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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

The Victorian Age: Imperial Glory or Imperial Shame?

No single word, save perhaps for 'Slavery', creates such a storm in British historical circles, and across the wider community, than the word 'Empire'.

In looking at the Victorian British Empire, it is important to look at it in the wider context of European Empires as a whole. It is equally important to consider how Britain itself benefited. Yet, it is equally important to look at how Britain acted in its overseas possessions - this is certainly not the history taught to me and others in British Schools up to the 1960s, where the concept of the Victorian hero was very much alive and taught in a context of racial superiority and British exceptionalism.

Secondly in today's multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Britain it is important to look at how it is viewed in retrospect by those Britons who emigrated here from former imperial territories, and how that has forced all Britons to re-assess the imperial legacy bequeathed to all of us by the Victorians.

Objectivity is always a holy grail for historians, and like the holy grail unlikely to be found. Yet that does not mean we shouldn't make the attempt and if by looking at the facts of Empire anew we can gain a greater understanding of both Victorian Society and our own Society then the task is well worth the effort.

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