William Dalrymple: One sure way for Britain to get ahead – stop airbrushing our colonial history

William Dalrymple in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1363 Sep. 13 16.56For better or for worse, the British empire was the most important thing the British ever did. It altered the course of history across the globe and shaped the modern world. It also led to the huge enrichment of Britain, just as, conversely, it led to the impoverishment of much of the rest of the non-European world. India and China, which until then had dominated global manufacturing, were two of the biggest losers in this story, along with hundreds of thousands of enslaved sub-Saharan Africans sent off on the middle passage to work in the plantations.

Yet much of the story of the empire is still absent from our history curriculum. My children learned the Tudors and the Nazis over and over again in history class but never came across a whiff of Indian or Caribbean history. This means that they, like most people who go through the British education system, are wholly ill equipped to judge either the good or the bad in what we did to the rest of the world.

This matters. We see British diplomats, businessmen and politicians repeatedly wrongfooted as they constantly underestimate the degree to which we are distrusted across the breadth of the globe, and in a few places actively disliked. Because of the wrong-headedly positive spin we tend to put on our imperial past, we often misjudge how others see us, and habitually overplay our hand.

Last month a video went viral in India of the eloquent Congress politician and writer Shashi Tharoor arguing at the Oxford Union that Britain owed India immense reparations for the damage inflicted by the empire: at last count the YouTube video of his speech had around 3m views.

More here.