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The 'Wind of Change': Britain and the end of Empire

The ‘Wind of Change’ Fifty Years on: Britain and the end of Empire in the 1950s and 1960s

Tue, 23 Mar 2010

The end of the British Empire and its continuing impact will be the focus of an international conference at the University of East Anglia marking 50 years since Harold Macmillan's landmark 'Wind of Change' speech on the future of colonial rule.

The two-day event on March 26-27 will look at the political, international and military aspects of Britain's decolonisation, as well as new cultural and social perspectives on the end of empire. It will also look at the role of Macmillan, the then Prime Minister, whose speech helped to speed up the process of African independence.

Entitled The 'Wind of Change' Fifty Years on: Britain and the end of Empire in the 1950s and 1960s, the conference has been organised by Dr Larry Butler of the School of History at UEA and Dr Sarah Stockwell of the Department of History at King's College London. The first of its kind for nearly 30 years, it will bring together leading figures in decolonisation studies from Britain, Europe, the United States and southern Africa.

Dr Butler said Macmillan's speech and the consequences of Britain's decolonisation continued to be relevant. "For parts of the world it is still very much a live issue and people are very interested in re-examining their own history, particularly in Africa and Asia where they are finding their position as former colonies hugely relevant to their situation today," said Dr Butler. "For example, a younger generation in Africa sometimes seems less critical about the record of colonialism. They have experienced post-colonialism and found it disappointing.

"If you look at Zimbabwe, what is happening there now can be linked back to Macmillan's speech, there are still unresolved issues. Other parts of Africa were affected by the speech, but Zimbabwe was the one big exception, it wasn't resolved immediately and the long term consequences are still unravelling."

It was on February 3 1960 that Macmillan made his historic speech in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town claiming that a 'wind of change' was blowing through Africa. It was the first sign that Britain was changing direction and that the government accepted the days of empire were over. It was followed by a wholesale British retreat from empire in Africa and elsewhere which, with the demise of other European colonial empires transformed the geopolitical map.

Themes to be discussed during the conference include: authority, disorder and violence at the end of Empire; British imperial policy and decolonization; the politics of British decolonisation; and the end of empire and British society, gender, race and culture.

For more information about the conference visit