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The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume V: Historiography$
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Robin Winks

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198205661

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198205661.001.0001

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Decolonization and the End of Empire

Decolonization and the End of Empire

(p.541) 34 Decolonization and the End of Empire
The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume V: Historiography

John Darwin

Oxford University Press

Before 1914, although Britain encountered many Imperial setbacks, there had been no occasion for a general theory of decolonization. The historiography of Imperial decline begins with the crisis of Empire that followed the First World War. Four different definitions of decolonization, at least, can be identified in the historical literature. The end of the British Empire was part of a systemic failure, or change; and theories of British decolonization should depend for their plausibility on how far they can accommodate not merely its constitutional but also its ideological, economic, demographic, and cultural aspects. Two familiar explanations for British decolonization need to be dealt with summarily. The first has sentimental charm: the disintegration of the British Empire as a case of ‘planned obsolescence’. It is stated in this chapter that even if the international setting played a key role in the breakup of the British Empire, it could only do so in interaction with British thinking about where their international priorities lay.

Keywords:   British Empire, British decolonization, Britain, historiography, First World War, planned obsolescence

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