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The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Explore the Tudor-Stuart era: a captivating examination of the 229-year period from 1485–1714 during which England transformed itself from a minor feudal state into what has been called the first modern society. In making that transformation, England became the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth.

Rise and Fall of the British Empire is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 109.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful History of the British Empire This is a wonderful History of the British Empire. Very thorough.
Date published: 2024-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Solid and Comprehensive Overview This course offers a solid, comprehensive overview of the British Empire from start to finish. In addition to the political and economic dimensions, the course includes two lectures on literature and one on cricket! Prof. Allitt clearly explains how the Empire arose as a trading enterprise, and then only gradually evolved into colonies of white settlers overseas (North America and Australia/New Zealand) and political dominion over other peoples (India, Africa). Britain’s particular advantages that enabled it to maintain the Empire for as long as it did included: naval supremacy, early industrialization, advanced banking and insurance, and the advantages of an island nation (more defensible homeland, relative political stability). The course tries to be non-judgmental on the moral rights-and-wrongs of the empire. Nevertheless, I felt Prof. Allitt was more of an imperial apologist than many other historians would be today. For example, regarding the role of slavery, he says it was not remarkable that the British engaged in slave trade (“the world had always been like that”), and then he gives the British great credit for leading the abolition movement globally. Hmmm…
Date published: 2022-02-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could have been better I commend Professor Allitt for presenting a course with incredible content and scope. My less than excellent review however, comes from presentation. I did not think it was up to the level of other Great Courses; but perhaps I have been spoiled. On the plus side, Professor Allitt provides a wealth of data in a well organized way. Each topic is in depth and easy to follow. I especially liked his coverage of controversial topics like Ireland, the white dominions, the middle east, India and Pakistan, etc. His coverage of the world wars was also quite interesting as was his sociological look at Cricket and the British Empire. From a historical perspective, this course is an excellent overview of the topic by someone who clearly knows the subject well. My frustration comes from his presentation. Professor Allitt rarely moves from the lectern; clearly reads the script in a manner where eye contact is missing; uses word graphics extensively, sometimes reading three long slides at a time; and although pleasant, has a very limited vocal variety. I wanted to like this course and did get a lot out of it. I just wish Professor Allitt could have been more exuberant about his subject. The final nail in the coffin for me was the last lecture. After a monumental topic and hours of lectures I expected a truly earth shattering summation filled with excitement and awe. Sadly , it ended with a whimper and not with a bang.
Date published: 2021-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another fabulous course from Dr. Allitt The author always goes to great lengths to present a balanced view. This course hellped me understand the reasons for the rise of the British Empire, the domestic situation in Britain and the factors that led to the end of the empire.
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding in Scope and Detail This is a very balanced account of the British Empire that gave the world so much good (global commerce, steam powered machinery, railroads, banking, insurance and more peace than war), so much bad (the slave trade and Zionist colonization of Palestine), and so much that we should fear (democracy and pluralism). For Americans, this subject is especially relevant as we are now in the midst of two interminable wars, one internal and one in the Middle East, both resulting directly from the past Empire’s commercial and political reach. Lecture 3 (African Slavery and the West Indies) and Lecture 11 (Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery) address British policies leading directly to the 1861-65 American Civil War and the post-WWII urban racial conflict now dividing the nation. Lecture 23 (The British Empire Fights Imperial Germany), Lecture 24 (Versailles and Disillusionment) and Lecture 31 (Israel, Egypt and the Suez Canal) describe the 1917-18 British WWI campaign in Palestine, the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1956 Suez Crisis, all of which combined to embroil the United States in costly pro-Israel wars and subversions. So, the Empire may have ended as a failure for the British, but it has been a disaster for their American cousins and the Islamic states. My wife and I had previously enjoyed Prof. Allitt’s The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales (Course No. 8006); this lecture series is a fine complement, describing the impact of this island nation on the world beyond. His organization of the material and delivery are excellent. HWF & ISF, Mesa, AZ.
Date published: 2021-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Entertaining This was a thoroughly entertaining course! Dr. Allitt is a very good speaker, I found his diction clear despite his accent. I found his treatment of British behaviour to be very fair. He criticized certain episodes of brutality or greed, but did not indulge in over-criticism of what would be considered racist behavior through a 21st century lens. Rather he puts events and policies in the context of what was considered morally acceptable at the time. His frequent use of quotes from other historians, or authors, or participants in a historic event were especially enlightening and indeed entertaining. Finally, his summary of what are the lasting (positive) accomplishments of the British Empire was excellent. If you like your history at what I would consider medium depth (not scholarly), and presented as more of a story then a collection of events, and including many cultural and character references, then this course will be ideal for you, as it was for me! The only recommendation I can make under the category "room for improvement" would be to include a chapter that would compare the British Empire to the Roman Empire and the Spanish Empire and perhaps the Ottoman Empire. The few remarks on this topic in the final chapter were not enough for me.
Date published: 2021-03-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from NEGLECT TO CREDIT CANADA'S ROLE IN SUEZ Canada's Foreign Minister Lester B. Pearson was the one who came up with the Peace plan that ended the Suez crisis. Pearson advocated United Nations Peace Keeping troops which were deployed in many conflicts since. Pearson essentially saved the World from a Third World War and he received the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. Pearson later became Prime Minister over the most progressive government in Canadian History. Why was this fact of history neglected?
Date published: 2021-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Truly Fascinating Course This is my fourth TC course with Professor Allitt. He is one the best presenters, brimming with pertinent details and analysis delivered in an easy pace and style. I opted for the audio version available from Audible rather than the TC video. The thirty-six lectures passed all too quickly, even though Professor Allitt ranges over much of the world through the past few centuries. The course does not pursue a strictly chronological scheme, moving as it does from colony to colony. Professor Allitt makes plain, however, that the British Empire, the largest in history, developed gradually, without a plan, and initially through chartered trading companies. The lectures deal not only with how the British Empire developed, operated, and declined, but also why it did. Imperialism is certainly a dirty word these days, but Professor Allitt sides neither with those who absolutely condemn the British Empire, nor those in uncritical favor. How he does this is something you will have to experience first-hand! Professor Allitt’s reach goes well beyond the expected: it includes the influence and impact of cricket; the final imperial venture in the1982 Falkland Islands war; favorably compares the British Empire with others, notably the Roman empire; the increasingly multiracial nature of Britain; and, in colonial and post-colonial literature, the novelists of British Africa and India (including Salman Rushdie). This 2009 course comes with a 140-page guidebook. The lecture summaries are shorter than I would like, but do cover the essentials. There are also useful timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and bibliography. Unfortunately, there are no maps in the guidebook, though there is a world map on the cover. That is likely the disadvantage of the audio version, as I assume the video lectures do better regarding maps. Nevertheless, this is an excellent course!
Date published: 2020-11-18
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Explore the extensive and robust history of the largest empire in the world with The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Award-winning Professor Patrick N. Allitt of Emory University leads you through four centuries of British power, innovation, influence, and ultimately, diminishment—four profound centuries that literally remade the world and bequeathed the complex global legacy that continues to shape your everyday life.


