What has the British Empire Ever Done for Us?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

This year is the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University. One college, Emmanuel, is 525 years old this year. Founded in 1584 in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare and with a history longer than some countries, it has seen the Spanish Armada, the Civil War, the union with Scotland, the invitation to the Hanovarians to become monarchs and the Victorian era. It has nurtured the founder of Harvard University in the USA, Thomas King who developed the wave theory of light and who deciphered hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone and the man who discovered vitamins, F.G. Hopkins. Amongst many, many more.
The students of Emmanuel decided that the theme of the May Ball this year would be the British Empire, the empire of the nineteenth century. Now it may not be.
Why?
Because some people objected saying that the British Empire was linked with colonialism, repression and racism. The students capitulated saying they did not wish to offend. (Isn’t that what students are supposed to do?).
Why should they?
The British Empire brought good things as well as bad and the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol easily gives a truer picture of the empire than those ill- informed objectors seem to appreciate. The museum doesn’t glory in the empire but portrays it warts and all. Their slavery exhibition last year was a fine example of showing how appalling it was but how Britons like Wilberforce fought to have it banned long before many countries considered that.
The Empire brought the expansion of trade, the development of transport such as railways, the growth of industry which slowly removed people from the poverty of the agricultural age and the spread of representative government to many parts of the world administered by those colonials. That alone, is worthy of celebration.
In just 3 days the students, who had been up-front about the good and the bad of empire, altered their tune and the May Ball will now be a celebration of things late-Victorian.
Surprising how omitting a few words can quieten the ill-informed.

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