It’s hard to believe that the United Kingdom, a small country separated from continental Europe by a narrow channel, could play such a grand role in world affairs. Many critical points in past events were born in this island off northwestern France, and numerous iconic figures have called the nation home. A once powerful empire that created the Commonwealth realms, the UK played a role in the birth of a superpower, eventually paving the way for English to become the world’s de facto lingua franca.

The UK – a constituency of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – is a compact country, a bit smaller than the US state of Texas. But sizes can be deceiving; British history is anything but little. The island has welcomed diverse immigrants from all parts of the globe since time immemorial, combining to give the country the organic dynamism that propels it forward through the 21st century.

It doesn’t mean that Brits have traded on the souvenirs of their yesteryears (how else do you explain the still-ubiquitous red phone booths despite the proliferation of cell… eh… mobile phones?); it’s just that the country has become adept at providing interesting contrasts of its past, its present and its future. Modern cars speed through roads that pass by the ancient mystery that is Stonehenge, while rapid developments that were geared for last Summer Olympics stand side by side with the medieval Tower of London.

Indeed, British history, whether factual or mythical, has captured popular imagination everywhere. Modern culture wouldn’t be what it is today without the country’s monarchs, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Nessie, while the literary world was forever changed by J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so many more.

From a blog entry first published in TravelBlog on July 10, 2010.

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