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An original history of the most enduring colonial creation the city explored through ten portraits of powerful urban centers the British Empire left in its wakeAt its peak the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions leaving behind a network of cities which now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty first century In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin Hong Kong New Delhi Liverpool and beyond acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain's imperial legaciesCombining historical scholarship cultural criticism and personal reportage Hunt offers a new history of empire excavated from architecture and infrastructure from housing and hospitals sewers and statues prisons and palaces Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as good or bad he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers the work of an army of administrators officers entrepreneurs slaves and renegades In these ten cities Hunt shows we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement a haven for religious dissenters a lucrative slave trading post a center of global hegemonyLively authoritative and eye opening Cities of Empire makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism

10 thoughts on “Cities of Empire The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

  1. says:

    It appears that this book has taken me exactly five months to read Not because it's difficult or complex or dull but I just have trouble with non fic especially history I tend to read a chunk put it down meaning to pick it up again the next day and get distracted by a graphic novel or space opera Still I'm very glad that I did eventually get through this book which uses ten cities to provide a breakneck tour of the history of the British Empire from its first phase in the Americas through its turn towards the east and right down to its end and the impact on Britain itselfIt's an odd mix but the architecture of the cities is only ever there in the background and never as important as you think it's going to be but still weaving together the history of the cities with the wider context of Empire is fascinating I wasn't sure what to expect from Hunt as he seems to be on the right wing of the Labour Party but his history seems balanced He talks about how the British Empire alternated between waves of free trade imperialism and traditional conuering imperialism but is never flag waving He never shies away from the dark underbelly of the Empire particularly the slavery that formed the basis of the West Indies economy for so long and the racism that was evident in India and elsewhere compared with the 'white colonies'My knowledge of the Empire has always been patchy and this book has helped fill in some of those gaps particularly the broad brush of its rise and fall across a few hundred years and its actions and behaviour in India Indeed the Indian chapters were amongst the most interesting for me especially the comparison between Calcutta and Bombay as they were then with New Delhi being the Empire's last hurrah despite the triumphalism that went into its building and its architecture

  2. says:

    The sun never sets After sporting pastimes and the English language to which might be added Anglicism the parliamentary system and Common Law Jan Morris has described urbanism as ‘the most lasting of the British imperial legacies’ Tristram Hunt historian and Member of the British Parliament has chosen an innovative way to look at the history and legacy of the British Empire by considering ten of the cities that played important roles in the two centuries when the Empire was at its height There can be a tendency to think that the Empire came into being at some defined point existed for a while and then ceased Hunt’s city tour gives a much clearer picture of how the Empire was always evolving always changing as global events raised and lowered the importance of products and markets – and he makes it very clear that the Empire’s primary purpose was indeed economic rather than political at least initially Hunt admits that there were many other cities with as good a claim to be included as the ones he chose but his purpose is to show how the Empire shifted geographically and politically over time and his choices work well for this purposeStarting with Boston Hunt sets the pattern he subseuently follows with each city He gives the reasons for the city’s founding or colonisation if it already existed explains its importance to the development of the Empire describes the culture of the society and discusses how the city developed physically in terms of its architecture and industrial or trading infrastructure The book is not immensely long so each city only gets around forty pages This is long enough to give a reasonable overview of the city’s place within the Empire but clearly Hunt has had to set himself some limitations to keep the length down The major limitation for me was that he only told us about each city at the point that it was at its height in terms of Empire As the Empire rolled on and away we aren’t given much feel for what happened to the cities afterwards This is truer of the early cities than the late ones – Boston is or less dropped at the point of Independence while the current political situation of Hong Kong is briefly discussed At first I found this abrupt departure from each city very disconcerting but as the book went on it became clear that Hunt was portraying the Empire like a wave or perhaps a bandwagon that rolled into town changed everything and then rolled on I found that in the end it did give me a much clearer picture of how all the various geographic bits fitted in at different points in historySo from America Hunt takes us to the West Indies stops off in Dublin and then heads east – to Africa China and of course India India’s importance to the Empire is indicated by the fact that three of its cities are covered – Calcutta Bombay and New Delhi showing how the Empire in India developed from an initial trading zone to the full scale colonial undertaking it eventually became before gaining independence Hunt balances the book well between the colonies and the Dominions showing how the Dominions were seen as a means of disseminating British values and of building an interconnected anglicised world that would come to the support of the mother country in times of need as indeed they did in both WW1 and WW2 He finishes off with a look at Liverpool the only British city to merit a chapter showing its importance as a trading hub under the Empire and discussing the economically devastating effects still being dealt with today of the end of EmpireWhile I was glad that the book was kept down to a reasonable length I’d have liked to learn about what happened to the cities post Empire and I’d have been happy to sacrifice some of the architectural detail to make way for that However I think that’s probably a matter of personal preference than a criticism All in all I found this an interesting and well written read that took an innovative approach to telling the much told story of the Empire and recommend it to anyone interested in knowing about how the Empire worked I read an advance copy of the book so can’t comment on the illustrations but I believe there are over forty colour plates plus maps in the final copy which I imagine would greatly enhance the enjoyment of the bookThe Ten Cities are Boston Bridgetown Dublin Cape Town Calcutta Hong Kong Bombay Melbourne New Delhi LiverpoolNB This book was provided for review by the publisher Penguin Books UKwwwfictionfanblogwordpresscom

