cover image The Countryside: Ten Rural Walks Through Britain and Its Hidden History of Empire

The Countryside: Ten Rural Walks Through Britain and Its Hidden History of Empire

Corinne Fowler. Scribner, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-6680-0397-8

“Colonialism... affected the remotest corners” of Britain’s landscape, demonstrates historian and curator Fowler (Green Unpleasant Land) in this revelatory travelogue-cum-exposé. Narrating ten walks through the British countryside, Fowler traces how a global web of slavery, indentured servitude, and resource extraction altered the country’s “uplands, shorelines, valleys, lakes, villages and fields.” Touring Berkshire, a county outside of London, she delineates changes brought about by East India Company officials who flocked there in the 18th century and spent their fortunes on gardens and landscaping. On Scotland’s Isle of Jura, she tracks the flow of wealth from Jamaica to the prominent Campbell family, who used money earned in the trafficking of slaves, sugar, and tobacco to invest in Jura’s flax industry and build up the red deer population by way of extensive enclosure. Visiting the Lake District, Fowler reveals that the home where William Wordsworth lived and wrote, with its gorgeous grounds, was underwritten by his brother John’s involvement in the opium trade in Asia. The account transfixes throughout, but especially in Fowler’s description of the backlash she faces for her research—in 2020, her study of how many of the country’s preserved stately manor homes were funded by colonial exploitation became fodder for “culture war”–style attacks. This is a staggering look at some of the less-studied repercussions of colonialism. (June)