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Professor Wm. Roger Louis publishes book on British Imperialism

Posted: October 2, 2006

This collection of essays contains a number of interrelated themes on the downfall of the British Empire beginning with the Scramble for African colonies in 1882 and concluding with the withdrawal of British troops east of the Suez Canal in 1971.

Louis states that the formal British Empire began to rapidly unravel after the Suez debacle in 1956. However, this did not signal an end to British informal influence in the region. In the Cold War era, the British played the crucial role of negotiating informal ties with many of their formal colonies in Africa and the Middle East for strategic purposes. Thus, strategy held a prominent place in the formal annexation of territory at the end of the nineteenth century and the ensuing switch to informal empire in the 1950s and 1960s. Accordingly, the move to informal empire in the 1950s and 1960s, with the support of the United States, mirrored the formal Scramble for African colonies at the end of the nineteenth century.

Of the essays on the Scramble for Africa, the biographical selection on Sir Percy Anderson, the Foreign Office official who shaped the outcome of the European conquest of the African continent, exemplifies the strategic concerns of the British to maintain control of the Suez Canal, Egypt, and the Nile. The obsession of Anderson to control eastern Africa points to the value of the route to India, “the Jewel in the Crown.” Anderson's actions illustrate that Africa’s main attraction to the British Empire revolved around its importance as a gate to the East. Once India became independent in 1947, the ensuing focus on consolidating control in northeast Africa and the Middle East underscored, in addition to the region’s strategic importance, the British need to maintain the prestige of its Empire. This need would lead them to humiliation at Suez. However, the strategic importance of the Empire would not dissipate in the midst of the Cold War. Instead, the United States’ aversion towards colonialism, as focused on in numerous essays throughout the book, forced the Empire to transform into one of informal influence.

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Prof. Wm. Roger Louis

Photo by: Bryan S. Glass

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