Patrick N. Allitt

We live in a world that has created many new incentives for us to become lifelong learners. Luckily, lifelong learning is a pleasure.


Emory University

Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. He received his PhD in American History from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton University. He is a widely published author whose books include A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism; The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; and Religion in America since 1945: A History.

By This Professor

The Industrial Revolution
The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy
The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator
How Railways Transformed the World
America after the Cold War: The First 30 Years
The Sun Never Set

01: The Sun Never Set

Learn how history's greatest colonial empire came about not according to a master plan, but in response to great shifts in the currents that move nations. This lecture previews the roles played by military power, trade, slavery, industrialization, and many other forces in motivating Britain to acquire, maintain, and, ultimately, relinquish its empire.

31 min
The Challenge to Spain in the New World

02: The Challenge to Spain in the New World

Britannia didn't always rule the waves. See how jealousy over Spanish and Portuguese wealth combined with religious rivalry and advances in nautical knowledge to push England toward its own role in the New World.

29 min
African Slavery and the West Indies

03: African Slavery and the West Indies

Although a more enlightened Britain would eventually do away with both its African slave trade and then slavery itself, it originally looked on the issue as strictly economic. Gain a grasp of slavery's importance to not only Britain's New World colonies, but to its entire economy.

30 min
Imperial Beginnings in India

04: Imperial Beginnings in India

For its first 150 years, the British East India Company granted a monopoly by the queen in 1600 had no intention of becoming the political overlord of India. Explore how circumstances overrode that intention and set the stage for British rule.

30 min
Clive and the Conquest of India

05: Clive and the Conquest of India

See how a rapidly rising young officer named Robert Clive, who initially attempted to quell local instability, won a succession of victories that quickly earned him fame, power, and ill-gotten wealth. His actions laid the foundation for British domination of India.

30 min
Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada

06: Wolfe and the Conquest of Canada

Britain's victory over the French in the Seven Years' War redrew the world's map in Britain's favor including control over Canada but at great cost. The debt was so massive it would ultimately contribute to England losing her American colonies.

