Angus Calder

Angus Calder Revolutionary Empire: The Rise of the English-Speaking Empires from the 15th Century to the 1780s will be published in March. He is the author of The People’s War: Britain 1939-1945.

God’s Own

Angus Calder, 12 March 1992

It is no surprise when you arrive in Harare, formerly Salisbury, and a taxi driver recommends the Courtney Hotel. After all, there is still a hotel named after Speke in Kampala, Uganda, and the New Stanley Hotel has remained a well-known establishment in Nairobi. But to discover that the Courtney is in Selous Avenue is more of a jolt It’s over a decade since Mugabe and his guerrillas in effect won the war to liberate Zimbabwe, but its capital’s street names are a bizarre mélange. North of Selous the next avenue is Livingstone; then comes Herbert Chitepo, named after an African leader martyred in the struggle. To the south, Baker and Speke intrude between Samora Machel and Mugabe. Since those two famous explorers never came anywhere near the territory formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, their continued invocation in the centre of decolonised Harare is remarkable testimony to the charisma attached to the myth of the doughty white man worming into the core of a dark continent.

Enemies of Promise

Angus Calder, 2 March 1989

Just seventy years after Friday, 31 January 1919, when troops and tanks stood by to quell a mass rally, in Glasgow’s George Square, of West of Scotland workers campaigning for a forty-hour week, the event was remembered in the People’s Palace, the museum of labour history on Glasgow Green. A bronze bust of Willie Gallacher by Ian Walters was not so much unveiled as proclaimed. It sits at the top of the building, in the room where Ken Currie’s controversial Rivera-style murals of working-class history can be seen around the ceiling: but the speeches were made in the Winter Garden downstairs, where heavy rain dripping through the glass roof and a chill which gnawed one’s bowels did not dismay the two hundred people who had gathered to honour the man who from 1935 to 1950 was Honourable Member for West Fife (Comm.), and an activist long before that on the Clyde Workers Committee.

Collected Works

Angus Calder, 5 January 1989

The Book of Genesis explains that work is a punishment inflicted on humans for Adam’s Fall. In the Authorised Version, God tells Adam: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.’ The New English Bible translates as ‘labour’ what King James’s scholars called ‘sorrow’ – ‘Accursed shall be the ground on your account. With labour you shall win your food from it.’ A few pages later comes the very odd passage in which Noah’s son Ham sees him naked when drunk. Awakening from his stupor, Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan – ‘a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren’ – and this text was used by Early Modern Europeans to justify the translation of black Africans into the doleful state of chattel slavery.’

Cropping the bluebells

Angus Calder, 22 January 1987

Professor Smout has had the difficult task of providing a sequel to a book which now looks like a landmark in Scottish historiography. Published in 1969, his History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 combined economic, social and cultural history to provide a new overview of Scotland in transition which dissolved mythologies and liberated imagination. Its effects have been seen in many valuable monographs published since. As the Scottish landscape was once transformed by lairdly improvers, so Smout and his followers have created fertile fields where there were once intellectual bogs. Thus, while Dr Leneman’s Living in Atholl is not going to shake post-Smout conceptions – it is essentially a conscientious sifting of the Atholl Muniments in Blair Castle and shows signs of necessary deference towards the ducal line whose latest representative honours it with a foreword – it contributes new tinctures and shadows to our picture of 18th-century Scotland. The Atholl estates straddled Highlands and Lowlands. Dr Leneman, who makes enterprising use of Gaelic verse, quotes in translation a poem of 1781 which salutes the Duke’s lovely province:’

Joining up

Angus Calder, 3 April 1986

A major in the Royal Anglian Regiment talks to Tony Parker about battle:

A myth now, what is that? ‘A purely fictitious narrative embodying some popular idea concerning natural or historical phenomena,’ my Shorter Oxford says, adding: ‘Often used...

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Kiss Count

John Campbell, 19 April 1984

The spectacle of members of the upper class setting out solemnly and in a spirit of scientific research to study the lower classes in their natural habitat is a peculiarly Thirties phenomenon....

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Freaks of Empire

V.G. Kiernan, 16 July 1981

‘Revolutionary empire’ is a bold term which may be taken in various senses. Like the Roman and Arab before it, but on a grander scale, the British Empire was a powerful force in...

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