In watching our recent troubles, both economically and on the world stage, I was reminded of another great power that often had to come to grips with its legacy.
I found this incredible documentary, The British Empire in Colour, which gives a sweeping account of the climax, then slow decline, of one of the most influential colonial empires on Earth. Most importantly, it explores the legacy, both glorious and tragic, of the British colonial experience as it stands in former dominions such as Canada, Australia, former Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Jamaica.
Starting with the Roanoke and Jamestown experiments in North America in the late 16th-early 17th century, Great Britain amassed an empire over the course of two centuries that spread over three-fourths of the globe. The empire was solidified on the unshakeable belief that the British nation–the white European British nation–had a divine destiny in spreading its culture, its language, its institutions to a world “mired in darkness”, to use a phrase of the time.
Yet even though many of these colonial possessions–Canada, Australia, India–are enjoying success as independent nations, the negative aspects of colonialism have left their deepest and most cruel mark on these former colonies.
Starting with the “dominions of settlement,” the settler colonies such as Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Rhodesia, a systematic marginalization and destruction of native populations has wreaked havoc on once-proud local cultures. The carving of African colonies in the 1880s and 1890s has exacerbated religious, ethnic and tribal tensions still to be resolved today. Furthermore, these same colonial subjects, especially from India and Jamaica, had found that the reality of living in the British homeland–a reality rife with racism and economic turmoil–was a far cry from the idyllic descriptions in their imperial educations.
Share this video with your students, especially those studying Global Studies for their Regents exams. It will give you an excellent glimpse at the twilight of a great power–and the consequences of those left behind.