Over the ‘long’ nineteenth century, Britain experienced a democratic revolution that extended far beyond the state, reaching into every aspect of social and intellectual life. In Reform, Resistance and Revolution: The Challenge of Democracy in Britain, 1832-1928, Robert Saunders (Queen Mary University of London) offers a new history of democracy, looking at democracy from every angle. Democracy was not just a system of government during the ‘long’ nineteenth century, it was an idea, a social class, and a new vision of so­ciety. It challenged the social order, the gender order, the class system, and the economic system, and was itself bent into new shapes in the encounter with other traditions. The battle of democracy was fought, not just in Parliament, but in churches, trade unions, scientific institutes, and missionary organisations. Democracy asked new questions of all the great intellectual systems of its day, from Christianity and evolutionary science to imperialism, liberalism, feminism, and political economy.

In his talk, Saunders will explore the challenge of democracy in Britain, from the Great Reform Act of 1832 to the coming of universal suffrage in 1928. He asks how democracy was understood, how it was practised, and how it was shaped by the expe­rience of other countries. He will explain what it meant to be an ‘imperial democracy’ or a ‘Christian democracy’, why some parts of the state were democratised but not others, and how democracy engrafted itself on older constitutional ideas. As such, Saunders will offer a new history of democracy in Britain, exploring a global idea in a specific national context.