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Word Power: written constitutions and the definition of British borders since 1787


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Speaker(s): Professor Linda Colley

Recorded on 13 March 2014 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

The onset and proliferation of new written constitutions after 1787 presented successive governments in the UK with both opportunities and challenges. Through its empire and international heft, the UK came to draft and influence more constitutions in more parts of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries than any other power. Yet governments have always resisted the introduction of a written constitution in the UK itself. Other states need their political systems, identity and liberties confirmed in writing but the British do not. Their historic uncodified constitution is thus itself a demonstration and proof of their distinct identity. In this lecture, Linda Colley examines these trends and tensions over time, and discusses how far writing a constitution might work to reinforce rights in these islands and reconfigure connections.

Linda Colley is the Shelby M.C Davies 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, and an expert on Britain since 1700. She was the first female fellow of Christ College, Cambridge, was a professor of history at Yale and was awarded a Senior Leverhulme Research Professorship in History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her book, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 won the Wolfson Prize for History. She is a fellow of the British Academy and in 2009 was awarded a CBE.

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