The 20th century often seemed to be quintessentially an era when national destiny was decided on land and in the air – as most famously encapsulated in the ‘myth’ of 1940, when the RAF saved Britain from invasion during the Battle of Britain, or in the trenches of Flanders, where the British Army endured enormous sacrifices to prevent the collapse of the western democracies. This to some extent obscured earlier definitions of the British as a maritime and seafaring people. But a longer and deeper look at British national identity will demonstrate just how important the sea remained – both to Britain’s defence, during two World Wars as well as during the Cold War, but even more importantly, in the sense that Britons retained that they were an ocean-going people.
The British Empire had relied on trans-oceanic trade and the Royal Navy to thrive and to defend itself; the British Isles themselves drew much of their food, manpower, training and even leisure from the sea. British heroes – from the pirates and privateers of the 17th and early 18th centuries, to the great age of merchant shipping in the later 18th and 19th centuries, and among the officers and men of the Royal Navy – were more often sailors than they were soldiers or statesmen. This lecture will look at how definitions of ‘Britishness’ changed over the early modern and modern eras since 1600, and how they were played out against a green, white and blue background of maritime endeavour.
Glen O’Hara is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of From Dreams to Disillusionment: British Economic and Social Planning in the 1960s, as well as co-editor of The Wilson Governments of 1964-70: the Modernisation of Britain? and Numbers, Norms and the People: Statistics and the Public Sphere in Britain since 1750. This year he is publishing Britain and the Sea since 1600, and next year a monograph entitled Governing Post-War Britain: the Paradoxes of Progress – both published by Palgrave Macmillan.
The Lecture Theatre, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, SE10 9NF
Date and Time
Wednesday 29 September
19.00-20.00: wine reception
There is no charge to attend the lecture, but booking is essential as places are limited.
To book or for further information, please email:
Dr James Davey
National Maritime Museum
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