A History of Britain (DVD). EPISODE. 4 The Wrong Empire (Simon Schama)
Study Guide What do you know about the BBC? (You might want to read this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC1) What do you expect from a film produced by the BBC?
What do you know about the author and narrator of the film, Simon Schama? (You might want to read this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Schama*) How do you see his collaboration with the BBC? As the narrator of a history of Britain?
How does Schama describe the British Empire of the 18th century? What aspects of the Empire will his film focus on?
What are the questions Schama raises in the introduction? What are the answers he gives throughout the film? What do you think of his answers?
One of Schama’s techniques for achieving irony (and sometimes caustic sarcasm) is to create dichotomies (between partial truths and whole truths, between what was thought to be true then and what today can be seen as the real truth; between truths as seen by different categories of people). Can you name some of those dichotomies and elaborate on them?
Another more subtle technique through which the film creates an ironic tone is the use of contradictions between what is being said and what is being seen. Can you give some examples and discuss them?
Schama’s tone of voice is also often ironic? Can you give some examples and discuss them? Consider his physical appearance and the surroundings in which he is filmed? How do they contribute to his discourse on the British Empire?
Liberty is a key word in the film. Discuss the different contexts in which it is discussed, and the way its changing meaning determined changes in history.
Here is the full text of the hymn Schama mentions:
Arose from out of the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sung the strain;
Rule Britannia; Britannia rule the waves!
Britons shall never be slaves.
Slavery is an important component in the making of the British Empire. Schama presents his viewers with many different perspectives on slavery. Discuss them.
What does Schama mean by the expression “Conspiracy of Silence”?
Why does he refer to sugar cane as ‘Queen Sugar’ and ‘a bitch’?
War plays a predominant role in the 18th century history of the British Empire. Discuss this role.
What does Schama mean when he says “The world was their oyster and some one else was eager to prise it open”?
1 NOTA BENE: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, to which anyone can contribute. There is no editorial board that decides what is publishable and what is not. Therefore, the accuracy, objectivity and completeness of information are not guaranteed. Consequently, when you use this information source, you need to read very critically. The two links included in this study guide appear to be reliable and to serve our purposes.