That Fabulous British Empire

This week I am completing the short course “Empire: The Controversies of British Imperialism” given through University of Exeter at Future Learn. If you’ve never heard of University of Exeter, it’s where the bestselling author, now multimillionairess, J.K. Rowling earned her diploma. Just so my writing efforts aren’t completely absorbed by the website, I will share my final paper here in this blog:

“So much material has been covered in this short course, and at the same time I’ve been learning a new job, so the educational process has been liberally sprinkled with a manager’s loud voice exclaiming the benefits of solar energy and how to relate this to potential customers.

Hopefully, everything will come together in a cohesive way that makes sense for this University of Exeter (English University) FutureLearn assignment about the legacy of British Empire and Imperialism. Suffice it to say, in the winter, practically everyone worships the sun.

Map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886. Public Domain Image by Walter Crane
Map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886. Public Domain Image by Walter Crane

Clearly, British Empire grew from the influence of the ancient Roman Empire, which was in itself inspired by the conquests of Alexander the Great of Greece; both cultures having Pagan deities linked to the sun. The grand festivals, triumphs and spectacles of Rome, as well as the wonderful legacy of built works such as architecture, preceded British Imperialism. Much of the negativity has been buried.

The presence of Roman Empire in Britain under leaders such as Hadrian, whose name graces a famous wall, clearly put a stamp on the scenery and it’s within the realm of possibility that intermarriage between Romans and Britons was an influence on the desire for adventure, conquest and colonization that later inspired Britons to engage in their own vast Empirical influence.

The romantic tales mentioned in the previous week’s videos, as well as the emphasis on exotic fashion of the “raj”, point to a glamorization of Empire. This glamour is, in my opinion, the most enduring and beloved legacy of the British Empire.

As with the ancient Empires, whose legacy included legal structures, architectural design, medicine and fabulous statues, much of the negativity of British Imperialism has been swept under the rug. The days of slavery are fading into a dim memory; many of USA’s highest paid entertainers are descended from former slaves, perhaps invoking a comparison with Servius Tullius, the Roman king who was a slave.

Today’s world is as fascinated with glam, exotic places and fashions as at any time during the Empire, and international communication is only strengthening this link. Videos, photos, stories about glamorous celebrities and what they wore to such and such event are part of our daily lives. What happened at the forum has been replaced by what’s on YouTube.

Sir Charles Warre Malet, Concluding a Treaty in 1790 in Durbar with the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire, oil on canvas public domain (USA) painting by Thomas Daniell, 1805
oil on canvas public domain (USA) painting by Thomas Daniell, 1805

But what links this fascination with the grand glamour of the very wealthy to most popular influence of British Imperialism?

In the case of much of Hollywood, it is the English language itself which provides the link, as well a country that traversed an enormous continent and grew westward from a British Imperial colony on the east coast to create a grand and United country.

This language and history is what defines contemporary Hollywood glamour as a globally fascinating legacy of the British Empire; a phenomenon which is often equated to wealth and is empowered by the elitism of the small number of individuals in the upper socio-economic levels of the movie industry, along with the pop stars and divas of the United States of America entertainment businesses.

Neptune Resigning to Britannia the Empire of the Sea, public domain painting by William Dyce
public domain painting by William Dyce

So, as I explore the fine art of selling solar energy, the inspiration of the British Empire comes forth; I learn the “lines” of my pitch like an aspiring actor, ready to conquer new marketing territory and bend clients to my will in the hope that I, too, may become empowered with wealth, the ability to purchase glamorous outfits, and attend fabulous events.”