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All that is solid melts into air?: Britishness in the twentieth century

By Paul Ward


In the late twentieth century the United Kingdom witnessed a number of developments that seemed to leave many British people with a profound sense of crisis about their identities. Externally, the United States of America replaced the political, economic and cultural hegemony previously enjoyed by the British Empire, and Britain was forced to turn to an integrating Europe for its future economic security. Additionally, the Empire provided a legacy of mass migration to the United Kingdom. In some quarters this added to the sense of disquiet over the crumbling of the apparently previous ethnic homogeneity of the British. Internally, serious demands for devolution, which had previously been confined to Ireland/Northern Ireland, emerged in Scotland and Wales. By the end of the century majorities in both countries had voted for constitutional change in the relationships between their nations and the Westminster parliament. \ud Such events have led many commentators to question the ability of the United Kingdom, Britishness and Englishness to survive. In the 1970s Tom Nairn, a Marxist Scottish nationalist, looked forward to The Break-up of Britain; at the very end of the century, John Redwood, one time contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party, warned of The Death of Britain. \ud This essay examines the history of British national identity in the twentieth century, arguing that Britishness was never as solid as many current commentators presume, but in turn that the variety and diversity of Britishness suggests a much greater ability to adapt than both Nairn and Redwood have suggested

Topics: DA
Publisher: University of A Coruña
Year: 2002
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.hud.ac.uk:7714

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