A homogeneous society? Britain’s internal ‘others’, 1800–present

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

27 Scopus citations


Popular belief and oral tradition treat British cultural and racial diversity as unprecedented and disturbing, blaming recent migrants for disrupting a previously homogeneous, thus harmonious society. Yet the history of prior migration from elsewhere in the British Empire and outside it shows Britain was never a monolithic, closed society, detached from global flows of population or cultural influence. While other chapters of this volume treat class, gender and other power relations, this essay argues that British and European empire building, among other structural shifts and historical contingencies, rendered different ‘internal others’ visible and apparently problematical at various times over the past two centuries. Grandchild of migrants, common to my generation, I grew up hearing their stories: a child orphaned in a war zone, a dispossessed farmer, a draft-dodger, childbirth at sea, the random but systemic cruelties of a strange land. Drawn to study British race and migration by its distorted echoes of the familiar, I remain uneasy with scholarship that fails to acknowledge the lives ‘othering’ obscures. Successive waves of conquerors, invaders and migrants comprised the British people, starting with the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans. The subsequent millennium saw flows of Flemish weavers and Lombard bankers, religious refugees such as Huguenots in the seventeenth century and European Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth, and many others. Simultaneously, the British Isles sent forth millions who colonised for Britain the Americas, the Antipodes, Africa and Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAt Home with the Empire
Subtitle of host publicationMetropolitan Culture and the Imperial World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780511802263
ISBN (Print)0521854067, 9780521854061
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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