2018 Walter A. Strauss Lecture Series – Pacifists Making Guns: The Galton Family and Britain’s Industrial Revolution

Priya Satia
September 17th, 2018

Location: Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom A, 10038 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106

In this series of lectures, Priya Satia, Professor of Modern English History at Stanford University, will examine how people with conscience have committed unconscionable acts in the modern period. In some ways, the “modernity” of the modern period lies precisely in the growing awareness of conscience as an ethical rather than religious quality–a new self-consciousness about conscience. This understanding of conscience was tied to the modern historical sensibility; it depended on a sense of how much agency, and thus responsibility, humans have in shaping their world and their lives. Professor Satia will examine this phenomenon in three lectures covering key moments in the history of the British empire: the question of a Quaker gun-maker’s conscience in the period of the industrial revolution; the way British officials professing deep understanding and love for the Middle East invented a violent regime of aerial policing there during World War One; and how the violence among neighbors during decolonization in postwar South Asia weighed on the conscience of all those involved. Together these case studies enable exploration of the well-meaning yet destructive nature of modern imperialism itself. This lecture series, in memory of Walter A. Strauss (1923-2008), who was the Elizabeth and William T. Treuhaft Professor of Humanities, is generously supported by funds provided by the Paul Wurzburger Endowment.

The biggest gun-making firm in 18th-century Britain was owned by a Quaker family, the Galtons of Birmingham. They were major suppliers of guns to the slave trade in West Africa, the East India Company, settlers and trading companies in North America, and the British government, which was at war almost constantly from 1688 to 1815. But a core principle of the Quaker faith is belief in the un-Christian nature of war. How, then, do we explain the Galtons? And how do we explain why the Galton family business attracted no critical notice in the Quaker community until, suddenly, in 1795, Samuel Galton Junior was threatened with disownment. Why did the Galtons’ gun-manufacturing suddenly become a scandal? And what was the result? In probing Galton’s conscience and the Quaker community’s shifting judgment, Professor Satia will assess the difficulty of avoiding participation in war in eighteenth-century British industrial society, whatever one’s principles. The Galton story reveals a hidden truth about the role of war in the Industrial Revolution.

Free and open to the public.  Registration requested.

Professor Satia’s faculty page