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Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850 [Hardcover]

Holger Hoock
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 2010
Between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, Britain evolved from a substantial international power yet relative artistic backwater into a global superpower and a leading cultural force in Europe. In this original and wide-ranging book, Hoock illuminates the manifold ways in which the culture of power and the power of culture were interwoven in this period of dramatic change. Britons invested artistic and imaginative effort to come to terms with the loss of the American colonies; to sustain the generation-long fight against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France; and to assert and legitimate their growing empire in India. Demonstrating how Britain fought international culture wars over prize antiquities from the Mediterranean and Near East, the book explores how Britons appropriated ancient cultures from the Mediterranean, the Near East, and India, and casts a fresh eye on iconic objects such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles.

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Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850 + History, Commemoration and National Preoccupation: Trafalgar 1805-2005 (British Academy Occasional Papers)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861978596
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861978592
  • Product Dimensions: 24.6 x 18 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 553,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Dr Holger Hoock is a historian of Britain and the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Holger Hoock (b. 1972) grew up near Heidelberg in Germany. He studied History, Politics, and Law in Freiburg, Germany, and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and holds a Doctorate in Modern History from Oxford (2001). He taught at the Universities of Cambridge and Liverpool, where he also was the Founding Director of the Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre. He currently serves as the Carroll J. Amundson Professor of British History at the University of Pittsburgh.

His first book, "The King's Artists" was runner-up for the 2004 Whitfield Prize in British History. Holger received the Philip-Leverhulme-Prize for internationally recognized young researchers in History (2006), and has held numerous international fellowships, including at the Library of Congress, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and the Konstanz Institute for Advanced Study. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

His most recent book, "Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850" was published by Profile Books in Feb. 2010 and in the USA in September 2010.

For further details on his biography, books, &c. check out his website: www.holgerhoock.com

Product Description

Review

''Empires of the Imagination' is a bold, provocative and ambitious book' --Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor of Modern History, King's College, London

'Empires of the Imagination is a bold, provocative and ambitious book.' --Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor of Modern History, King's College London

'an excellent book, brimming with insights and splendid illustrations...a sumptuous treat indeed' --Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph

"ambitious, authoritative survey of British visual culture in an age of imperial ascent" -- Maya Jasan

"beautifully produced, closely argued and deeply researched...an important, weighty book. It deserves close scrutiny and a warm reception." --Prof. Denis Judd, BBC History Magazine

"a hefty, exceptionally learned and exhaustively ... researched book ... Hoock's feel for the creative disorderliness of the time is a pleasure" --Simon Schama, Financial Times

"a learned, engrossing book. ... For anybody interested in British painting, military history or the culture of empire, this is a sumptuous treat indeed." --Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph

"ambitious, authoritative survey of British visual culture in an age of imperial ascent" --Maya Jasanoff, Guardian

'Empires Of The Imagination is a remarkable achievement, as sumptuous in argument as it is in presentation.'
--Brian Morton, Sunday Herald

"Hoock's analysis is of an astonishing breadth. It proves equally entertaining and encyclopaedic by virtue of good story-telling" --Deborah Rosario, Oxonian Review

Book Description

This scholarly yet highly accessible book illuminates the manifold ways in which the culture of power and the power of culture were interwoven and shaped the character of British public life.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful blend 7 Feb 2010
By D. P. Mankin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in British history, politics and artistic culture, then this is simply a wondefully well-written book. What I really enjoyed was the way in which Holger Hoock blends these themes into a century long narrative that is informative, captivating and fluently written. I bought this book because of the author's approach to the subject matter and his central thesis that "the British State, politics, war, and empire were more significant sites and agents of cultural change than has generally been acknowledged". This is the best non-fiction book I've read since Richard Holmes' 'Age of Wonder'. It exceeded my expectations so much that I've decided to track down a copy of his first book on the RA and the politics of Britsih culture published in 2003.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An imaginative work 17 Sep 2010
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Empires of the Imagination is about the impact of Britain's empire on its arts and culture between 1750 and 1850, the period when, according to the author, empire-building began to have a visual impact at home. The book roams widely, from reactions to the lost American empire to London's triumphant statuary, and via antiquity collection in the Near East to despoliation and conservation in India. Hoock meditates, for example, on public and private reactions to the loss of America as seen through memorials and painting in Britain, and its counterpart: the melting down of Georgian statues in the rebel states. He has a chapter on Anglo-French rivalry in Egypt and Egyptology. And another provides the grubby story of the acquisition of the Elgin marbles. Indeed, one of Hoock's arguments is that the state was far more involved in supplying for an imperial culture than is generally recognised, and he uses the Elgin marbles as illustration.

