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200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

Imperial History: Critical Assessment

Imperial History is, generally speaking, the history of imperialism, colonialism and empire. The British Empire in particular has spawned a great mass of literature. There are many approaches to British Imperial History, including economic (a focus on the spread of capitalism), political (a focus on the rise of liberalism) and cultural (a focus on factors such as sex, race, sport and education). It is, however, crucial to understand the theories on what drove Britains rapid imperial expansion, regardless of which approach one studies. This essay gives a brief overview of the historiography of British imperial expansion. The British Empire grew in size significantly in the second half of the nineteenth century. At its peak, it covered one quarter of the globe. The major question- what drove the rapid expansion from 1850 onward? has no clear-cut answer, and historians have put forward competing theories. The historiography on expansion can, by and large, be split into two groups: metropolitan and periphery theories. Metropolitan theories assert factors in Britain, rather than the colonies, drove imperial expansion. Historians argue that political and philosophical changes in Britain were among the factors that drove expansion. In the eighteenth century, imperialism was regarded as something negative. By the nineteenth century, Britons generally saw it as their duty to bring civilisation to other peoples; imperial expansion was the way to do this. Politically, there was a swing to liberalism. Adam Smiths The Wealth of Nations (1776) was an influential work. Key theorists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
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200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

openly supported free trade,1 arguably legitimating British overseas exploitations. Societys turn to such liberal thinking is why metropolitan theories point to economics as the driving force of expansion. In Imperialism: A Study (1902), John Hobson argues that expansion was deliberately thought out by elite financiers for their own greed, gaining support for their exploits from the British government. Finance was the governor of the imperial engine2 and financiers controlled the government. Hobsons work impacted on other metropolitan theories, namely Vladimir Lenin. Unlike Hobson, who did not attack capitalism as a whole,3 Lenin saw it as the driving force of imperialism. In Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), he argues that the capitalist economic system caused European expansion into Africa. For Lenin, capitalism and imperialism were indistinguishable. The globe was carved up between the biggest capitalist states and exploited with their free trade principles.4 There is a common problem with the theories of Hobson and Lenin. While they attempt to explain why expansion happened and what motivated capitalist Britain to do so, they do not explain how it was able to happen so quickly. Eric Hobsbawms Industry and Empire (1968) argues technological changes in Britain, brought about gradually by the industrial revolution, truly ignited imperial expansion. He regards the second half of the nineteenth century as the second phase of industrialisation. Steel production was revolutionised by the invention of the Bessemer in 1850, the open-hearth furnace in the
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J. Bentham, Sir J. Bowring and J. S. Mill, The Westminster Review Vol. 1 (London: Baldwin, 1826), p. 375. 2 J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (London: Ballantyre, 1902), p. 66. 3 P. Ashman, Hobson, John Atkinson in J.S. Olsen and R. Shadle (ed.) Historical Dictionary of the British Empire Vol. 1 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 527. 4 V. I. Levin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Newtown: Resistance Books, 1999), p. 91.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

1860s and the basic process in the 1870s.5 The ability to mass-produce steel transformed the transport industry, allowing for quicker and easier access to the wider world. There was a significant increase in British capital abroad. By 1870, approximately 700 million was invested in foreign lands. Similarly, Daniel Headricks Tools of Empire (1981) highlights how advances in travel, medicine and weaponry affected expansion. Steam power in particular opened up possibilities for expansion, and gradually became more efficient after the opening of the Red Sea route.6 Colonisers could adapt better to African climates due to advances in medicine (for example, quinine was developed to fight malaria7). The gun revolution of the nineteenth century played into British hands, winning wars against the Burmese and Chinese due to superior weaponry.8 Both Hobsbawm and Headrick contend imperial expansion would not have happened without these technological advances. Some historians, however, take a different view. In British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion (1994), P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins argue the Empire was the work of gentlemanly capitalists in the City. In the nineteenth century, Britain lost her place as the worlds leading industrial nation. However, as industry declined, the banking and service sectors flourished.9 These gentlemanly capitalists invested heavily abroad and pressured the government to defend their interests when threatened by European rivals. This system was held together by international free trade principles, without taking on board the interests of industrialists.10

