWORK, BRITISH IMPERIALISM, AND THE NORTH ATLANTIC WORLD

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Abstract

ABSTRACT. From Montreal to Madras, from Barbados to Burma, the lodges of Freemasons dotted the landscape of the British Empire from the eighteenth century to the twentieth. Together with the British grand lodges under whose authority they met, these lodges constituted a vast network that extended across the oceans and linked Freemasons in Britain's colonies to the metropole and to each other. In this article I use the fraternity to demonstrate how the age of empire can serve as a laboratory for studying transoceanic networks, institutions, and identities. Looking first at the broad imperial context, I demonstrate how the global Masonic network developed and describe its functions during the long nineteenth century. I then focus on the British North Atlantic as a case study of the brotherhood's role in connecting people on various sides of a particular ocean basin by offering practical services and encouraging an “imperialist” identity that helped consolidate the British Empire.

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