In a recent issue of the prestigious Third World Quarterly , the political scientist Bruce Gilley published an article exploring the positive case for colonialism. The article provoked an intense backlash from several quarters and forced Gilley to withdraw it. In a recent op-ed essay for The Times , Nigel Biggar defended Gilley’s approach by noting that dispassionate scrutiny of the historical record uncovers many positive aspects of Britain’s colonial past as well as negative ones. His response formed the basis of a news item in The Daily Express and immediately provoked a series of letters to The Times and a letter one week later signed by more than 180 signatories, which led to two further letters in response. The article was followed by a further essay on a similar theme by the historian of empire Lawrence James.
The essay’s arguments touch on themes at the heart of “Ethics and Empire”, a five-year interdisciplinary project led by Professor Biggar and held under the auspices of the McDonald Centre. The project will gather colleagues from Classics, Oriental Studies, History, Political Thought, and Theology in a series of workshops to measure apologias and critiques of empire against historical data from antiquity to modernity across the globe. Further details of the project are available here.