An Empire on Trial: Race, Murder, and Justice under British Rule, 1870-1935

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An Empire on Trial is the first book to explore the issue of interracial homicide in the British Empire during its height – examining these incidents and the prosecution of such cases in each of seven colonies scattered throughout the world. It uncovers and analyzes the tensions of empire that underlay British rule and delves into how the problem of maintaining a liberal empire manifested itself in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The work demonstrates the importance of the processes of criminal justice to the history of the empire and the advantage of a trans-territorial approach to understanding the complexities and nuances of its workings. An Empire on Trial is of interest to those concerned with race, empire, or criminal justice, and to historians of modern Britain or of colonial Australia, India, Kenya, or the Caribbean. Political and postcolonial theorists writing on liberalism and empire, or race and empire, will also find this book invaluable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With characteristic sagacity and verve, Martin Weiner tackles one of the central themes of modern British imperial history—the relationship between liberalism and empire. His wide-ranging and richly documented study of colonial interracial murder trials gives a human face to a subject too often approached as a theoretical abstraction. Vivid, nuanced, and provocative, this book challenges us to look more closely and think more carefully about racial domination and the rule of law in the British Empire." —Dane Kennedy, George Washington University

"This original and well-written study can be read with great profit by scholars of law and of Empire; it adds an important and long neglected dimension to both areas of study, and in the process reveals yet more of the rich and complex weft and warp of the history of British imperial rule." —David Killingray, Goldsmiths College, University of London

"In An Empire on Trial Martin Wiener gives us an absorbing account of the tension between the principles of British law and its rendering in the colonies. Wiener does a superb job of demonstrating the profound variation in colonial experience of the law and in revealing the ever fraught relationship between local and central objectives. His extraordinarily wide-ranging comparative approach, his carefully argued position, and his deep knowledge of the criminal law all serve to make this study an important and original contribution to legal and to imperial British history." —Philippa Levine, University of Southern California

"One of the many virtues of An Empire on Trial is the way it persuades the reader of the significance of the history of criminal justice and demonstrates the centrality of the law in Britain and colonial society. At another level Wiener interprets the evolution of the law in relation to new trends in the social, economic, and cultural history of Britain and the Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book is thus a historiographical landmark, but it will also be of interest to the general public because of its clear and compelling style and the dramatic focus on murder trials. In every way An Empire on Trial is a tour de force." —Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

"In this important, path-breaking, study in comparative colonial history, Professor Wiener engagingly and persuasively demonstrates the complex and conflicting pulls on the criminal justice systems of a range of multi-racial British colonies. Confidently steering between reductionist and complacent renderings of imperialism, he shows the extent to which British politicians, the Colonial Office, colonial officials, the judiciary, and, not least, the colonized, pushed for genuine equality before the law for all residents of these possessions, typically in the face of visceral opposition by European minorities with their own limited and self-interested vision of the rule of law and its protections." —John McLaren, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Victoria, British Columbia

"...a complex, fascinating, and sometimes controversial book." -Sascha Auerbach, Journal of British Studies

"Recommended." -Choice

"An Empire on Trial is strong in its diverse and compelling case studies."
Victorian Studies, R. W. Kostal, University of Western Ontario

"Lively and well written, Wiener's study addresses important questions about imperial governance and policy and engages with important historiographical issues without losing either its narrative force or the human dimension and particularly of historical events." -Journal of Modern History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521735070
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin J. Wiener is Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of History at Rice University. He is the author of numerous works, including English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850–1980, Reconstructing the Criminal, and Men of Blood. Dr Wiener is a past President of the North American Conference on British Studies and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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Table of Contents

1. On the high seas; 2. Queensland, 1869–1889; 3. Fiji, 1875–1885; 4. Trinidad and the Bahamas, 1886–1897; 5. India: the setting; 6. India: in the legal arena, 1889–1922; 7. Kenya, 1905–1934; 8. British Honduras 1934.

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