(BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 – continued)

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Britain in India, Ideology and Economics to 1900

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling(Wikimedia commons)

By 1858 all but around 40 percent of the territory of what today is Pakistan, India and Bangladesh was under British control, and all but from 20 to 25 percent of the population. Between 1861 and 1891 the British became more enthusiastic about empire, and they annexed an additional 109,000 more square miles of territory. Between 1891 and 1901 they annexed 133,000 more. The rule over this 20 to 25 percent was divided among 562 princes – Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – known to the British for their displays of wealth and paltry interest in social, communications, technological and economic transformations that interested the British. But the British were pulling some Indians together in a new nationalism hostile to British rule, some of them attending universities where they learned liberalism and freedom valued by the English. 

Nevertheless, in 1899, the British poet Rudyard Kipling wrote "Take up the White Man's Burden," which begins:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Britain's Conservative Party had increasingly embraced the ideology of imperialism, as did the Liberals, both satisfied that empire was good for commerce, that empire was producing profits rather than being a burden on the treasury. There was talk about Britain's "share in the partition of the world" and the "future of the race." The belief was widespread among the British that they were a race apart and chosen to distribute a superior civilization to other peoples.

Britain had been the leading liberal power in the world, and it was now relatively conservative concerning domestic politics. Its political leaders were reluctant to do what Bismarck had been doing in Germany: regulate the hours of work, regulate working conditions and offer the social insurance. Woman's suffrage was largely a middle class movement among a minority of intellectual women, and rejected, the patriarchal attitude toward women remaining alive in Britain. Women were not allowed to attend universities – Cambridge in particular. In Britain, social hierarchy was widely accepted across class lines.

Meanwhile, despite all of the attention lavished on Africa, the amount of capital invested there by Britain or other European powers was small. Much of Britain’s investment abroad went instead to Latin America and North America. Manufacturing was declining in Britain relative to Germany and the United States perhaps because British banks were focusing too much on investing abroad.


Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress, by Jan Morris, 2003

Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Part 3), by Lawrence James, 1997

PBS Documentary Series: Queen Victoria's Empire

Modern China, by J A G Roberts, 1998

Empire: The British Experience from 1765 to the Present, by Denis Judd

European imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, by Woodruff D Smith, 1982

A New History of India, Sixth Edition, by Stanley Wolpert, Oxford University Press, 1999

Russia since 1801: The making of a new society, by Edward C Thaden, 1971

The Crimean War, by Andrew D Lambert, 1990

Empire: The British Experience from 1765 to the Present, by Denis Judd, 1998

European imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, by Woodruff D Smith, 1982

Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, by Arthur Herman, 2009

Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes, by Paul Bairoch, University of Chicago Press, 1993

Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Chapter 4, "Industrialization and Shifting Global Balances, 1815-1885," Paul Kennedy, 1987

Additional Reading

Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815–1830, by Paul Johnson ("pop" historian), pp 772-88 on the First Opium War, 1991

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