Ten vibrant cities across the globe tell the story of British imperialism in terms more nuanced and complicated than simply being good or bad.
British historian and Labour Party education spokesman Hunt (History/Univ. of London; Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, 2009, etc.) finds Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003) too focused on the “heroic age of Victorian achievement.” Hunt offers a broader, more inclusive approach to the history of British imperial ambition through the evolving institutions, architecture, economies and mores of the empire’s far-flung transplanted urbanism, from the 17th century to today. Most of the cities are ports (save New Delhi) and evolved from specific strategic and financial exigencies on the British empire at a specific point in time: Bustling Boston represented the maritime empire’s more “benign and flexible connotations” (until the Revolution); Bridgetown, Barbados, avidly promoted the export economy through sugar production and the slave trade, allowing the wealthy plantocracy to stock their houses with all manner of fancy British goods. In the 1780s and ’90s, Dublin symbolized the enthusiasm for a unifying colonial relationship, however directed by a “narrow urban elite.” Cape Town, wrested from the Dutch, offered by its wondrous geography an imperial supremacy after the Seven Years’ War, while Calcutta symbolized “a colonial citadel which cemented Britain’s ‘Swing to the East.’ ” Hunt takes great pains to underscore the important, changeable relationship between settlers and the indigenous peoples. For example, in Melbourne in the late 19th century, the Aborigines were deemed too backward for “redemption” and thus were excluded from discussions on how to govern the colony. In moneymaking Bombay, the symbol of Britain’s capacity for technological and administrative progress, the multiethnic residents played an enormous role in creating the urban landscape. Throughout the book, Hunt ably demonstrates how these cities and their colonizations contributed to the development of urbanism.
A well-documented, evenhanded work that will delight urban scholars and lay travelers.