Sunday, January 25, 2009

Martin Wiener's "An Empire on Trial"

Martin J. Wiener is Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Rice University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Empire on Trial: Race, Murder, and Justice under British Rule, 1870–1935, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, An Empire on Trial, describes the struggle between Governor Arthur Gordon and Trinidad planters in the 1860s over how the ordinary people of this British colony, formerly enslaved blacks and indentured East Indians, were to be treated. This struggle was repeated later in Trinidad and in many other parts of the British empire. It highlights one of the themes of the book, which is that the empire was not only divided racially, but also divided within the dominant "white" race. British officials, on the one hand, and white settlers, landowners and businessmen on the other, often had very different values and aims; indeed, often two distinct and clashing understandings of what "Britishness" and "the rule of law" meant. These clashing understandings deeply influenced the history of the British empire, more so than historians have as yet appreciated.

In the book I use the criminal justice system - the prosecution of inter-racial killing - as a lens through which to explore, in seven different territories of the empire, how this conflict expressed itself over a specific, and highly inflammatory, issue. This conflict was part of a broader conflict than ran through the modern history of the empire, one which has implications even today: between the liberal values that permeated British life and thought and the facts of racial inequality in Britain's empire.
Read an excerpt from An Empire on Trial, and learn more about the book from the Cambridge University Press website.

Martin Wiener's other publications include the books English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 and Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness, and Criminal Justice in Victorian England.

--Marshal Zeringue