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Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939 (review)
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Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939. By James Belich (New York, Oxford University Press, 2009) 573. pp $50.00

Belich argues that the expansion of modern Europe took three basic forms—the establishment of networks (“ongoing systems of long-range interaction, usually for trade”); empire (“the control of other peoples, usually through conquest”); and settlement (“the reproduction of one’s own society through long-range migration”) (22). Belich acknowledges straight away that these three forms of interaction “overlapped in practice and blurred in theory,” but he maintains nonetheless that it is necessary to distinguish among them (22).

Scholars have tended to focus their intellectual efforts on empire and on the development of European-led networks of one kind or another. Belich laments the fact that much less work has been done on settlement because this form of expansion was the most widespread, had the most staying power, and was ultimately the most important. With Replenishing the Earth, his massive new book on the rise of the Anglo/ Anglophone world over the course of the long nineteenth century, Belich attempts to fill this research gap, and, in fact, he does so with a vengeance.

More specifically, Belich seeks to explain how and why Great Britain and its Anglophone cultural offshoots—the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa—came to dominate the world economically, geopolitically, and culturally. Seldom have the roots of this preeminence been subjected to close scrutiny—according to Belich, in large part because the historical trajectories of the various constituent parts of the Anglo-World have generally been examined piecemeal rather than as part of a complex, variegated, but nonetheless unified process.

A number of technological innovations in manufacturing, transportation, and communications, and one key ideological shift, proved crucial to the process by which “Greater Britain” distanced itself from its erstwhile competitors. Although these developments had deeper causes, not until about 1815, in Belich’s view, did they begin to gather steam and to concatenate in ways conducive to the relative expansion and amplification of Anglophone power. Around that time, significant productivity gains in the manufacturing and transportation/communications sectors, along with shifting attitudes in the Anglo-World regarding migration, led in relatively short order to explosive population growth, urbanization, economic power, and cultural influence in areas of Anglophone settlement across the globe.

One of the most interesting—and likely controversial—parts of the above argument relates to Belich’s contention that there was a sea change in Anglophone attitudes toward migration in the decades after 1815. To Belich, such attitudes not only changed profoundly, but they [End Page 435] also matured quickly into a coherent ideology—an optimistic, sometimes Utopian, ideology that he calls “settlerism”—which “ranked in historical importance with the other great Anglo ‘isms’ of its day, such as socialism, evangelism, and racism” (153).

Even if Belich overstates this point to some extent, one cannot gainsay the fact that Replenishing the Earth is a relatively comprehensive, highly original, largely convincing, and always fascinating account of Greater Britain’s will to power, with which account scholars perforce will grapple for years to come.

Peter A. Coclanis
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill