England, Britain and the British World

By Don MacRaild and Tanja Bueltmann

One of the most fascinating questions in the study of Englishness is: to what extent was Britishness simply an enlargement of Englishness? Clearly, Scots, Welsh and Irish people could and did claim to be British, they would not normally consider themselves to be English, and rarely said that they were. In our research, we find the language used by English people abroad in their St George’s societies and the like, regularly drifted from English to British and back again, as though the two were interchangeable. But whereas Britishness was an inclusive identity which was meant to incorporate as many citizens of Empire as possible, Englishness was more problematic. Perhaps the real utility of Englishness is in the core identifications which English people around the world associated with it: namely, fair play, parliamentary democracy, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, freedom and liberty. Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and the Glorious Revolution were all key moments which English people upheld as capturing virtues in their identity, and these were the folded into ideas of Britishness.

New York Times, 16 June 1921

Interest in the British World has grown considerably in recent times. Encompassing a cultural zone, an Anglosphere, a global shared identity beyond simply the notion of an empire, the British World engages with the cultures and identity in a broad-based way. As well as conferences, books and articles, there is also a new journal dedicated to the study of this cultural zone. Now in its fourth year, Britain and the World, published by Edinburgh University Press, will be of interest to some browsers or members of this site. Individual subscriptions are very reasonable by the standards of academic journals. Please visit the journal’s website for more details.

The British Scholar Society, which sponsors the journal, holds an annual conference. The next conference, in June 2012, will take place in Edinburgh. We hope to see some of your there. For details on the conference focus, please have a look at the Call for Papers (.pdf), or visit the Society’s website.

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