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Dismantling Empire from Within: The British Imperial System and the end of German Colonialism

Carlsbergfondets postdoc-stipendier i Danmark


The project is about the British imperial system and the end of the German colonial Empire after the First World War. It will examine to things in particular: first, how pre-war ideologies of empire and views of German colonialism were carried into post-war diplomacy where the League of Nations was established. Second, it will discuss how the confiscation of Germany's colonies impacted the British imperial system itself. After the war, former colonies such as Australia and South Africa themselves obtained colonies. This had a profound impact on the British Empire throughout the twentieth century where it became increasingly decentralised before its eventual dissolution after 1945.


This project can bridge a longstanding dichotomy in world history of pre- and post- 1914 by exploring continuities and tendencies that goes across the war. The takeover of Germany's colonies has long been overlooked by historians, but it is nonetheless an insightful microcosm on the global impact of the First World War and the ensuing peace talks in Paris. In fact, it was the first incident of decolonisation and ushered in a new world order with the Mandate System and the League of Nations. Although often considered a failure, these institutions have in recent literature been shown as crucial steps towards decolonisation and the creation of global cooperation and the United Nations. By exploring the imperial roots hereof, we can better understand key institutions of our globalising world.


The project will, of course, be based on a sound empirical basis and on archival research in a variety of countries such as Britain, Australia and South Africa. Furthermore, with the global history aspect, it will include the collaboration of various scholars and institutions from around the world and its outcomes and arguments will be tested at various conferences.


The aftermath of the First World War is a crucial moment in world history that saw the foundation of global governance and developments that led towards decolonisation after 1945. This project will revise our understanding of this moment and provide fresh interpretations of its context, legacies and the impact it had which will enable us to explore further the foundations of modern-day global governance. Global governance is an important theme to understand not only the past, but possibly also the future as the world today is becoming increasingly interdependent and seeing the need for global collaboration and governance.