- Format: eBook
- ISBN: 978-1-5261-4619-9
- Published Date: July 2021
A strong emotional attachment to the memory of empire runs deep in British culture. In recent years, that memory has become a battleground in a long-drawn ideological war, inflecting debates on race, class, gender, culture, the UK's future and its place in the world. This provocative and passionate book surveys the scene of the imperial memory wars in contemporary Britain, exploring how the myths that structure our views of empire came to be, and how they inform the present. Taking in such diverse subjects as Rory Stewart and inter-war adventure fiction, man's facial hair and Kipling, the Alt-right and the Red Wall, Imperial Nostalgia asks how our relationship with our national past has gone wrong, and how it might be improved.
One of The Guardian's best books of 2021.
'It can feel, at times, that the culture wars aimed at sowing division in Britain are going to tear us apart. Peter Mitchell's fantastic new book, however, provides grounds for optimism and teaches us that the answer is to be informed. And there is no better, no more elegant, and no more erudite guide than Mitchell. An essential book for these disconcerting times.'
Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain
'There are very few writers I can think of who combine Peter Mitchell's intelligence, moral clarity, and elegant prose. Every line in this book is rousing. You will not only learn something about our warped understanding of our past. You will also want to do something about it. '
Nesrine Malik, Guardian columnist and author of We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent
'This is a brilliant account of Britain's ideological present where the national past is mythologized into simplistic fables that benefit retrograde political forces. With forensic insight and in lively prose, Mitchell shows us how nostalgic fantasies of imperial rightness and whiteness are at the heart of a multitude of concocted cultural battles that seek to prevent a necessarily difficult reckoning with real history.'
Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent
'Mitchell writes with eloquence, unsparing contempt for reactionary charlatanism, and a commitment to historical rigor that the objects of his most incisive criticism could learn from (but won't). All of which make this book one of the more perceptive and vital interventions that have emerged from an otherwise reductive and inadequate discourse surrounding Britain's imperial past.'
'Peter Mitchell takes this national fixation with an imagined past as a lens through which to understand some current political battles.'
Gargi Bhattacharyya, Red Pepper
'Mitchell's account of imperial nostalgia is deeply transnational. This is an important point, and it is not to be taken for granted: frequently, leftist critics of imperial nostalgia resort to a national exceptionalism of their own, lamenting the state of "normal island" and comparing it unfavourably to its European neighbours.'
Meghan Tinsley, Ethnic and Racial Studies
1 Associative magic: nostalgic time and the revolt against mourning
2 Inventing the tradition: how nostalgia made an empire
3 Sovereign bodies: Britain's imperial present
4 'The best and most perfect virtue': empire, race and free speech in the battle for the university
5 The adventures of the Imperial Wonder Boy: Rory Stewart and the fantasy of innocence
6 'Degraded underfoot perverse creatures': empire and the languages of class
Conclusion: escaping the empire
Peter Mitchell is a writer and historian