How did metropolitan Britain imagine and justify its ‘second’ empire? Whilst British dominion mushroomed between 1776 and 1832, Britons are often supposed to have avoided racialised nationalism because of their obsession with constitutional politics. My research suggests instead that imperial expansion was central to Britain’s preoccupation with its constitution.
By examining historical writing, periodical and newspaper debates, colonial office records, and early Romantic literature, this project will show how Britain’s constitutional tradition offered a powerful set of tools for articulating difference and belonging in Britain’s new colonies and at ‘home’. The upshot will be a set of new conclusions about how Enlightenment ‘rights’ discourses played out in nineteenth-century British political culture.