Eisenberg Family Lecture in Public History 2023: Empire, History and Memory in the UK w/ Philip Murphy

10 Oct 2023 – 17:30 - 19:00 BST
Institute of Historical Research
IHR Wolfson Conference Suite
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

How is Empire integrated into the collective memory of the United Kingdom? What is the relationship between historical scholarship on Empire and its manifestations in popular culture and memorialization?

And to what extent has the Imperial past become the latest front in the ‘Culture Wars’. Three distinguished authors will attempt to throw light on these important questions in a special round table discussion, hosted by Philip Murphy, author of The Empire’s New Clothes.

About the book

Is the Commonwealth little more than a mirage—as lacking in substance as the emperor’s new clothes?

In the wake of Brexit, the Commonwealth has been identified as an important body for future British trade and diplomacy, but few know what it actually does. How is it organised and what has held it together for so long? How important is the monarch’s role as Head of the Commonwealth? Most importantly, why has it had such a troubled recent past, and is it realistic to imagine that its fortunes might be reversed?

In The Empire’s New Clothes, Murphy strips away the gilded self-image of the Commonwealth to reveal an irrelevant institution afflicted by imperial amnesia. He offers a personal perspective on this complex and poorly understood institution, and asks if it can ever escape from the shadow of the British Empire to become an organisation based on shared values, rather than a shared history.

About the speakers

Sathnam Sanghera is an award-winning writer and presenter. His 2021 monograph EmpireLand: How Imperialism has Shaped Modern Britain was named a Book of the Year at the National Books Awards in 2022, and formed the basis the Channel 4 series ‘Empire State of Mind’. His latest book, Stolen History: The Truth About the British Empire and How It Shaped Us, published this year by Penguin is a history of the imperial past for children.

Charlotte Lydia Riley is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southampton and a specialist on the Labour party and postwar imperial policy. She edited the 2021 collection Free Speech Wars: how did we get here and why does it matter? (MUP), which examines the ‘culture wars’ and freedom of expression in Europe and America. Her latest book, Imperial Island: A History of Empire in Modern Britain, published this year by Penguin, explores the Empire ‘at home’ from the Second World War to the present day.

Alan Lester is Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Sussex. His work is closely associated with the emergence of a ‘new Imperial History’. He co-edits the Manchester University Press Studies in Imperialism series. His most recent book, Deny and Disavow: Distancing the Imperial Past in the Culture Wars (2022), employs a mixture of history, memoir and travelogue to explore the myths that have developed around Empire.

Philip Murphy is Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth History at the University of London. He has published extensively on British decolonisation and, recently, on the Commonwealth-wide role of the British monarchy. He is Co-Editor of The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History.

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