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Empire, exile, identity: locating Sir James Mackintosh’s histories of England

Gust, A.L.; (2011) Empire, exile, identity: locating Sir James Mackintosh’s histories of England. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis explores the configuration and performance of national identity in Britain and the British empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, through a case study of the life of Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832). Using Mackintosh’s unpublished journals and letters, alongside his published and political writings, it illustrates the relationship between social identity and spatial location in the construction of national belonging. It shows how Mackintosh’s social and geographical location both enabled his vision of the nation to be influential and informed that vision. Born in the Scottish Highlands, Mackintosh received his education from leading proponents of the Scottish enlightenment in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Encouraged to identify himself with a concept of civilisation that was equated to an urban, metropolitan and middle-class masculinity, Mackintosh distanced himself from his origins and connections with Highland Scotland, a space deemed ‘backwards’ and uncivilised. As a young Whig gentleman living in London during the 1790s, Mackintosh brought Scottish Enlightenment principles to bear on debates over the French Revolution and reform in Britain. Configuring the nation through this debate, Mackintosh used classed, gendered and racialised tropes to draw the imaginary boundaries of national belonging. The relationship between national belonging, social identity and spatial location is most evident during the period that Mackintosh spent in Bombay. Mackintosh’s portrayal of himself ‘in exile’ in Bombay, his attempts to reform Bombay’s colonial society and to protect himself and his family from Indian ‘degeneracy’ offer an insight into what it meant for him to feel ‘at home’. Arguing that this concept of ‘home’ was premised upon an exclusively white and middle class masculinity that was imagined spatially as metropolitan, this thesis shows how Mackintosh attempted to write this identity into the histories of England that he produced at the end of his life.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Empire, exile, identity: locating Sir James Mackintosh’s histories of England
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History

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