How Britain Accidentally-On-Purpose Colonized The World

"The empire on which the sun never sets." That's how the British Empire self-identified. In the 1910s, Britain ruled a quarter of the world's people, living on a quarter of the world's land. Do you know how Britain colonized places from India to Australia to most-of-Africa? Did you know the Empire ended within a few decades of its territorial peak? And did you know Alex Schmidt went to the U.K. recently, creating a perfect opportunity to dig into its fascinating history???

On this episode of The Cracked Podcast, Alex Schmidt went through customs to tape in-studio in London. He's joined by Cracked writer/editor Adam Wears, historian Dr. Charlotte Lydia Riley, and historian Dr. Kim Wagner for a journey through the British Empire's bizarre, brutal, accidentally-on-purpose rise and fall. They'll also dig into the United States' outlier status in that history, explore ways the British Empire never stopped colonizing the world, and consider how Being The Most Important Empire Of All Time (According To Britain) might've driven Britain insane.


Dr. Charlotte Lydia Riley department page (University of Southampton)

"'The winds of change are blowing economically': the Labour Party and British overseas development, 1940s-1960s" by Dr. Charlotte Lydia Riley (a chapter from Britain, France and the Decolonization of Africa: Future Imperfect? via JSTOR)

Tomorrow Never Knows Podcast

Dr. Kim Wagner department page (Queen Mary University of London)

The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 by Kim Wagner (Oxford University Press)

Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre by Kim Wagner (Yale Books)

Map: The rise and fall of the British Empire (The Washington Post)

There Are Only 22 Countries in the World That the British Haven't Invaded (Mental Floss)

William Wilberforce, 1759-1833 (BBC History)

Jeremy Corbyn vows to increase teaching of black history in schools (The Guardian)

"It is incredible that Jeremy Corbyn aspires to be the leader of a country he is apparently so ashamed of." -- Conservative MP Tim Loughton (source: BBC)

Michael Gove's claims about history teaching are false, says research (BBC) [contains the U. of East Anglia study we cited]

Nyasaland Becomes Malawi, 37th Free African Country; New Name Helps Mark Shift of Control From Whites to Black Majority (New York Times coverage in 1964)

Sunset On The British Empire (xkcd/What If?)

How the East India Company became the world's most powerful business (National Geographic)

Mughal dynasty (Encyclopedia Britannica)

From Empire to Independence: The British Raj in India 1858-1947 (BBC History)

"We seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind." -- Sir John Robert Seeley in The Expansion Of England (1883)

British India and the 'Great Rebellion' 1857 (BBC History)

What a skull in an English pub says about India's 1857 mutiny (BBC News)

review of Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants by A. James Hammerton and Alistair Thomson (Reviews In History)

Wikipedia rundown of "East Of Suez" concept

As more Aboriginal children are removed from families, critics say government risks a second Stolen Generation (PRI)

Government Boarding Schools Once Separated Native American Children From Families (

White Australia policy (National Museum of Australia)

Australia's new visa rules will hit Indians the hardest (Quartz India)

U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (

Kearneyism, the Chinese, and Labor Unrest 1877 (The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)

Donald Trump says 'much can be learned' from Australia's hardline asylum seeker policies (The Guardian)

Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 (Oxford Reference)

Apartheid: made in Britain: Richard Dowden explains how Churchill, Rhodes and Smuts caused black South Africans to lose their rights (The Independent)

Wikipedia rundown of "mother of parliaments" concept

Mau Mau uprising: Bloody history of Kenya conflict (BBC)

Ireland and World War One (BBC History)

Egyptian history: World War I and independence (Encyclopedia Britannica)

On This Day 11 November 1965: Rhodesia breaks from UK (BBC History)

Rhodesia's Dead - but White Supremacists Have Given It New Life Online (The New York Times Magazine)

Statute of Westminster 1931 (Encyclopedia Britannica) -- the UK law creating dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and Newfoundland

Clement Attlee (Encyclopedia Britannica)

"I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." -- Winston Churchill, 1942, House of Commons speech

Environment, Memory, and the Groundnut Scheme: Britain's Largest Colonial Agricultural Development Project and Its Global Legacy (the journal Global Environment, via JSTOR)

Great speeches of the 20th century: Harold McMillan "wind of change" speech, 1960 (The Guardian)

Churchill's grandson to be expelled from Conservative Party after defying Johnson (Reuters)

Labour conference 2019: What does Labour vote signify about where it stands on Brexit? (The Guardian)

UK Brexit 'surrender bill' means election now needed: Javid (Reuters)

Nigel Farage: June 23 should be Britain's 'independence day' holiday (Politico)

Government starts £125m "GREAT" Britain campaign (Marketing Week)

Nigel Farage's anti-migrant "Breaking Point" poster reported to police (The Guardian)

John Cleese criticised for saying London no longer an English city (The Guardian)

Britain wants trade deal with Australia within months after leaving EU (ABC Australia)

A No-Deal Brexit Might Just Be a Golden Opportunity (Foundation For Economic Education) -- article by a libertarian U.S. think tank, arguing for a CANZUK trade network to replace UK/EU trade

'The Empire Needs Men!', 1915 British recruitment poster (UK National Army Museum) -- poster depicting Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand as young lions

Why the UK Is Wary of American "Chlorinated Chicken" (Modern Farmer)