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Historian and presenter Niall Ferguson takes us on a fascinating journey in both time and space to explore the impact of the British empire on the modern world. From the earliest British settlers in Virginia to the decline of the empire in the aftermath of the two World Wars, positive and negative aspects of the empire are illustrated through key events and players.
Niall Ferguson uses a wealth of original sources such as quotes, documents, film footage and photographs, as well as taking a contemporary look at key locations and drawing parallels with recent history, such as the USA's war against terrorism.
The series is highly entertaining, informative and thought-provoking, and provides an excellent and balanced overview of the British empire and its continuing legacy in the world.
Part one: Why Britain?
In this programme we learn about the origins of the British empire in the 17th century and how its foundations were laid, not by a grand political strategy but by British pirates, especially in the Caribbean. The British economic style of reinvesting in places like Jamaica led to commercial success as its raw materials sugar, tobacco and coffee were in huge demand back at home in Britain.
Seventeenth-century India was a rich nation, producing a quarter of the world's output, so it is no surprise that the major nations fought over it. The British won the seven-year war with France over supremacy in the colonies, thanks to its superior warships and much stronger finances, which left Britain as the controlling force in India.
We get a glimpse of how the British lived in India, the central role played by the East India Company, and how a commercial base developed into political control.
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