The British empire was dismantled after the end of the Second World War

I was in elementary school in Montreal in 1955 when the ‘Richard Riot’ occurred in that city.

The event, on March 17, 1955, was named after Maurice Richard, the star player for the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. In later years it was described as a key factor in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. The year 1955 was also the year in which Colonel Samuel Smith’s house, dating from 1797, was demolished.

In schools run by the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal in those years, English writers such as Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad were presented as exemplars of the world’s best literature.

In Culture and imperialism, Edward W. Said remarks that the physical extent of the British Empire, before it disappeared, was remarkable for its vastness. He also notes (p. 132) that Kipling and Conrad can each be considered “to have rendered the experience of empire as the main subject of his work” with characteristic force, bringing “to a basically insular and provincial British audience the color, glamor, and romance of the British overseas enterprise, which was well-known to specialized sectors of the home society.”

In the book’s concluding paragraph, the author remarks that no one today is purely one thing. Edward Said opposes the practice of insisting on separation and distinctiveness based on “the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies.”

In his view, survival is about the connections between things. It is more rewarding, albeit more difficult, he believes, “to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about ‘us.’ But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how ‘our’ culture is number one (or not number one, for that matter).”

Updates

A Nov. 29, 2013 Independent article is entitled: “Revealed: How British Empire’s dirty secrets went up in smoke in the colonies: Thousands of confidential papers were destroyed as British rule neared its end in many colonies.”

An Oct. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Britain’s view of its history ‘dangerous’, says former museum director: Neil MacGregor, once of British Museum, says Britain has focus on ‘sunny side’ rather than German-like appraisal of past.”

 

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