Remapping the Geography of Empire: Academic Networks in the British World, 1890–1940

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 3:30 PM
Marina Ballroom Salon F (Marriott)
Tamson Pietsch , University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
In July 1912, delegates from all of the degree-granting universities of the British Empire gathered in London and asserted the existence of an academic community defined by shared culture and shared interest.  This paper examines the networks that linked academics working in universities across the British world.  It finds that these geographically dispersed scholars often possessed extensive personal connections that straddled the distances of empire.  Such ties enhanced access to resources, publication and institutions and functioned as sites for the production of ideas, lives and identities.  For these academics social connection was often more important that geographic location.  Indeed, for them, ‘British world’ academic links were often more important than proto-national ones.  This paper suggests the experiences of these academics point to what might be called a social geography of empire.  This empire had boundaries that were indeterminate.  They not only varied over time but also shifted with individuals when they moved.  This empire had an uneven topography: social relationships constituted an uneven terrain in which material and institutional, political and commercial, racial and religious factors created shifting centres and peripheries that, though affected by them, did not simply equate with spatial concepts of ‘metropole’ and ‘colony’.  Moreover, a social perspective suggests that there were many (informational, commercial, cultural, religious, racial and social) British worlds.  Though overlapping, these systems were not entirely synonymous: their various tentacles trailed off to be integrated into other networks or to consolidate their own centres.  Mapping this social geography reveals a very different sort of empire, and a different sort of Britain, than that familiar to many scholars.
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