Why does Britain — an island, an empire, a multinational state, and a laboratory of modern life — loom so large in world history? This course explores the astonishing transformations of British society since 1688: from the state-building and overseas expansion of the Georgian years; through the urbanization, inequality, and increasingly assertive imperialism of the Victorian era; and finally to the ruptures of two world wars, the end of empire, and the decline of industry in the twentieth century. Themes include the evolving meanings of “Britishness,” the ambiguities of liberalism, the complexities of class, and the impact of imperial rule at home. We consider the lives of ordinary servants, soldiers, and workers alongside iconic figures like Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, and Winston Churchill; we also draw on a wide range of primary sources, from diaries, paintings, and films to classic texts by Edmund Burke, Vera Brittain, and George Orwell.
Weekly reading load varies around an average of 150 pages. Other requirements include an in-class midterm exam; two papers which involve the “close reading” of a primary source; and an in-class final exam.