Effects of Imperialism on British Society: How Cultural Interactions and Social Adaptation Created a New British Identity



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From the late sixteenth through the nineteenth century, Great Britain expanded across the globe building an empire in diverse regions of the world on every livable continent. British engagement in overseas expansion initiated new cross-cultural exchanges on an unprecedented scale. This thesis explores how East and South Asia as well as North America influenced the British people, ultimately transforming British identity and expression through speech, appearance, and habit during the eighteenth century. The British began to modify their perspectives on themselves and their own roles in the world as the focus shifted from a nation to a global empire. Coming into contact with indigenous groups forced the inhabitants of the British Isles to either adapt to, reject and replace, or claim the newly encountered resources and cultural traits as “British.” Although studying impacts of imperialism is not new, traditional historical research on the British Empire focuses mainly on how it both positively and negatively impacted its territories, especially during the nineteenth century. I argue that imperialism infiltrated and influenced British society, especially literate middle class urban dwellers, much earlier than the traditional height of the British Empire. Although the British Empire affected territories across the world, the influence was mutual, and the cultures that the British encountered gradually shaped their society. By researching changes in British consumption, lifestyle, and expression during the eighteenth century, I show how imperialism shaped the British identity. I searched newspapers, artifacts, and printed literature that demonstrate the shifting focus of the British as they encounter new peoples. Although the British transported many products and pieces of foreign culture to new locations within their expanding control, the amazing innovations, commodities, and ideas that the empire collected should be recognized as the product of many peoples throughout the world. My findings show that the true origins of “British” culture can be traced to outside the British Isles.



Britain, National identity, Gender, Polite society, Eighteenth-century