  3. says:

    Informative about some of the ten featured cities but diffuse and nearly formless when speaking about others it feels as if some of the chosen were put there just to round out the total The book's a bit obsessed with architectural details which I understand because it's an import aspect of Imperialist policy but which I find frankly boring

  4. says:

    I came across this wonderful volume which had accidentally misplaced among the New Releases Fiction rack at the library Snatching it up I was immediately intrigued Ten cities of the British Empire are examined as to their individual history purposes and evolution The flow of commercial as well as political interests influences of native populations and politics and the individual personalities who left their imprint on these major urban centers spread across every continent except South America and Antarctica There are ample excerpts from historical sources to give a sense of the complexity of opinion concerning these centers of British Imperial influence and how they have shaped the modern world as well as Britain itself I did learn uite a bit from this book and had to go running to look up uite a few side paths that sparked my interest For instance the fact that Cornwallis went on after his defeat at Yorktown to become Governor General of the East India Company's interests in India succeeding another famous military man Arthur Wellseley Duke of Wellington the same who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and was recalled as Governor General If that had not been enough I was surprised to learn that the son of Edward Bulwer Lytton author of such famous works as Paul Cifford and those opening words It was a dark and stormy night became Viceroy of India notice how the name of the position had changed I thoroughly enjoyed this read especially when he concluded with a wonderful uote from one of my favorite authors Joseph Conrad Empire 'is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much' Perhaps there will one day be such a focused examination of American Imperialism but alas ours will not have cities to mark its passing

  5. says:

    Hunt excels at getting past the usual tropes from the right or the left of the political spectrum that surround the British Empire and its key cities by expertly conveying subtleties and complexities that are often ignored or go unacknowledged in standard accounts As someone on the left this was an excellent read that challenged some of my assumptions and beliefs about the British Empire while at the same time bringing a degree of realistic detail not always found in historical texts that allows the reader to fully grasp the atmosphere of the times and places Hunt discusses At times Hunt's writing flows so well you forget this is non fiction such is the way he tells the story of the British Empire the impact of these ten cities and their people on that empire and vice versa An absolute must read for anyone interested in British history or the wider history of the world during that period

  6. says:

    Great informative entertaining read and I stress entertaining as in he doesn't delve too deeply into each city rather presents a travelogue as such through the prism of the British Empire and how it impacted on the subject matter I kept thinking as I was reading it that it would make a good BBC Documentary in the vein of Simon Schama Lucy Worsley as Hunt's style very much suits an informal audience but I must say being familiar with uite a few of the cities I thought he did them justice in terms of a good polaroid My only criticism as such is he covered three cities in India when two I think would have sufficed at the expense of maybe two prime candidates to segue from Hong Kong sic her fussier sister Singapore or perhaps Vancouver that said there's no reason for Mr Hunt not to write Ten More Cities That Made an Empire and I'd buy that too

  7. says:

    I found this very enlightening and a fascinating snapshot of the cities during Britains Empire buildingI found Dublin Liverpool and Bombay the best and the coverage of each city is variable I suppose depending on their situation and importanceBeing a middle of the road labour MP Tristram Hunt leans a bit towards anti colonialism but steers an even handed path through a difficult subject There are nice maps and photos old and new It is easy to read and would make a good TV series as long as it isn't presented by Billy Connolly or Stephen Fry

  8. says:

    Well written and researched overview of ten cities of the British empireI was born in and have spent most of my life in one of these cities and I have spent time in six of the others so it was fascinating to get an insight into how Great Britain expanded its empire into those cities Although for me probably the most interesting chapters were the ones about Cape Town and Bridgetown as I previously knew nothing about those two cities

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  10. says:

    An enjoyable but IMO flawed treatment of British Imperial history through the lens of urban development While I enjoyed what the author DID discuss the author often tip toed up to the point where he could engage in a critical discussion of how place was used to construct a psychology of empireand then diverted into admittedly uite entertaining discussions of architecture It’s also distinctly focused on the Britishwhite ethnic communities and their experiences of place even when talking about the spacesarchitecture of native populations I kept waiting for a critical discussion that just never happened If nothing else it’s an interesting way to learn a bit of urban colonial history albeit a view of history that is particularly concerned with the colonizErs rather than the lives and spaces of the colonized