The British Visions Of Empire

1836 Words8 Pages
Until recently, world history has been a history of empires. From the Mongols to the Ottomans, empires have always sought to push their physical boundaries, yet none have achieved the success of the British. With colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Australia, 19th century Britons were able to claim that the sun never set on their empire. This far-reaching and wide-encompassing empire allowed the British to establish a global movement of people, goods, ideas, and capital. This global movement not only asserted Britain’s financial dominance, but it also enabled the British to project their western ideology on to the rest of the world. However, the British visions of empire did not always match up with reality. Although there was a British presence across a large part of the globe, the diversity of people and their treatment created sharp distinctions among the empire. Yet, the commercial practices of informal empire, technological advances, and the security provided by Britain’s military unified the British world and allowed Britons at home to view the global empire as an extension of Britain itself. In Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, the main character Phileas Fogg passes through many parts of the British Empire, including the city of Hong Kong. Upon his arrival there, he observes that Hong Kong is designed like an English market town, even proclaiming that he felt as if he had “passed through a terrestrial sphere and popped out at this point in China.” Not only does Hong Kong exemplify the British concept of informal empire, but the experience of Fogg and his servant Passepartout showcases Britain’s imperial efforts in China. For instance, Passepartout succumbs to the narcotic effects of opium, the drug that ga... ... middle of paper ... ...litical divisions that were imposed by Western powers, and the fact that they do not leave when British rule ends. The British Empire in the 19th century can be categorized as an empire of movement. The British were able to use empire to move goods, people, and information around the globe. Britain’s imperial strength influenced many groups and varied from place to place. Whether it was the military backing of the invisible empire in China, or the direct unification through the building of railway networks in India, Britain was able to find a way make global connections. However, this need to connect, and to push the boundaries of empire caused the British to displace many African kingdoms. Although the exploits of Africa tarnish the legacy of the British Empire, it is nonetheless impressive that a tiny island in the Atlantic was able to unify so much of the globe.
Open Document