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Introduction

Sir Milton Margai, the first Prime Minister of independent Sierra Leone, and Dr W. M. Fitzjohn arriving at Marlborough House, London, for the opening of the 1962 Commonwealth Prime Ministers Meeting

Sir Milton Margai, the first Prime Minister of independent Sierra Leone, and Dr W. M. Fitzjohn arriving at Marlborough House, London, for the opening of the 1962 Commonwealth Prime Ministers Meeting (Crown copyright: COI ref. R8110 KU12)
RCS CC / 203

In the post-war period, the Commonwealth provided many groups in Britain with a powerful vision for the nation's place in a decolonising world.

This exhibition explores a set of competing Commonwealth cultures, or visions and practices, which emerged in this period: those based on ideas of hospitality within Britain, those based on international brotherhood abroad, and those which focused on its value as a vehicle for international aid, progress and development. Within these cultures we see visions of the Commonwealth as a way of continuing imperial relations, but also as an important experiment in multiracial global citizenship.

Visions for and of the 'modern' Commonwealth in the post-war period contain multiple narratives about Britain and its place in the world, as well as changing geopolitical imperatives, each with consequences for individual and collective identities. The idea of the 'modern' Commonwealth reveals some of the ways in which Britain tried to deal with difficult pasts and uncertain futures. The emergence, fracturing and decline of sets of ideals about modernity, tradition, progress, development, morality and leadership which framed debates about politics, history and society on national, international and global scales can be understood through competing Commonwealth visions.

Cambridge University Library houses the Royal Commonwealth Society Collection of books, pamphlets, photographs and institutional records. This exhibition utilises materials from this collection to explore different cultures of the Commonwealth in the post-war period. The images not only record different Commonwealth endeavours, they also work to support different visions of the Commonwealth as modern, multiracial, and hospitable.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Ruth Craggs and based on her PhD research, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It was produced with the kind help of Rachel Rowe and Dr John Cardwell of the Royal Commonwealth Society Collection at Cambridge University Library, and Helen Porter of the Royal Asiatic Society Library. Thank you to Lihua Zhu for technical support. 

Contact us

Please address enquiries about RCS holdings to:

Rachel Rowe, Smuts Librarian for South Asian and Commonwealth Studies
Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge
CB3 9DR

Email: rcs@lib.cam.ac.uk

Please note the Librarian is part-time and usually works at the University Library on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Rachel may be reached by phone on Wednesdays and Thursdays on +44(0)1223 333146, but it is preferable to email details of your enquiry.

If your enquiry concerns a valuation, please note that we are unable to provide valuations.  We recommend you contact a specialist antiquarian bookseller or auction house.