'Mending a broken world': The Universities and the Nation, 1918-36

Institute of Historical Research
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Brave New World: Imperial and Democratic Nation-building in Britain between the Wars, 2012, pp. 189 - 208
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On 4 July 1921, the chancellors and rectors of the universities of the United Kingdom, together with delegates from their sister institutions across the British empire, sat down to lunch at the Savoy Hotel. They were gathered in London to attend the second Congress of the Universities of the British Empire, scheduled to begin the following day in Oxford. Proposing the toast on behalf of the government, the former Conservative prime minister and foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, reflected on the dramatic events that had elapsed since the first congress had taken place in 1912. In those nine years, he suggested, had been crowded and compressed changes the magnitude of which no man living – none even of the learned thinkers whom it is my privilege to address – can as yet estimate. Nobody can tell how great is the change which this deflection of civilized development has produced in the social elements of the world; nobody can tell whether it has hurried changes which were in any case inevitable, or whether it has modified in any profound sense the character of those changes. The work of estimating its magnitude falls, and must fall inevitably, to the historian, and to him alone. But we can see quite plainly each one of us, within our own experience, how the world has been shaken by the vast catastrophe of the Great War.1 Though not yet sure of its meaning, Balfour and his contemporaries nonetheless sensed that the world that had emerged fro
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