The Truth About Empire
Real Histories of British Colonialism
Foreword by Sathnam Sanghera
Sharp, authoritative essays on the dark realities of Empire and the true historian’s importance for democracy, amid history’s appropriation by apologists, racists and culture warriors.
The Truth About Empire comes from expert historians who believe that the truth, as far as we can ascertain 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.
Colonial history is now a battlefield in the culture war. The public’s understanding of past events is continually distorted by wilful caricatures. Communities that long struggled to get their voices heard have, in their fight to highlight the hidden horrors of colonialism, alienated many who prefer a celebratory national history. The backlash, orchestrated by elements of the media, has generated a new, concerted denial of imperial racism and violence in Britain’s past—a disinformation campaign sharing both tactics and motivations with those around Covid, Brexit and climate change.
From Australia and China to South Africa and Egypt, this essay collection is an accessible guide to the British Empire, and a weapon of defence 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 history.
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).