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E. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: from 1750 to the Present Day (New York: News Press, 1999), p. 95. D. R. Headrick, The Tools of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 32. 7 Ibid., p. 66. 8 Ibid., p. 89. 9 E. H. H. Green, Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Economic Policy, 1880- 1914 in R. E. Dumett, Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Imperialism (London: Longman, 1999), p. 44. 10 P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688- 2000 (London: Longman, 2001), p. 55.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

It is for this reason Cain and Hopkins believe banking and finance drove expansion more than technology.11 While metropolitan theories point to Britain, periphery theories see factors in the colonies as driving imperial expansion. In their article, The Imperialism of Free Trade (1953), John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson argue Britain expanded by means of informal empire as much as the strict colonial sense.12 Informal control suited Britain as it upheld free trade without expensive formal control (this suited gentlemanly capitalists looking to keep costs down13). Formal rule was only implemented if free trade was hindered by civil unrest or European rivalry. The British experienced these pull factors in several areas. For example, Chinas unwillingness to work with Britain led to the Opium Wars which, in turn, resulted in increased foreign trade and investment in the country.14 Gallagher and Robinson put forward the ideas of men on the spot (effectively government representatives in the colonies) and the official mind (the similar mindset shared by the government and men on the spot on how to deal with problems in the Empire) and discuss them in Africa and the Victorians (1961). They argue the official mind was held by this policy-making elite15 looking after their own interests and free trade. As enterprise was the main force of expansion16, new places for investment were continually searched for. Robinson and Gallagher essentially argue physical intervention

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Ibid., p. 35. J. Gallagher and R. Robinson, The Imperialism of Free Trade, The Economic History Review, 6 (1953) p. 1. 13 Ibid., p. 13. 14 Cain and Hopkins, pp. 362- 363. 15 A. Thompson, Imperial Britain (London, Longman, 2000), p. 2. 16 R. Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (London: MacMillan, 1961), p. 3.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

was a last resort to protect free trade; the British wanted trade opportunities, not formal (and expensive) territory. Both metropolitan and periphery theories have their drawbacks. Definitions differ as to whether imperialism involves both formal and informal empire17 (Robinson and Gallagher would argue it involves both as the majority of British overseas credit was located in the informal Empire in the nineteenth century). It is also disputed which set of theories more accurately describes the nature of British imperialism. A networked conception, where events in both the metropole and periphery drove expansion, is perhaps a better way of viewing the Empire. Several centres existed, varying in size and power, influencing each other in different ways. This networked conception of the Empire highlights the main problem with metropolitan and periphery theories. They focus on the white European male and pay little attention to the roles locals played in the Empire. The British often relied on local collaborators and resources,18 although some regions were more willing than others to cooperate. As discussed above, China was a reluctant part of the informal Empire. Argentina, however, was generally more willing to cooperate.19 Once dubbed the seventh dominion,20 Argentina amounted for 42 per cent and 58 per cent of Britains Latin American exports and imports respectively.21 It was evidently an important relationship for both sides, which gave the Argentines an incentive to collaborate. In his

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B. Bush, Imperialism and Postcolonialism (Harlow: Pearson, 2006), p. 45. A. Brewer, Marxist Theories of Imperialism 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 256. 19 This is not to say Anglo-Argentine relations were good at all times, as the British did experience pull factors in the region; the Argentine Confederations opposition to free trade resulted in the Anglo-French blockade of the River Plate. 20 W. D. McIntyre, British Decolonisation, 1946- 47 (London: MacMillan, 1998), p. 4. 21 Cain and Hopkins, p. 253.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