Hoock's work is easy to read and entertaining. Though it has footnotes and looks like a scholarly tome, it really sits between academic and popular history. It is a wider work for the informed reader, not a specialist's tract for the art historian. It deserves only one warning: while it promises to about 'the culture of power and the power of culture', the book really is far more about the first than the second. It is easier to show the impact of power on culture than the other way around, to show how power translates into monuments and museums rather than how culture produces that diplomatic missive, that act of parliament, that war decision or even a body of them. Empires of the Imagination is no exception in this respect, though, and this does not detract from its value as an interesting and valuable survey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An involving read. 30 Aug 2010
By D. Parkin TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book on the back of some glowing reviews, and I was not disappointed. The book rattled along for much of its length, and smacks of rigorous research. The part dealing with British memorials made me want to go to London to revisit sites mentioned in the text, in order to experience them with new eyes.
The written style is accessible and informed, and the tale of state acquisition of foreign treasures is well told. For this reader, the energy level that permeated the first two-thirds of the book appeared to tail off somewhat towards the end, which was a pity, as the story of changing British attitudes towards Subcontinental art and heritage is a fascinating one; perhaps the author felt on firmer ground when dealing with the Americas and Middle East/Greece, which is a more well-trodden path for western scholars. Be that as it may, I would recommend this book for its scholarly approach and ambition. It is not light reading, demanding quite close attention to the text, but it does make the reader think about the relationship between the state and how it presents its history and acquired treasures to its people.
Well worth the money (at its discounted price).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Retiring For 22 Jun 2011
By Duncurin VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Beautiful sumptuous book. I made a half-hearted start and found myself not making much progress. Then came the Royal Wedding and I realised that I was reading about the delights contained in Westminster Abbey and I could not help but wonder if all those guests knew what was around them ! Then came St Paul's , North America and Canada which I found just as fascinating. I wonder if in this day of information excess and posting You Tube videos, available to all, whether we still have the skills to represent our history in such a fascinating and interesting way that will survive for hundreds of years. Books such as this will make us stop and look next time we see a painting or a sculpture or a bas relief. I stalled a little in the section on India but I am sure this is no less important to those with an interest in this sub-continent and found the Epilogue about the Crystal palace exhibition fascinating. Prof. Hook writes beautifully and reveals his facts in an objective non contentious way when talking about the procurement of things like the Elgin marbles and more difficult areas which I will leave the reader to judge, as he does, for themselves. This is the sort of book that one could buy in and look forward to reading after retirement, though the delights within its pages would make one want to dip into it now !
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An imaginative work 17 Sep 2010
By reader 451 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Empires of the Imagination is about the impact of Britain's empire on its arts and culture between 1750 and 1850, the period when, according to the author, empire-building began to have a visual impact at home. The book roams widely, from reactions to the lost American empire to London's triumphant statuary, and via antiquity collection in the Near East to despoliation and conservation in India. Hoock meditates, for example, on public and private reactions to the loss of America as seen through memorials and painting in Britain, and its counterpart: the melting down of Georgian statues in the rebel states. He has a chapter on Anglo-French rivalry in Egypt and Egyptology. And another provides the grubby story of the acquisition of the Elgin marbles. Indeed, one of Hoock's arguments is that the state was far more involved in supplying for an imperial culture than is generally recognised, and he uses the Elgin marbles as illustration.

