Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience

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Manchester University Press, 1990 - Social Science - 234 pages
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The definitive account of how the British reacted sexually when they encountered the very different mores of their subject peoples. In summary, one might say that early reactions were largely receptive and positive for both rulers and ruled, but sadly gave way to the influence of the homegrown Social Purity Movement of the 1890s.
Most of my reading is historical and this riveting history by the leading expert on many aspects of the British Empire is the best I have read for many years. It is one of those rare books that, though extremely well-researched and argued with vigorous logic, are at the same time so well-written and fascinating that they should appeal to readers of both popular and academic history.
For me, the true mark of great historical writing is that one should not be able to tell when it was written, as to venture into the past encumbered with baggage from one’s own age is to be immediately susceptible to anachronism, the greatest sin of the historian. Empire and Sexuality lives fully up to this. This is history written to enlighten and entertain the reader, and anyone ready for the culture shock involved in any true voyage into the past will be delighted.
The drawback to this rather old-fashioned approach to writing history is that two groups of people may be upset. Readers who expect to be told what to think may be disconcerted by Professor Hyam’s non-judgmental approach, particularly where it concerns sexual behavior which has run foul of the new puritan order which arose in the 1980s and is brilliantly summarised in Professor Mackenzie’s foreward in words as succinct and accurate as they are heartfelt and damning.
Equally, I suspect that many of his colleagues will have been frustrated and irritated by his insistence on engaging the reader rather than them. Sadly, I find far too many modern academic historians allow themselves to be waylaid into a mutually glorifying and ephemeral debate on the correct theoretical approach.
Strongly recommended.
Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander’s Choice, an Eton love story, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexanders-Choice/dp/1481222112/


Sexual imperatives
The British home base
Empire and sexual opportunity
The sexual life of the Raj
Prostitution and Purity
Chastity and the Colonial Service
Missionary confrontations
race sex and empire

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About the author (1990)

Ronald Hyam is Emeritus Reader in British Imperial History, University of Cambridge, and Emeritus Fellow, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

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