Builders of Empire

Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

By Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs

400 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 illus., 1 maps, 1 fig., appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1348-2
    Published: August 2013
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0665-1
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8127-4
    Published: September 2012

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They built some of the first communal structures on the empire’s frontiers. The empire's most powerful proconsuls sought entrance into their lodges. Their public rituals drew dense crowds from Montreal to Madras. The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons were quintessential builders of empire, argues Jessica Harland-Jacobs. In this first study of the relationship between Freemasonry and British imperialism, Harland-Jacobs takes readers on a journey across two centuries and five continents, demonstrating that from the moment it left Britain’s shores, Freemasonry proved central to the building and cohesion of the British Empire.

The organization formally emerged in 1717 as a fraternity identified with the ideals of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism, such as universal brotherhood, sociability, tolerance, and benevolence. As Freemasonry spread to Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australasia, and Africa, the group’s claims of cosmopolitan brotherhood were put to the test. Harland-Jacobs examines the brotherhood’s role in diverse colonial settings and the impact of the empire on the brotherhood; in the process, she addresses issues of globalization, supranational identities, imperial power, fraternalism, and masculinity. By tracking an important, identifiable institution across the wide chronological and geographical expanse of the British Empire, Builders of Empire makes a significant contribution to transnational history as well as the history of the Freemasons and imperial Britain.

About the Author

Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs is associate professor of history at the University of Florida.
For more information about Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs, visit the Author Page.


"Brings long overdue recognition to the importance of Freemasonry to the culture of the British Empire and provides a firm foundation upon which other scholars can build."--Journal of World History

"Ambitious and absorbing . . . a careful, measured accounting of the broad Imperial scope of British and Irish Masonry, based on impressively wide-ranging archival research and serious engagement with recent historiographical debates."--Journal of Modern History

"Fascinating. . . . Supported by an amazingly rich collection of documents, impressive illustrations and diagrams. . . . The book not only tells us brilliantly the story of British imperial Freemasonry but also offers new ways to think about the global history of imperialism. . . . Provides new perspectives to our understanding the historiography of trans-national colonialism."--Acta Orientalia Vilnensia

"Audacious and interesting. . . . Marshals an impressive array of source material, creating a sweeping view of British Masonry over more than two centuries. . . . . It is impossible to recommend this book enough. . . . Should be required reading for anyone interested in British imperialism and Masonry in particular. . . . 'Thank you' to Professor Harland-Jacobs for this important contribution to Masonic scholarship."--International Masonic Review

"A significant contribution to a new imperial historiography that emphasizes the networked nature of empire, as well as the burgeoning study of imperial masculinity. . . . An invaluable point of reference for many future scholars and will open the eyes of even more to the importance of Masonic networks."--American Historical Review

"The book's range of conceptual vision, geography, and time-span is exceptional. . . . [A] pioneering work"--Victorian Studies