study of Anglo-Argentine relations, H. S. Ferns argues that, compared with other areas in the Empire such as Egypt, Britain enjoyed a relatively good relationship with Argentina, despite the important economic interests at stake.22 Similarly, Andrew Thompsons study of Anglo-Argentine relations concludes that informal British rule in Argentina did not exist; it was a cooperative relationship rather than an imposed political hegemony.23 While Argentina provides an example of collaboration with the British, India came to embrace the Empire ideals of imperialism and colonialism. In Imperial Connections, Thomas R. Metcalf explores the role Indians played in the colonisation of East Africa, arguing East Africa became almost an extension of India itself. He highlights that it was Indian merchants who controlled East Africas trade, while Indians of all backgrounds were flocking to East Africa in search of work by the mid-1890s.24 Another weakness of metropolitan and periphery theories is their focus on the roles of government officials and traders. In Religion versus Empire?, Andrew Porter discusses the role of Christian missionaries in expansion. The rise of evangelicalism in the late nineteenth century prompted these missionaries to travel the world and preach the Gospel. Expansion was a means of reaching more people so, in their minds, it was morally justified. The Anglican, Charles Grant, for example, travelled to India to spread

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H. S. Ferns, Britains Informal Empire in Argentina, 1806- 1914, Past and Present, 4:1 (1953), p. 60. A. Thompson, Informal Empire? An Exploration in the History of Anglo-Argentine Relations, 18101914, Journal of Latin American Studies, 24:2 (1992), pp. 434, 436. 24 T. R. Metcalf, Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Area, 1860- 1920 (London: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 165, 167, 171.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

the faith, believing Christianity would cause a moral, political and commercial25 transformation.26 This brief overview has highlighted the key areas of debate in the historiography of British imperial expansion. Metropolitan theorists point to factors in Britain, while periphery theories believe events in the wider Empire influenced its growth. Like all theories, they do have their weaknesses. It can be debated whether or not informal empire was British territory. Both sets of theories focus on the white European male and elites, paying little attention to the roles of locals (and their varying degrees of acceptance of British involvement) and organisations such as missionaries in driving expansion. Yet despite their flaws, it is crucial, regardless of which area of Imperial History is being studied, to grasp the theories on what drove the Empires rapid expansion.

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The swing to liberalism affected people from all walks of life; even Christian preachers aimed to uphold free trade principles. 26 A. N. Porter, Religion versus Empire? (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 40.

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011

Bibliography Ashman, P. Hobson, John Atkinson in Olsen, J.S. and Shadle, R. (ed.) Historical Dictionary of the British Empire Vol. 1 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996) pp. 526- 527. Bentham, J., Bowring, Sir J. and Mill, J. S. The Westminster Review Vol. 1 (London: Baldwin, 1826) Brewer, A. Marxist Theories of Imperialism 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1990) Bush, B. Imperialism and Postcolonialism (Harlow: Pearson, 2006) Cain, P. J. and Hopkins, A. G. British Imperialism, 1688- 2000 (London: Longman, 2001) Ferns, H. S. Britains Informal Empire in Argentina, 1806- 1914, Past and Present, 4:1 (1953) pp. 60- 75. Hobsbawm, E. Industry and Empire: from 1750 to the Present Day (New York: News Press, 1999) Gallagher, J. and Robinson, R. The Imperialism of Free Trade, The Economic History Review, 6 (1953), pp. 1- 15. Green, E. H. H. Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Economic Policy, 1880- 1914 in Dumett, R. E. Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Imperialism (London: Longman, 1999), pp. 44- 67. Headrick, D. R. The Tools of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981) Hobson, J. A. Imperialism: A Study (London: Ballantyre, 1902) McIntyre, W. D. British Decolonisation, 1946- 47 (London: MacMillan, 1998) Levin, V. I. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Newtown: Resistance Books, 1999) Metcalf, T. R. Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Area, 1860- 1920 (London: University of California Press, 2007) Porter, A. N. Religion versus Empire? (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004) Robinson, R. and Gallagher, J. Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (London: MacMillan, 1961) Thompson, A. Informal Empire? An Exploration in the History of Anglo-Argentine Relations, 1810- 1914, Journal of Latin American Studies, 24:2 (1992), pp. 419- 436. Thompson, A. Imperial Britain (London, Longman, 2000)

200645338

Historiography (V1326)

Essay submitted: 14 November 2011