Richard Toye

Richard Toye

I am Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. I am Lead Educator on the FutureLearn course Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism.

Location Exeter, UK.


  • Freeden needs to have a an "immediate impact" says that propaganda offers a "quick fix". But surely the most powerful propaganda is that which has a cumulative impact over time. This creates familiarity and eventually the unfamiliar becomes threatening and "unthinkable".

    In order to understand where Freeden's account of ideology fits unto that of other...

  • Alathea, I don't have the figures to hand, but I can say that a high proportion of people made at least one comment.

  • Many thanks for sharing this very interesting and thoughtful blog post.

  • Many thanks for all these kind and generous comments - much appreciated.

  • Thanks for your comments, Ian. I don't think that there is *necessarily* a problem with using words that have negative connotations - in my personal opinion there are some cases where the term "neo-imperialism" is justified, and many cases where "imperialism" is. My point was that we need to ensure that we use them with analytical rigour.

  • The course map shows that participants are mainly based in North America and Western Europe, but, as you say, not exclusively:

  • Agreed - it's a fascinating book.

  • The final feedback video is now up!

  • Here's an article about some current controversy over the legacy of German colonialism in Namibia. Not about the British Empire, obviously, but I thought people might find it interesting:

  • Yes, it is very good for us, as historians, to engage in discussion with people outside academia. I think this is a somewhat different kind of MOOC from some others, in that we are not just trying to communicate a fixed body of knowledge and test you on it, but to interact and debate. So, although Altbach does make important points, I do have a degree of...

  • Phil, you make a really important point about the nature of the Empire. As you suggest, there were many things that the civil servants in Whitehall were not able to control and often did not attempt to control.

  • I'm looking forward to filming the final feedback video tomorrow with Marc Palen and Rob Fletcher.

  • The persistence of these family metaphors is very interesting. They were extremely common during the heyday of Empire - body/health metaphors too. This was not restricted to the British though - other European empires tended to use this kind of language too.

  • Thanks for this interesting perspective.

  • Yes, it will be very interesting to see what the newly discovered files contain. Quite a lot of it may turn out to be duplication of material that is already open, but there remains the possibility of some important new discoveries.

  • Yes, Europe is a crucial issue. Britain's first application to join the EEC in 1961 was an important moment. It's possible to find some quite interesting adverts for NZ products being sold in Britain in the 1970s which claim that NZ was the country in the world most like Britain.

  • In case anyone didn't spot it, we added a new video in step 6.6 today, in which I interview Professor James mark about the Cold War and decolonization:

  • Powell seems to have been extraordinarily affected by Indian independence in 1947 - almost traumatised by it.

  • The text of my chapter in the Butler and Stockwell "Wind of Change" volume mentioned above is available here for free:

  • I have just come across an article which argues that MOOCs themselves are a form of neo-colonialism. It is by Philip G. Altbach. He argues:

    "In fields such as literature and philosophy, most courses reflect
    Western traditions of knowledge, the Western literature canon, and Western
    philosophical assumptions. The social sciences reflect Western...

  • The European point is very interesting. At the slight risk of moving away from the subject matter of the course, here is a link to the Eurobarometer site, which measures public opinion on Europe in a variety of countries.

    It's too bad that someone didn't do something similar for the Empire while it was up...

  • Many thanks for all these very interesting comments and examples.

  • Me too!

  • Thanks, David! And as you say, the debate is very healthy and everyone's comments are appreciated.

  • Ann, I have made several comments every day, except weekends, and last Friday, when I had a day off. Other educators have been contributing too. I think I responded to you directly a couple of times. We also employed a PhD student to help deal with the volume of comments, which has been immense. we have also had the feedback videos.

  • Interesting questions! He really did manage to surprise a lot of people at home, many of whom had assumed that he would simply buddy up with the Apartheid regime. I'm not, perhaps, Macmillan's greatest fan but I do think this speech was astonishingly brave. I'm not sure if we already link out to it somewhere, but people may find this article by Frank Myers...

  • Welcome to the final week, everybody!

  • Those of you interested in exploring the theme of Propaganda might be interested in this forthcoming FutureLearn course run by the University of Nottingham in collaboration with the British Library:

  • As it's the school holidays I'll be taking a day off work on Friday to look after my children, so I'll probably not be logging in, but I look forward to reconnecting with you all next week.

  • Yes - I think you have a point!

  • Great! I think the complexities of this issue are such that we may well doubt how many of the people who lived through these controversies (and perhaps participated in them) really understood it all themselves.

  • Of all the tariff reform/free trade posters I know, I think this is the one that is most shocking:;sort:Shelfmark%2CDate;lc:ODLodl~6~6&mi=0&trs=1

    However, the Liberals were also often prone to racism and xenophobia, including...

