Anglo-File: History and Culture in the British Isles

We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that.”

Hugh Grant as the British Prime Minister
Love, Actually (2003)

What do you think of when you think of Britain? Why does British history and culture fascinate so many people around the world?  As the words of Hugh Grant’s fictional Prime Minister eloquently and comically demonstrate, Great Britain has had a profound impact on the world during the last several centuries. The country has produced artistic and political giants, launched industrialization and modern liberal democracy, and forged an Empire on which “the sun never set.” As particularly the latter example demonstrates, Britain’s history has not always been benevolent or proud. Yet it remains a rich and important field for the student of history, and one that can be brought to vivid life through an exploration of the city of London and the British Isles.

This course will survey the aspects of British history and culture that “anglophiles” are often most intrigued by. Our goal will be to discover what it has meant to be British in different times and places – in the eyes of the world, and for Britons themselves. We will visit castles, and discuss the long history of the British monarchy. We will explore how literary figures from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, and popular cultures from Shakespeare plays to the music of the Beatles, have shaped a vision of British national identity. We will walk the gas-lit streets of the Victorian city, known for its raucous music halls but also violent crime, taking a tour of the infamous murders of Jack the Ripper. We will study Britain’s role in the two world wars, paying special attention to the Blitz, when the city of London itself became a battleground. We will examine London’s history as an imperial capital, analyzing the rise and fall of the British Empire, and the emergence of Britain as a multicultural nation. Our journey will lead us through the streets and sites of the city of London, and to many of its famed museums, galleries, and theaters. We will also undertake day trips to other British cities, such as Bath, Brighton, or Oxford, and then up to the hauntingly beautiful Scottish capital of Edinburgh, to explore the long and often fraught relationship between the disparate nations which form the British Isles.

Course details

  • HIS 499CA or 599CA/799CA (6 semester hours)
  • LondonAWAY! experience: Edinburgh for 3 nights
  • Prerequisite: Consent of Instructor

Meet the Instructor












Dr. Allison Abra
The University of Southern Mississippi

Dr. Allison Abra is an assistant professor in the History Department and a fellow in the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. A specialist in modern British history, Abra became involved in the British Studies Program soon after joining the faculty at USM in 2012. She holds a PhD from the University of Michigan, and her teaching and research interests include the history of popular culture, women and gender, and war and society. Originally from Canada, Abra has spent a lot of time exploring Britain, teaching and conducting research, and, during one
notable period after college, working as a waitress in a fancy Scottish hotel.