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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 5 The Cold War and the Colonies (1948-1990)


Chapter 5 The Cold War and the Colonies (1948–1990) The domestic focus present during the VE Day celebrations – evident in the f loodlighting of important buildings and the local crowd-feeling that was reported by participants – intensified for many people in the decade after the war. Reconstruction of British cities and industry occured slowly, and into the 1950s the country was muf f led by a sense of pessimism. Christopher Isherwood, visiting London in winter 1947, was confronted and depressed by London’s ‘physical shabbiness’: ‘Plaster was peeling from even the most fashionable squares and crescents; hardly a building was freshly painted […]. Many once stylish restaurants were now reduced to drabness and even squalor […]. London remembered the past and was ashamed of its present appearance. Several Londoners I talked to at that time believed it would never recover. “This is a dying city,” one of them told me’.1 The ‘landscape of fear’ that described London during the war appeared to remain relevant in its traumatised post-war fabric. In terms of its external relationships, the British Empire was changing to a Commonwealth of independent states, a process of decolonisation that was ref lected in changing patterns of immigration to the UK. The relationship with Europe was transformed by the entry of the UK into the European Economic Community in 1973, ending the previous system of preferential trading with Commonwealth countries, while the ‘special relationship’ with the US continued to strengthen post-war. As London was slowly rebuilt, these changes to global politics and...

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