Book Review: Race and Imperial Defence in the British World, 1870-1914


by John C. Mitcham

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 262. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $105.00. ISBN: 110713899X

Defending the “White” Empire

With this, his first book, Prof. Mitcham (Duquesne), who has specialized in British imperial history, with an emphasis on the “settler colonies”, gives scholars the first comprehensive account of the evolution of the process that integrated the “white” dominions – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa – with Britain in an overarching imperial security partnership.

This construct was rooted in the cultural and racial ties of the “global diaspora of Britons”, sparked by increasing threats to British power – from France, Germany, Russia, Japan, even the U.S. – that made it imperative for the self-governing white colonies – despite relatively sparse populations and slender budgets -- to lend a hand in the common defense, not only for purposes of self-defense, but also to demonstrate solidarity with the Empire. The road to a common security partnership was at times bumpy, but by the South African War of 1899-1902 virtually all the white colonies sent contingents to support the British, and the evolution of the relationship paid dividends in 1914, when the dominions were quick to come to the aid of the “Mother Country”, albeit with some reluctance from some French Canadians and some Boers.

Mitcham touches on many subjects in building his argument, contemporary concepts of “race” and racial politics, shifting alliances and threats, naval and military policy, popular culture, public ritual, including Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, even the Boy Scouts and the popularity of “invasion literature”. Although it would have benefited from a few maps, this is a valuable read for anyone seriously interested in the evolution of British imperial defense policy, the military history of the Commonwealth, and even late nineteenth century popular culture in the British world.


Note: Race and Imperial Defence in the British World is also available in several e-editions/


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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