"The Imperial History Wars."

Journal of British Studies
January 01, 2015

Dane Kennedy, “The Imperial History Wars,” Journal of British Studies 54, no. 1 (January 2015): 5-22.

The key question posed by this essay is why historians' interest in Britain's imperial past has increased rather than diminished in recent decades. It argues that this interest has been sustained in part by a preoccupation with certain contemporary social and political issues, and differences of opinion about these issues have helped fuel the “imperial history wars.” The nature of the debate has differed for American- and British-based historians. For the former, British imperial history has served as an analogy for thinking about America's racial politics and its role as a global power. For the latter, it has served as a focal point for contending claims about Britain's past and deepening anxieties about its future. The essay concludes by urging historians to be more self-reflexive about their own practices and more rigorous in exposing presentist claims about the past.