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On September 18th this year, the voters of Scotland will decide in a referendum whether they want their nation henceforth to be independent of the United Kingdom, or remain within the union that has bound Britain together since the Act of Union of 1707.

In "Acts of Union and Disunion", Linda Colley, Professor of History at the University of Princeton, examines the forces that bind together the diverse peoples, customs and loyalties of the United Kingdom. And the often equally powerful movements that from time to time across the centuries threaten to pull Britain apart.

In her third programme, Professor Colley wades into the choppy waters of Britain's relationship with the sea that surrounds us:

'Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves,
Britons never, never, never will be slaves'

"'Rule Britannia' was first performed in 1740, but the ideas behind it were older. From the late 16th century, a succession of politicians and propagandists had drawn on maritime references in order to manufacture claims about Britain's special destiny. The encircling seas, it was argued, demonstrated that God and nature had designed Britain as a single polity, and had also provided for it a distinctive mission and medium. 'We seem...to have been formed by Providence', remarked one writer, 'for ploughing the sea'...."

Producer: Simon Elmes.

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15 minutes

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Wed 8 Jan 2014 13:45