India House at Leadenhall 2

Colony as Empire

Histories from Whitehall

The lectures in this series reposition the presence of Colonial India in Britain’s historical understanding of itself.

As the British Empire expanded through the long 19th century, imperial colonies across the globe began to play an ever greater role in all aspects of life and society at home in Britain – from textiles to tea, industry and manufacture to civil service, architecture to museum collections, cultural habits to national income, and all else. A new unit -- The India Office – was established at Whitehall to oversee the administration of colonies from the Middle East to South Asia, becoming one of the most complex paper bureaucracies the world had ever known.

Yet, intriguingly, imperial colonies have no organic presence in Britain’s historical narrative or understanding of itself as a nation-in-the-making even as she invested, inventoried and inherited so much in and from each colony. Even today, people in Britain search for details of family members in distant former ‘colonies’ – from records of births and baptisms to graves and wills, to appointments and pension records. 

Between ownership by the Company and the Raj, British control of India (including modern Pakistan and Bangladesh) stretches over 300 years. As Indian subcontinent marks 70 years of its independence from Britain in 2017, the lectures in this series reposition the presence of colonial India in Britain’s historical understanding of itself.  


Banner image:East India House at Leadenhall Street, London as represented in 1862 before it was demolished. Engraving by C J Montague. Originally printed in Memorials of Old Haileybury College, pg 343. This version is found here.