Narratives of nationalism: being 'British'

Spring 1989

Chambers considers the relationship between Britishness, history and cultural conservatism, with particular reference to Margaret Thatcher’s vision of the contemporary world, as seen through a backward-looking lens of Victoriana. He traces this back to the seventeenth-century triumph of science and empiricism, considering arguments between Hume and Kant, and the sense of moral high ground which was closely tied into imperialist attitudes. Chambers argues that we must dilute, if not eradicate, the tendency towards empiricism in our histories, because this is inherently conservative since it focuses only on local facts, not broader structures. He notes that even radical histories are often founded on traditional, national assumptions which are also inherently conservative. Considering British views of India in Victorian times and the critical works of Homi Bhaba and Paul Gilroy, Chambers concludes that only by changing the historical prism through which we understand the present can we make progressive changes for the future.

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