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Mike Pilkington

The British Empire in the Popular Imagination: Texts and imperialism, 1918 – 1939

Research Centre
Humanities Research Centre

Discipline/professional area


Outline of research project

Post-colonialism has in recent decades contended that Western literary output is integral to the historical process of asserting hegemony over the colonised. In British imperial history, can this critique be justified by popular texts?

My research seeks to answer this question by examining the imperial context of the creation, content, and consumption of works by British writers such as Edgar Wallace, Sax Rohmer and Agatha Christie. This study is confined to the 1920’s  and 1930’s, a period in which remains under-examined in the historiography of the British Empire.

To date my findings suggest that the popular perception of Empire evident in these texts is inadequately explained by post-colonialist theory alone. The historical value of these texts is more fully realised through an integration of approaches, from a consideration of the domestic bearing of Empire on gender and class identities to that of the challenge forced on Britain and her Empire by a rapidly changing world.

Key References

CANNADINE, David, Ornalmentalism: How the British saw their Empire (London: Penguin, 2001)

DIXON, Wheeler Winston, ‘The Colonial Vision of Edgar Wallace’, Journal of Popular Culture, 32,1 (Summer 1998)

FRAYLING, Christopher, Dr. Fu Manchu and The Rise of Chinaphobia (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2014)     

MACKENZIE, John M., ‘Comfort and conviction: a response to Bernard Porter’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36,4 (December 2008)

OVERY, Richard, The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation, 1919-1939 (London: Penguin, 2010, first published 2009)                                                                                           

SAID, Edward, Culture and imperialism  (London: Vintage, 1994)  

Director of studies
Dr Tony Taylor

Dr Marie-Cecile Thoral

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