The British Diaspora? Imperial Identity and Return Migration in Twentieth Century Britain

Dillon, Niamh. 2019. The British Diaspora? Imperial Identity and Return Migration in Twentieth Century Britain. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In the past twenty years, historians have highlighted ways in which Britain’s empire impacted the metropolitan ‘centre’ following decolonisation. Building on this literature, this thesis examines British identity formation in the south of Ireland and India, and challenges to identity on ‘return’ to Britain after independence. By looking across national boundaries, it investigates whether British identity was a common imperial experience, or whether regional and historical locations influenced identity formation. As this is difficult to investigate using historical documents, oral history is used to explore identity and contextualise how it changed over time. This research suggests, for example, imperial homes were not neutral spaces but sites of imperial values. However, there were multiple understandings of ‘home’ in both countries: some rooted in a physical space, others in a sense of national consciousness or even within an imperial diasporic identity. Education in a metropolitan and colonial setting implicitly and explicitly encouraged an imperial set of values. Class position was neither a mirror of the metropole nor was it unified in a colonial setting. Southern Irish Protestants and the British community in India ‘returned’ to Britain after independence as these former elites no longer had a clearly defined role in the new post-colonial era. ‘Returnees’ chose Britain because of continuing connections with it as ‘home’. However, they often found their colonial experience was not valued in a country re-orientating itself to the post-war order. The 1948 British Nationality Act offered a wide and inclusive definition of British nationality, but official narratives of racial inclusivity did not correspond to private government opinion that continued to differentiate between different types of Britishness. This offered a sense of inclusivity to ‘returnees’ but in readjusting to life in the metropole, many found their identity was situated within an imperial diaspora rather than a metropolitan elite.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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British Imperial Identity, Diaspora, Return migration, Twentieth Century Britain, 20th century Britain

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28 February 2019

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Date Deposited:

02 Apr 2019 14:58

Last Modified:

03 Jan 2023 11:05


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