The Truth About Empire

Real Histories of British Colonialism

Edited by
June 2024 9781911723097 400pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


The Truth About Empire comes from expert historians who believe that the truth, as far as we can pinpoint it, matters; that our decades of painstaking research make us worth listening to; and that our authority as leading professionals should count for something in today’s polarised debates over Britain’s imperial past.

In the culture wars, the public’s understanding of colonial history is continually distorted by wilful caricatures. With their fight to highlight Empire’s horrors, communities whose voices once went unheard have alienated many who would prefer a celebratory national history. The backlash, orchestrated by elements of the media, has produced a concerted denial of British imperial racism and violence—a disinformation campaign sharing both tactics and motivations with those around Covid, Brexit and climate change.

From Australia and China to India and South Africa, this essay collection is an accessible guide to the British Empire, and a shield against the assault on historical truth. The disturbing stories told in these pages, of Empire’s culture, politics and economics, show why professional research matters, when deciding what can and cannot be known about Britain’s colonial past.

Table of contents

Foreword — Sathnam Sanghera
Introduction: The Truth About Colonial History — Alan Lester

1. What About Slavery? — Bronwen Everill
2. Tasmania and the Question of Genocide in the Black War, the History Wars and the Culture War — Lyndall Ryan
3. The Misuse of Indigenous and Canadian History in Colonialism — Adele Perry, Sean Carleton, and Omeasoo Wahpasiw
4. ‘When Men Burn Women Alive, We Hang Them’: Sati and ‘Civilising Mission’ in Colonial India — Andrea Major
5. ‘Unencumbered by the Scruples of Justice and Good Faith’: The Colonial Achievements of Raffles in Southeast Asia — Gareth Knapman
6. My Empire, Right or Wrong: Rhodes, Milner and the South African War — Saul Dubow
7. Written on the City: Imperial Britain and China — Robert Bickers

8. Morality and the History of Abolition and Empire — Richard Huzzey
9. A Short History of a Controversial Comparison: Empire and Fascism in Black Political Thought During the 1930s — Liam Liburd
10. Escape from Empire: Decolonisation as Disentanglement, Erasure, and Evasion — Erik Linstrum
11. No End of a Reckoning — Stuart Ward
12. Colonialism: A Methodological Reckoning — Margot Finn


‘An essential contribution to scholarship on the British Empire. This is an important book for our times.’ — Kavita Puri, author of Partition Voices: Untold British Stories

‘In a time of harmful, government-backed myth-making about the past, The Truth About Empire offers important assurance of the value of and need for scholarly expertise and dialogue. Expert historians patiently, and devastatingly, prove the scholarly malpractice behind recent ideologically motivated attempts to whitewash the past. A lesson in the follies of peddling and trusting bogus history.’ — Priya Satia, author of Time’s Monster: How History Makes History

‘A fine collection of detailed and remarkably restrained assessments of the troubling and dubious manner in which the right-wing polemicists of the culture wars have distorted the historical record in service of the political rehabilitation of colonialism.’ — Michael Taylor, author of The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery

‘Lester has assembled an A Team of–can we say this now?–experts. The result is an incredibly readable collection that is nuanced, complex, calm and seriously informed–just what we need now on this vital and important subject.’ — Matthew Parker, author of One Fine Day: Britain’s Empire on the Brink


Alan Lester is Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Sussex and Adjunct Professor of History at La Trobe University. He has written eleven books on British colonialism, most recently Ruling the World: Freedom, Civilisation and Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century British Empire; and Deny and Disavow: The British Empire in the Culture War (co-authored; 2nd edition).

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