Hoock's work is easy to read and entertaining. Though it has footnotes and looks like a scholarly tome, it really sits between academic and popular history. It is a wider work for the informed reader, not a specialist's tract for the art historian. It deserves only one warning: while it promises to about 'the culture of power and the power of culture', the book really is far more about the first than the second. It is easier to show the impact of power on culture than the other way around, to show how power translates into monuments and museums rather than how culture produces that diplomatic missive, that act of parliament, that war decision or even a body of them. Empires of the Imagination is no exception in this respect, though, and this does not detract from its value as an interesting and valuable survey.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Book about the Power of Symbolic Art 25 Feb 2010
By Shelley B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What characterizes a nation? What makes citizens into patriots? What stirs in a citizen a sense of loyalty to a state so intense as to make him willing to die a violent death in battle, or to make her willing to send her son to such a fate, or to make them rally to the leaders' expansionist urges?

In this brilliant, lively, detailed, and provocative new book about Britain from the mid-18th Century to the mid-19th Century, historian Holger Hoock answers these and related questions this way: A nation is (or can be) characterized through its public art, its memorials and statues, its pomp and ceremony, and its music. The nature of representation through art is, of course, symbolic; consistent exposure to the same or similar symbols ultimately defines the shared experiences of the populace, and thus the ethos of a nation. Those who choose what to symbolize and how to do so, therefore, become powerful actors in the creation of a nation. Hoock arrives at these themes, which I have just generalized and no doubt over-simplified, as he traces how Britain solidified its image as an enlightened and superior imperial conqueror through the creation of a public memory glorifying heroism and conquest. The magic of public art is how painlessly it inculcates values.

Hoock develops his theme convincingly through well-researched examples, including the over-the-top coronation of King George III and the great Handel jubilee of 1785. One of my favorite stories, however, may be anti-thematic, except insofar as it illustrates how understating defeat can also serve to modify the public memory by inviting forgetting. It is about the memorial in Westminster Abbey (itself a new venue for public monuments during this time period) to British soldier-spy John Andre, who was Benedict Arnold's co-conspirator during the American Revolution. The British, as we all know, lost that war, and defeat did not fit very well with the theme of glorious conqueror. Still, it was important to find a representative of valiant service during that war, and Andre was a handsome young officer who heroically faced death at the gallows, an ignoble fate assigned to him by a supposedly vindictive George Washington. The monument built for Andre is an odd sarcophagus-shaped block with a carved scene depicting an upright Washington watching Andre being led to the gallows tree. Apparently the few who commented on the memorial found it ambiguous. There never was prominent British art memorializing this particular war.

Another fascinating part of the story is Britain's use of the art and artifacts plundered from vanquished countries and cultures to elevate its own status, which in turn justified the continued collection and removal of irreplaceable items. One needs only to walk through the British Museum or the National Gallery to begin to appreciate the extent of British plunder. The possession and safekeeping of so much opulence, from ancient artifacts to hand-illuminated manuscripts to entire buildings, was seen as a sign of British superiority as well as an act of paternalistic responsibility to tend to important items on behalf of less capable peoples in other parts of the world. At first, viewing of collected items and art works was limited to those citizens (peers) deemed capable of their appreciation, but, by the end of Hoock's time period, the general British public, or at least those properly dressed, were allowed to expand their knowledge and their appreciation of their country through admission to the newly created museums. In this way there grew a popular sense of British entitlement, useful in reinforcing government imperialistic urges.

Hoock, in sum, has written a compelling history, richly illustrated. No one who reads it can ever again (if he or she did before) argue for the irrelevance of art, for Hoock shows that art is integral to our values, that our values are integral to who we are, what we choose to do, and what we will allow others to do in our name.
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