  • Thanks, Penny - really glad you're enjoying it.

  • I filmed the feedback video with Paul Young and Robert Fletcher this morning - an interesting discussion, at least from my point of view! It will go up tomorrow, in the usual place.

  • That's a good way of putting it!

  • Indeed! Also popular music hall songs, emphasised by John Mackenzie.

  • Many thanks for all these great comments and examples.

  • That's a fascinating example - thanks for sharing.

  • Yes - it's brilliant!

  • Yes, music could definitely count, I think.

  • Thanks for all these comments.

  • What Simon's referring to, and what the cartoon obliquely refers to, is a plan put forward by Lord Beaverbrook in the early 1930s. What "Empire Free Trade" in this sense meant was putting up trade barriers against countries outside the Empire and removing them within; for in fact there was not complete free trade within the Empire because countries such as...

  • It might be worth noting here that universal suffrage (at the age of 21) was only introduced in 1928. Yet it is certainly true that those who, prior to that, could not vote, did have other ways of expressing support for (or opposition to) Empire, e.g. by attending mass meetings and celebrations.

  • Colin, you ask: "Wasn't it just an inevitable result of the way powerful nations/states expanded trade and territory over many centuries?" Quite possibly, yes, but I suppose I would argue that it worked itself out in different ways at different times and places, influenced by specific sets of ideas and actions. I suppose we could have a long discussion about...

  • Interesting point!

  • You might be interested to know that Julius Drewe, the founder of Home & Colonial Stores, built Castle Drogo, which is near Exeter and is now owned by the National Trust.

  • To "naturalise the phenomenon of Empire" - to make it seem absolutely normal and to make it something that would be unlikely to be questioned.

  • Richard, I think that your description of the Empire as "a public-private enterprise" is very insightful and to the point.

  • Many thanks for all these comments and suggestions - much appreciated.

  • I think that's a fair comment, but I think it's worth highlighting because many modern readers might not pick up on its significance.

  • I think we have a link to a BBC article about "Zulu" in Week 6. There are other similar examples, such as "Khartoum" (1966), about General Gordon, which may have been trying to piggyback on its success:

  • They are enormous fun!

  • In the book they are Germans. I think they are "agents of a hostile power" in the 1935 Hitchcock film, in which, incidentally, the meeting seen is done rather differently, with the Free Trade issue stripped out.

  • Interesting example. As you may know, Edward Said discussed Mansfield Park in his book Culture and Imperialism. Here's a useful link:

  • Perhaps I should have said "what we regard as an appropriate selection of facts, linked together in an interpretative framework". But that might have been considered a bit wordy!

  • Claude Scott has posted an interesting comment on our blog, which is relevant to this week's theme:

    "Professor Toye makes the comment that it is difficult to measure mass popular enthusiasm about the Empire at times of celebration and crisis. Whilst this is true, it is possible to attempt to measure an element of continuous, steady, interest in the Empire...

  • They published a book/catalogue of the exhibition, which is very good. thanks for posting the link, Julia.

  • Well, we are trying to present the facts as we see them, on a variety of inevitably controversial themes, with a view to encouraging debate. We have tried to make our discussion questions as open ended as possible in order to make sure that debate is genuinely free and open. We genuinely are interested in what everybody thinks and we certainly don't expect or...

  • Here's something that might satisfy those with an interest in the statistics of Empire, and it also fits neatly into this week's theme. It is a chart on the ‘Growth and Prosperity of the British Empire’ from the newspaper The Graphic, 1897.

  • Margaret, you are absolutely right about the changing nature of words. Here's a nice example of "empire propaganda" being used in a positive sense (in 1930):

    Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
    Does not the hon. Gentleman think that that is far too little money to spend for this purpose, and does he not realise that cinema propaganda is the best kind of...

  • Andrea, I absolutely recognise and take on board that some people would have liked to hear more on this theme - but in the limited time available in the feedback video it seemed best to try to persuade those who were as yet unconvinced. There did seem to be quite a few of them!

  • I agree there are ways the platform could be improved, including from the educators' point of view. The boss of FutureLearn gave a presentation here the other day and I made the point as forcefully as I could. Hopefully, if they get sufficient feedback it will have an impact.

  • My definition of "propaganda":
    Propaganda is not just a text (or image) which attempts to persuade.
    Nor is it simply one that is biased.
    It is a text which attempts to shut down the possibility of viewing things in a different way.
    This does not mean that all propaganda is used for evil purposes (e.g. advertising is propaganda and it's not necessarily...

  • Some brief thoughts on the word "propaganda"
    1622: Pope Gregory XV establishes the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
    In this sense propaganda simply equals dissemination.
    However, the term developed growing negative connotations from WWI onwards, although for a perhaps surprisingly long time it was also used in a positive sense. An...

