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A culture of inventors and artists energised by migration, the British are hungry to bring their ideas to the world—while bringing the world to their shores.

The final defeat of the French Empire on the battlefields of Waterloo launched a century of military supremacy as well as diplomatic influence in the Concert of Europe for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Its unrivaled armed forces (over sea and land) built an empire in the name of the kings and queens of England that spread across the world.

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While Queen Victoria’s long reign (1837–1901) coincided with a golden age in British culture in the fields of the arts, literature, architecture, and urban planning, it was also a very conservative period, which was to some extent embodied in the figure of the queen. It was also a period of change in the nation’s political institutions with more of the British population being represented in parliament and voting rights extended first to all men, and then to women in 1918. An active and organized working class held considerable sway inside the kingdom, thanks in large part to information readily available through the profusion of newspapers produced by a free press. The Industrial Revolution started very early in Great Britain and its territories experienced profound upheaval. The rural exodus, spurred by demographic growth and land reform, precipitated rapid expansion in England’s industrial and urban centers. The cities of London and Liverpool experienced a population explosion and saw their ports become the main site of transit for the flow of trade and people up until 1860. The colossal need of British workshops and factories for raw materials became the pretext for expanding the power of the British Crown to new shores. The merchant navy, the largest of its time, supplied the country with resources and dominated the world’s oceans. Established as either commercial hubs or penitentiaries, British outposts that became colonies existed on every continent, and covered more than 20% of the world’s land area at their peak in 1922.

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The International Meridional Conference held in Washington in 1884 established the Greenwich Meridian as the international reference for universal standard time. This choice was motivated by the importance of the British navy and the standard it represented in the world of commercial navigation.