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For the architectural style, see Ornamentalism (architecture).
Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire
Author David Cannadine
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre History

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire is a book by David Cannadine about British perceptions of the British Empire.[1] Cannadine argues that class, rank and status[2] were more important to the British Empire than race.[3] The title of the work Ornamentalism is a direct reference to Edward Said's book Orientalism, which argues the existence of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Peter J. Marshall states that Cannadine makes two arguments in Ornamentalism:

  • 1. "...the history of the British empire and the history of Britain itself are inseparable and must be studied as a seamless whole"[4]
  • 2. "the high days of British imperialism, that is from about 1850 to about 1950, the history of the empire and that of Britain were brought together by a British commitment to reproduce overseas the kind of hierarchical society that, Cannadine believes, existed in Britain"[4]


Ornamentalism has been criticized for underplaying the racist element of the civilising mission.[5]

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