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Trafalgar Square and the Narration of Britishness, 1900-2012

Imagining the Nation


Shanti Sumartojo

London’s Trafalgar Square is one of the world’s best known public places, and during its relatively short history has seen violent protest, imperial and royal spectacle and wild national celebration. This book draws together scholarship on national identity, cultural geography, and the histories of Britain and London to ask what role the Square has played in narrating British national identity through its many uses. The author focuses on a series of examples to draw out her arguments, ranging from the Suffragettes’ use of the site in the early twentieth century to the Fourth Plinth contemporary art scheme in the early twenty-first. The book explores how different users of the Square have understood national identity, and how the site itself has shaped this narrative through its built elements and history of use. Ultimately, Trafalgar Square and the Narration of Britishness, 1900-2012 uses the Square to explore the processes by which urban public place can help to construct, maintain or transform national identity.


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Chapter 3 Empire, Suffrage and the Great War (1900-1918)


Chapter 3 Empire, Suf frage and the Great War (1900–1918) If Trafalgar Square’s role in the twentieth century can be characterised as a relationship between the of ficial, imperial and monolithic on the one hand and the subversive, counter-hegemonic and multiple on the other, then its meanings have been constituted by many groups staking their own claim in the space. This chapter will explore how this process unfolded in the years before and during the Great War, a period of less than twenty years. Its main focus is the use of the Square by campaigners for female suf frage and how they activated the history and symbolism of the site to make their claims for expanded participation in national life. These activities serve as a good example of the process of interaction between the ‘top-down’ and the ‘from-below’ that has made the Square a unique debating chamber on the nature of British national identity. The chapter also discusses how the Square was used during the Great War, almost entirely for pro-war pur- poses such as recruiting and fund-raising, and how it also formed part of the backdrop to the Armistice celebrations in November 1918. This chapter will begin to show how the Square helped to construct national identity in three main ways. The first is through ongoing reference to the imperial history represented by the Square’s design and monuments. This was certainly not limited to Trafalgar Square itself, but was an impor- tant aspect of the surrounding landscape of...

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