Theories of Empire, 1450-1800. An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, and: The Eighteenth Century. The Oxford History of the British Empire (review)
- Eighteenth-Century Studies
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 33, Number 4, Summer 2000
- pp. 605-607
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Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (2000) 605-607
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Theories of Empire, 1450-1800. An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, vol. 20
The Eighteenth Century. The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 2
David Armitage, ed. Theories of Empire, 1450-1800. An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, vol. 20 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998). Pp. 388. $125.95 cloth.
P. J. Marshall, ed. The Eighteenth Century. The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Pp. 639. $45.00 cloth.
Theories of Empire and The Eighteenth Century are each part of ambitious multi-volume sets (the first is one of a series of 31 volumes, the second is one of a series of five) that complement each other well. Theories of Empire explores changing perspectives on abstractions and their applications, starting with the European intellectual inheritance of the Roman empire. The Eighteenth Century supplements this approach by following thematic complexes of topics dealing with British overseas settlement experiences, issues of global power politics and trade, the impact on native populations overseas, and the significance of Empire to British home culture. Both draw on a great diversity of scholarship and offer new insights into European cultural, political and economic developments.
Theories of Empire is a collection of scholarly papers previously published in journals and books in England, Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, Germany and Spain, dating from 1949 to 1998. These reprints are contextualized by the editor's thoughtful introduction and carefully selected bibliography of literature dealing with the notion of Empire. Starting with the shift from the concept of imperium as the authority vested in a magistrate to act in the name of Rome, to imperium as a territorial dimension, the authors address issues of universalism raised by such pivotal European theorists as Hugo Grotius, Juan de Solorzano, Thomas Hobbes, and James Harrington. Early modern overseas empires generated a need for justification and theoretical reflection. Complicating the task is the fact that European powers themselves were the product of conquest, dynastic politics, and colonization, resulting in a patchwork of composite monarchies. Many of the book's articles focus on defining key concepts and their relationships to each other, such as Empire and union (John Robertson), the rise of the idea of confederation, the emerging new doctrine of pre-emptive defense and legitimate conquest in the earlier part of the seventeenth century. The approach to the non-European civilizations shifted over a period of time, from the Crusader states of the middle ages (Iceland, Greenland) to the large-scale European settlements from the sixteenth century onward. As John H. Elliott says, quoting [End Page 605] Adam Smith, no "clear and evident utility" can be identified as a motive for the initial establishment of European colonies, but only a range of historic and local circumstances that favored the drive towards overseas conquests. Anthony Pagden stresses that "dispossessing the barbarian" was essential to legitimizing colonization. The collection emphasizes the ways in which all (or seemingly all) of the early political theorists, such as Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke, argued from an interested position since in one way or another they theorized in defense of European property rights and freedom of trade to the benefit of the Dutch East India Company, the Virginia Company, or The Royal African Company. In "The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America" Nicolas P. Canny investigates the application of concepts invented for the treatment of overseas populations in step with the reassertion of English authority over Ireland under Elizabeth I. As the article makes painfully obvious, the English used the most defaming language to identify the Irish as pagans, and it became common to insinuate that Gaelic life embraced the practice of cannibalism and incest, qualities that were usually reserved for the description of colonized people. Likewise, the idea of Empire found a new definition and application in the thirteen British colonies in North America as argued by Norbert Kilian in "New Wine in Old Skins? American Definitions of Empire and the...