30 min
The Loss of the American Colonies

07: The Loss of the American Colonies

Britain's desperate need for revenue ended years of "benign neglect" of its increasingly prosperous American colonies. Colonial resentment of "taxation without representation" triggered the American Revolution that, with French help, inflicted a stunning defeat on the empire.

31 min
Exploring the Planet

08: Exploring the Planet

Although it was trade that prompted Britain to build an empire, the path was marked by great strides in exploration, invention, and science. See how accelerating scientific knowledge in the late 18th and early 19th centuries connected directly to British exploration, mapping, and colonization of previously remote areas of the world.

29 min
Napoleon Challenges the Empire

09: Napoleon Challenges the Empire

The French Revolution, the overthrow of France's monarchy, and the rise of Napoleon created an unprecedented crisis for the empire. But Britain's domination of the seas and an innovative banking system that enabled it to fund more than two decades of war ultimately proved too much for even Napoleon.

30 min
The Other Side of the World

10: The Other Side of the World

The Indian model "a massive indigenous population dominated by just a handful of colonizers" was only one model of British empire building. Learn how Australia and New Zealand illustrated the other indigenous population vanquished by disease and war, which cleared the way for large-scale white settlement.

30 min
Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery

11: Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery

With slavery widespread throughout history, the surprise is less that Britain used slavery than that it eventually decided to abolish it. This lecture gives you insight into the motives that led Britain to reverse course on what had become an economic pillar of its empire.

30 min
Early African Colonies

12: Early African Colonies

Britain first gained a colonial foothold in Africa by seizing Holland's Cape of Good Hope settlement during the Napoleonic Wars. See how its 1833 abolition of slavery intensified the still-simmering tensions between Britain and the region's Dutch settlers.

30 min
China and the Opium Wars

13: China and the Opium Wars

Witness the mid-19th century collision between the British policy of free trade (logical for a nation that enjoyed industrial and nautical supremacy) and the closed culture of the Chinese. It was a collision China could not win, as Britain used its military might to impose total domination on China and compelled it to accept the lucrative opium trade.

30 min
Britain - The Imperial Center

14: Britain - The Imperial Center

Watch as Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the most powerful nation on earth. Its industrial revolution, sophisticated banking and insurance techniques, political stability, and social mobility each contributed to its ability to project power around the world.

31 min
Ireland - The Tragic Relationship

15: Ireland - The Tragic Relationship

In the first of two lectures devoted to Britain's troubled relationship with Ireland, you gain insight into how religion, politics, and social factors (including a catastrophic famine) combined to create this most puzzling and tragic element of British history.

29 min
India and the

16: India and the "Great Game"

Deepen your understanding of the intricate relationship between Britain and India. This lecture gives you the opportunity to examine both the changing face of British domination and the disastrous results when Britain tried to safeguard that regional dominance against Russian encroachment by invading Afghanistan.

29 min
Rebellion and Mutiny in India

17: Rebellion and Mutiny in India

Track the factors that contributed to a growing unrest, which finally exploded in an outright mutiny among Indian soldiers of the East India Company's army. British forces violently suppressed the uprising, after which the British government dissolved the East India Company in 1858 and undertook direct government of the subcontinent.

29 min
How Canada Became a Nation

18: How Canada Became a Nation

Learn how Canada, although remaining loyal to Britain during the American Revolution, also disliked being governed from the other side of the Atlantic without adequate representation. See how its provinces gained self-government and then unification without the need for large-scale revolution.

30 min
The Exploration and Settlement of Africa

19: The Exploration and Settlement of Africa

Travel along with British explorers as they journey across Africa, mapping its mountains, tracing its river systems, and ultimately triggering a scramble among Europe's colonial powers to conquer Africa in the last three decades of the 19th century. The scramble intensified with the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa.

30 min
Gold, Greed, and Geopolitics in Africa

20: Gold, Greed, and Geopolitics in Africa

The 1886 discovery of gold near present-day Johannesburg transformed a pastoral backwater into a center of dynamic economic activity. The great wealth at stake ultimately brought military violence and even disease-ridden concentration camps in an ominous premonition of 20th-century warfare.

30 min
The Empire in Literature

21: The Empire in Literature

The empire influenced British literature as much as it did British life. A fascinating tour through works both celebrated and obscure - including Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe," and Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea" illustrates the colonies' role in introducing new ideas, new forms of wealth, and difficult moral questions to British audiences.

