How did Britain manage to reform its institutions and move into the modern world without a major upheaval like the French Revolution?
The answer, according to UC Berkeley historian James Vernon, is that the British were able to cling to elements of the old feudal order, even as they pioneered representative government, the theories of liberalism and the Industrial Revolution.
Vernon promises to flesh all of this out in his new course, The Peculiar Modernity of Britain, 1848-2000 (iTunes). Vernon is a lot of fun to listen to because of his wry sense of humor. (Example from the first lecture: “I’m obviously British, so you can’t complain about my accent which half of you in your evaluations will do. And it also means that everything I say is obviously true [pause for laughter] because I’m authentic.”)
Lecture 2, although it suffers from poor audio, is a fascinating discussion of how the British royal family keeps on reinventing itself to play new roles in British society. In its most recent incarnation, Vernon contends, the Royals are cashing in on celebrity culture to make themselves relevant. As an example, he points out that the funeral of Princess Diana was attended by many Hollywood celebrities, something that would have been unthinkable in earlier eras.
The syllabus is here with links to many of the course readings which are available online.