The Idea of English Ethnicity

The Idea of English Ethnicity

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In this major contribution to debates about English identity, leading theorist Robert J.C. Young argues that Englishness was never really about England at all. In the nineteenth century, it was rather developed as a form of long-distance identity for the English diaspora around the world. Young shows how the effects of this continue to reverberate today, nationally and globally. * Written by an internationally established theorist, whose work has been translated into 20 languages * Shows how potent the idea of Englishness is * Helps to explain why the UK continues to act as if it has a 'special relationship' to the US * Helps to explain why the UK is so successfully multicultural * Part of the prestigious Blackwell Manifestos series
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Product details

  • Hardback | 312 pages
  • 159 x 228 x 24mm | 588g
  • Wiley-Blackwell (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Ltd)
  • Chicester, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1405101288
  • 9781405101288

Back cover copy

In recent years, particularly since devolution in the UK, there have been many attempts to identify what exactly Englishness really involves. In this major contribution to debates about English identity, leading cultural theorist Robert J. C. Young argues that the recent uncertainty about the nature of the English arises from more than just the challenges of devolution, or even the end of empire. It is rather the long-term result of the fact that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Englishness was never really about England, the place, its essence, or its national character, at all. It was rather developed as a form of ethnic identity for those who were precisely not English, but rather made up the English diaspora around the world, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans.

Englishness was constructed as a translatable quality or identity that could be taken on or appropriated by anyone anywhere - which is why the most English Englishmen have rarely been English. This construction was so powerful that even today the English diaspora continues to act together at a political level around the globe. In England itself, this meant that being English was characterized through an open structure of inclusion rather than exclusion, which helps to explain why the country has been able to transform itself into one of the most successful of modern multicultural nations.
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Table of contents

Preface. Introduction: Exodus. 1. Saxonism. 2. 'New Theory of Race: Saxon v. Celt'. 3. Moral and Philosophical Anatomy. 4. The Times vs. the Celts. 5. Matthew Arnold's Critique of 'Englishism'. 6. 'A Vaster England': The Anglo-Saxon. 7. 'England Round the World'. 8. Englishness: England and Nowhere. Notes. Index
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Review quote

"In The Idea of English Ethnicity Young is about his best largely because it is focused and his conclusions are uncluttered." (Multiculturalism, October 2010) "For the Bronte reader, the topic of ethnicity remains an intriguing one. [With] Young's suggestion that Englishness is not about race but is a translatable quality, we can identify the sisters as English. ... Young's book gives us another opportunity to consider how English the Bronte sisters really were." (Bronte Studies, November 2009) "A well-written, superbly readable and ... well structured presentation of the concepts of English ethnicity in the 19th Century. ... A worthwhile starting point." [Translated from German] (Humanities - Sozial- Und Kulturgeschichte, May 2009) "Robert J. C. Young's The Idea of English Ethnicity has never been more needed. In this compelling, impeccably researched, and eminently readable study, Young demonstrates that the singular and pure concept of English identity whose loss is now so widely reported never really existed in the first place. I cannot remember the last time that I read such a highly original book on what might seem like a relatively well-trammeled topic. Victorian Englishness and racial ideology have been the subject of innumerable studies over the past decades, but none that I can think of have the freshness, innovation, and authority of this book. The Idea of English Ethnicity can and should change the way we think about Englishness and Empire alike. Young's prose is as lucid and coherent as his arguments are innovative. Writing in a manner that is unfortunately all too rare in the academy these days, he announces his thesis early and signposts it frequently, deftly linking the new material to the larger systems of ideas on which the book is premised. The result is a highly intelligent book on an important subject that can be enjoyed by readers both inside and outside of the academy." (Journal of British Studies, October 2008) "From the vantage point of cultural studies, Young offers his interpretation of 'English ethnicity.' Young argues that a shift occurred from viewing English people as pure Saxons to Anglo-Saxons of 'mixed' blood, a definition that encompassed English speakers in the colonies and former colonies as well immigrants to England. Recommended." (Choice Reviews, December 2008) "A contribution to the literature of the continuing English identity crisis." (Times Literary Supplement, October 2008) "A major contribution to debates about English identity ... shows how potent the idea of Englishness is." (
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About Robert J. C. Young

Robert J. C. Young is Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature at New York University. His previous publications include White Mythologies (1990), Colonial Desire (1995), and Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001).
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Rating details

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