31 min
Economics and Theories of Empire

22: Economics and Theories of Empire

Throughout the 19th century, advocates of the empire claimed they were bringing progress to backward peoples: the blessings of honest government, Christianity, education, railways, medicine, and commerce. Above all, however, they were "making money," and in this lecture you learn about the 19th-century debate over the ethics and economics of empire.

30 min
The British Empire Fights Imperial Germany

23: The British Empire Fights Imperial Germany

Follow the First World War from the perspective of Britain's colonies as you track the participation of colonial populations, the role of the colonies in providing necessary supplies, and the impact of the war on the empire itself.

29 min
Versailles and Disillusionment

24: Versailles and Disillusionment

Learn how Britain and France secured the vengeful peace treaty they desired, circumventing Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which would have brought the European powers' colonial empires to an end. Nevertheless the war undermined British confidence in its imperial mission, even as independence movements began to arise in many colonies.

30 min
Ireland Divided

25: Ireland Divided

Return to Ireland and learn the history of its battle for self-government. You conclude with the 1922 creation of the Irish Free State and the loyalist North, and the ensuing civil war in the Free State between those who accepted partition and those who rejected it.

31 min
Cricket and the British Empire

26: Cricket and the British Empire

Enjoy a fascinating look at the game that was both the sport of the British Empire and a metaphor for many of the ideals Britain saw itself spreading. Even as colonies struggled for independence, they often used cricket analogies to force the British to admit the contrast between their ideas of fair play and the harsh reality of their use of power.

30 min
British India between the World Wars

27: British India between the World Wars

Follow the early career of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, as he led the struggle for independence. Although since World War I the British had conceded in principle the idea of eventual Indian self-government, they still retained all the apparatus of repression.

30 min
World War II - England Alone

28: World War II - England Alone

Hamstrung by strong antiwar feelings after World War I, Britain began World War II woefully behind in munitions and research and development. Early defeats and a humiliating retreat from Dunkirk brought Winston Churchill to the premiership with a grim determination to prevail.

30 min
World War II - The Pyrrhic Victory

29: World War II - The Pyrrhic Victory

Follow the progress of the war - the tide of which turned in 1942 with a British victory at El Alamein and an American victory over the Japanese at Midway. Despite the Allies' ultimate triumph, the 1945 election brought a jarring shock as Churchill was defeated and the new Labour government of Clement Attlee began to dismantle the empire.

30 min
Twilight of the Raj

30: Twilight of the Raj

Watch as India's long-awaited 1947 independence comes at a ghastly price: the death of a half-million people in Hindu and Muslim massacres before and after the historic date and the assassination of Gandhi.

28 min
Israel, Egypt, and the Suez Canal

31: Israel, Egypt, and the Suez Canal

Learn how Britain's attempt to partition Israel and Palestine in 1948 "a strategy unsuccessfully attempted in both Ireland and India" suffered a similar fate. See also how the Suez Crisis of 1956 demonstrated that Britain was no longer capable of unilateral imperial action.

30 min
The Decolonization of Africa

32: The Decolonization of Africa

Although postwar Britain had once harbored hopes of preserving its African colonies in spite of India's and Israel's independence, the Suez crisis prompted a shift in policy. Britain began to offer early independence to its ill-prepared African colonies, with politicians from both major parties feeling they had no real alternative.

32 min
The White Dominions

33: The White Dominions

Gain fresh insights into the 20th-century evolution of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All three countries tried to balance the increasing allure of America as their principal partner in questions of trade and defense against the sentiment, loyalty, and ethnic traditions that bound them to Britain.

32 min
Britain after the Empire

34: Britain after the Empire

After World War II, Britain had to decide what its primary international partners would be once the empire had gone, choosing between its former colony the United States or the rest of Europe. See how Britain ultimately recognized the need to take its place in a Europe fast becoming commercially and politically united.

30 min
Colonial and Postcolonial Literature

35: Colonial and Postcolonial Literature

Returning to the world of literature, learn how the literature of the 20th-century British Empire and its aftermath dealt in dramatic contrasts, passionate extremes, ideas about exoticism, and questions of divided loyalty. Professor Allitt offers several examples from some of Africa and India's finest writers, including Alan Paton, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, V. S. Naipaul, and Salman Rushdie.

31 min
Epitaph and Legacy

36: Epitaph and Legacy

An opportunity for added perspective: Was the British Empire just a disgraceful episode of greed, exploitation, and racism? Was it an unmatched achievement in the advancement of Western civilization? Or was it some potent combination of both? And what does that say about the nature of empires and the prospect that they will persist?

30 min