  • Ian, I see what you mean, but I was hoping that it would trigger a discussion that would help us rethink whether or not these pejorative connotations of "propaganda" are really deserved, and indeed what the nature of propaganda really is. I'll try to find an appropriate place to post some further comments on this. Penelope's point about "public relations" is...

  • Yes - a great film.

  • Achebe is amazing. I particularly like "No Longer at Ease."

  • "Propaganda" was not necessarily pejorative during the period we're discussing - it was often used by political parties to describe their own publicity for a remarkably long time. Negative connotations certainly grew from WWI onwards, though.

  • Thanks for sharing.

  • The feedback video has now gone up.

  • Lena and Penny: thanks to both of you for sharing your opinions. I think what's been really interesting about this week is that people haven't simply been differing about the substance of what we've been saying but have also taken very different views of how relevant it is really is to Empire. I quizzed Nicola Thomas about this in this week's feedback video...

  • I see your point and completely agree that they need should not be used uncritically.

  • That is an excellent example of how dress can be laden with political symbolism. Thanks for raising the point.

  • Thanks for all the comments. I'll be filming the feedback video with Nicola Thomas tomorrow. I'll also be doing a couple of other interviews with other members of staff, which will probably take a bit longer to edit but I'll notify you when they are up.

  • Well, here is an interesting question. Say, for the sake of argument, that all the comments on this course were preserved and were studied by an historian in 50 years time, who was researching attitudes to the British Empire in 2015. Would he or she be able to draw any meaningful conclusions from this evidence, or not?

  • "Sartorial shock and awe" - great phrase!

  • Agreed. If we were to extend the course and come up with additional themes, I think that 'Class' would be a very good one.

  • Interesting point. Quite a few people have mentioned Paul Scott's Raj Quartet over the last few weeks. I also really like his book Staying ON, about a British couple who remain in India after independence.

  • Agreed - good point.

  • Yes, you are absolutely right to highlight the context.

  • I think your interpretation is persuasive.

  • Some interesting discussion here of Kate Fisher's use of the word "penetrate." We might note that this was a term that contemporaries used themselves, e.g. "The missionaries sent out by private persons, and especially by the Scotch people, have penetrated into Equatorial Africa charged with the duty of christianising those vast populations, and of exhorting...

  • Good point.

  • I think this is probably most relevant to the Week 3 theme, so I'm posting it here. You may be interested in this blog post by Charles Forsdick and Andrew Thompson about the context of the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks. Of course it is about France rather than Britain but many people have been asking for a comparative...

  • Yes, it's definitely a learning curve for us too! And it is extremely interesting to see the wide variety of reactions, not just to the subject-matter of the course but also to the way we have designed it.

  • On the question of tigers, you may have noticed that I was photographed in front of one for some of the course publicity. It was shot by George V in India - he shot over 30 of them and had them distributed to museums in Britain, including here in Exeter.

  • That's a really interesting question. I claim no expertise on the question of passports but I understand that they were not so much in use prior to 1914 as they were later. Whether or not you would have needed one to travel within the Empire I don't actually know, but this recent BBC article casts some light on the spying question:...

  • That's a fascinating story. There is a very interesting article in the most recent London Review of Books by the historian Keith Thomas about his experience of national Service, in Jamaica. He also mentioned the venereal disease issue.

  • Thanks for the feedback, Alison. I'm glad you're sticking with us!

  • Relevant to Week 6: Prof. Richard Drayton of King's College, London has drawn my attention to this quotation from Jawaharlal Nehru in 1933 writing about "The Invisible Empire of America":
    "... We imagine that if the British were not in actual political control of India, India would be free. But this type of empire is already passing away and giving place to...

  • The feedback video is now up!

  • We shot the feedback video yesterday and it will be going up later today.

  • Mick: there will be an exercise like that in the final week.

  • My point really was just that - irrespective of whether or not one likes it - these legacies of Empire do have on-going effects today. Incidentally, I was at a comedy show on Monday and a comedian from NZ said that there, because they do not like to talk about the Commonwealth, they refer to the Commonwealth games as "the Easy Olympics" ...

  • Here's another book review relevant to "Money", this time of Catherine R. Schenk, The Decline of Sterling: Managing the Retreat of an International Currency, 1945–1992 (Cambridge University Press,...

  • I'll be shooting the feedback video later this morning with Gareth Curless and Nandini Chatterjee. Many thanks to everyone for all your comments, questions and suggestions.

  • I've just uploaded my review of Frank Trentmann's Free Trade Nation (2008) which is relevant to the "Money" theme:

  • Good point: People who criticised "imperialism" were often contrasting it with what they presented as a more benevolent form of Empire - e.g. Gladstone attacking Disraeli in 1879-80.