British historians influenced the empire in critical ways. Time's Monster shows how the modern vision of history as a form of ethics empowered historians to shape policy, while history became a justification for domination. Later, alternative notions of history revised the discipline's ethics and effects, reminding us that ideas have consequences.
How did the British get to be so blinkered about their own history? In Time’s Monster: How History Makes History , a probing new book, the Stanford professor Priya Satia argues that British views of empire remain 'hostage to myth' partly because historians made them so ... Time’s Monster joins a dense body of scholarship analyzing liberal justifications for empire ... Historians, whether mythmaking or record-righting, draw on sources that are themselves shaped by historical pressures—and these, too, played a role in distorting the picture of the imperial past ... Satia joins Gopal, Hirsch, and a growing number of historians—many of them scholars of color—in trying to change [the colonial/imperial] storyline ... Satia, taking inspiration from the work of Urdu poets, calls on historians to step away from narratives of moral progress and seek fresh ways to connect the present and the past.
Time’s Monster is a coruscating and important reworking of the relationship between history, historians and empire. It is also a frustrating account. The thread running through Time’s Monster is the need to understand the catastrophic consequences of rooting ethical claims in particular historical narratives ... Time’s Monster helps lay bare the discipline of history’s 'collusion in empire'. It also reveals, however, perhaps unwittingly, what remains valuable in Enlightenment ideas of history and of humanity.
... a book that explores the ways in which the field of history 'helped make empire.' The empire in question is Britain’s; and in her telling of the imperial tale, British historians were the ethical and moral enablers of the statesmen, soldiers and adventurers who would, by cannon and cunning, conquer half the world ... A professor of history at Stanford University, Ms. Satia is notably erudite. She is also achingly progressive. One hesitates to use the term 'woke' —a plebeian, yet sometimes indispensable, word—to describe a professor whose scholarship is so heartfelt. But there can be no doubting her progressive credentials when she writes that history, once 'the exclusive playground of white men,' has been much improved by 'the inclusion of women and people of color.' ... In spite of its unyielding ideology, Ms. Satia’s book is attractive and original. Her core thesis is that a zealous cadre of historians provided moral cover and justification for Britain’s 'liberal imperialism' —a colonial conceit she believes to be self-contradictory, with its idea of a liberating and paternalistic form of governance that was at once 'unequal, authoritarian, and exploitative.' History, she says, was central to a framework of ethics that arose with the Enlightenment.