From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Formally "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". The United Kingdom comprises the islands England, Scotland, Wales and the six counties of Northern Ireland. The UK is situated off the western coast of mainland Europe.
Culture of the United Kingdom
The culture of the United Kingdom—British culture— may be described as informed by the UK's history as a developed island country, major power , monarchy and, particularly, as a political union of four countries, which each have preserved and distinctive heritages, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies such as Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.
The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Particularly between British and American film, many films are often co-produced or share actors with many British actors now featuring regularly in Hollywood films. The BFI Top 100 British films is a poll conducted by the British Film Institute which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time.
'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. Most British literature is in the English language.
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time. Among the earliest English writers are Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th century), Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), and Thomas Malory (15th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth. Twentieth century writers include the science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, the modernist Virginia Woolf, the satirist, Evelyn Waugh, the prophetic novelist George Orwell, the popular novelist, Graham Greene, and the poets John Betjeman and Ted Hughes. Most recently, the children's fantasy Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has recalled the popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Scotland's contribution includes the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle, romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott and the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson. It has also produced the celebrated poet Robert Burns, as well as William McGonagall, regarded by many as one of the world's worst. More recently, the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, is UNESCO's first worldwide city of literature.
Authors from other nationalities, particularly from Ireland, or from Commonwealth countries, have lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.
In theatre, Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.
The prominence of the English language gives the UK media a widespread international dimension.
Traditionally, British newspapers could be split into quality, serious-minded newspaper (usually referred to as "broadsheets" due to their large size) and the more populist, tabloid varieties. For convenience of reading, many traditional broadsheets have switched to a more compact-sized format, traditionally used by tabloids. The Sun has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper in the UK: 3.1 million, approximately a quarter of the market. Its sister paper, the News of the World has the highest circulation in the Sunday newspaper market, and traditionally focuses on celebrity-led stories. The Daily Telegraph, a right wing broadsheet paper, is the highest-selling of the "quality" newspapers. The Guardian is a more liberal "quality" broadsheet and the Financial Times is the main business newspaper, printed on distinctive salmon-pink broadsheet paper.
First printed in 1737, The News Letter from Belfast, is the oldest known English-language daily newspaper still in publication today. One of its fellow Northern Irish competitors, The Irish News, has been twice ranked as the best regional newspaper in the United Kingdom, in 2006 and 2007.
Scotland has a distinct tradition of newspaper readership (see list of newspapers in Scotland). The tabloid Daily Record has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper outselling the Scottish Sun by four to one while its sister paper, the Sunday Mail similarly leads the Sunday newspaper market. The leading "quality" daily newspaper in Scotland is The Herald, though it is the sister paper of The Scotsman, the Scotland on Sunday, that leads in the Sunday newspaper market.
Various styles of music are popular, from the indigenous folk music of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to Heavy metal. Glasgow's contribution to the music scene was recognised in 2008 when it was named a United Nations City of Music, one of only three cities in the world to have this honour.
Prominent among the UK contributors to the development of rock music in the 1960s and 1970s were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Status Quo, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, and Black Sabbath. UK artists have made significant contributions to other worldwide genres such as heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, New Wave, New Romantic, indie rock, techno, and electronica. Notable artists have been the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Smiths, Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Massive Attack and The Prodigy. There are also a number of popular music genres which have emerged from the UK and have been exported to the rest of the world. Examples of these are 2-Tone, trip hop, indie pop, Britpop, shoegaze, hard house and dubstep. Most recently, internationally popular music artists have included Radiohead, the Spice Girls, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis.
Notable composers of classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen's Music. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent.
The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of "British Empiricism", a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by experience is valid. The most famous philosophers of this tradition are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume. Britain is notable for a theory of moral philosophy, Utilitarianism, first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill, in his short work Utilitarianism. Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the states that preceded it include Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes, Bertrand Russell, Adam Smith and Alfred Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Science, engineering and innovation
The United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it have produced scientists and engineers credited with important advances, including;
- The modern scientific method, developed by English philosopher Francis Bacon
- The laws of motion and illumination of gravity, by English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian, Sir Isaac Newton
- The unification of electromagnetism, by James Clerk Maxwell
- The discovery of hydrogen, by Henry Cavendish
- The steam locomotive, by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian
- The world's first working television system, by Scottish engineer and inventor John Logie Baird
- Evolution by natural selection, by Charles Darwin
- The Turing machine, by Alan Turing, the basis of modern computers
- The structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others
- The development of the World Wide Web, largely attributed to Tim Berners-Lee
- The discovery of penicillin, by Scottish biologist and pharmacologist, Sir Alexander Fleming
- The invention of the first practical telephone, by Alexander Graham Bell
Notable civil engineering projects, whose pioneers included Isambard Kingdom Brunel, contributed to the world's first national railway transport system. Other advances pioneered in the UK include the marine chronometer, the jet engine, the modern bicycle, electric lighting, the electric motor, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, military radar, the electronic computer, vaccination and antibiotics.
Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. In 2006, it was reported that the UK provided 9% of the world's scientific research papers and a 12% share of citations, the second highest in the world after the US.
The Royal Academy is located in London. Other major schools of art include the Slade School of Fine Art; the six-school University of the Arts London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; the Glasgow School of Art, and Goldsmiths, University of London. This commercial venture is one of Britain's foremost visual arts organisations. Major British artists include Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, William Morris, L. S. Lowry, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Gilbert and George, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the Saatchi Gallery in London brought to public attention a group of multigenre artists who would become known as the Young British Artists. Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood, and the Chapman Brothers are among the better known members of this loosely affiliated movement.