Newsletter

Explorers, colonizers and adventurers in Africa:

  • Richard Burton, Zanzibar

    Richard Burton, Zanzibar

    In the preface, Burton attempts to explain why he has taken so long to publish this material, which dates back for the most part to 1858, and had been rediscovered and returned to him in 1865, but was only appeared in 1872. The reasons he gives do not include what Read More
  • The Asante and the Dutch

    The Asante and the Dutch

    This is a study of the administration and government of the West African kingdom of Asante between 1744 and 1873. The book analyses the nature and development of the pre-colonial state, and traces the history and character of the Asante-Dutch relationship from the early 18th century until the Dutch departure Read More
  • Robert Norris, Memoirs of the Reign of Bossa Ahádee: King of Dahomy, 1789

    Robert Norris, Memoirs of the Reign of Bossa Ahádee: King of Dahomy, 1789

    One of the first European accounts of the kingdom of Dahomey. Read More
  • Karl Peters, New light on dark Africa, 1891

    Karl Peters, New light on dark Africa, 1891

    Carl Peters, 1856 – 1918, was a German colonial ruler, explorer, politician and author, the prime mover behind the foundation of the German colony of East Africa (in today's Tanzania). A proponent of Social Darwinism and the Völkisch movement, his attitude towards the indigenous population made him one of the most Read More
  • Narrative of a voyage to Senegal in 1816 undertaken by order of the French Government

    Narrative of a voyage to Senegal in 1816 undertaken by order of the French Government

    Carl Peters, 1856 – 1918, was a German colonial ruler, explorer, politician and author, the prime mover behind the foundation of the German colony of East Africa (in today's Tanzania). A proponent of Social Darwinism and the Völkisch movement, his attitude towards the indigenous population made him one of the most Read More
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Explorers, colonizers and adventurers in Central Asia:

  • Sven Hedin, Adventures in Tibet

    Sven Hedin, Adventures in Tibet

    The favourable reception accorded to my book, Central Asia and Tibet, has emboldened me to prepare a cheaper and more popular edition. This, although of course based upon the longer work, has been entirely re-written from beginning to end specially for the present issue. The halo of romance and the magic of the unknown which have for so long drawn the adventurous as by a magnet to the mysterious land of Tibet have now been Read More
  • Sven Hedin, The Silk Road

    Sven Hedin, The Silk Road

    This vivid book reflects that exciting expedition ¬ the constant mishaps, serious accidents and dangers; the immensity of China; the divergent ethnic groups; the ambitious generals; and the brigands. Read More
  • Sven Hedin, Overland to India

    Sven Hedin, Overland to India

    The very name of India is alone sufficient to fire the imagination of the reader. He fancies he hears the murmur Of warm winds among the palms and mango trees, and thinks Of the teeming life and the continual struggle for existence in tropical jungles. He seems to see the brilliant trains of Indian princes, swarming crowds of dusky Hindus, grand troops of elephants, tigers trying to escape from the bloodthirsty hunters, gilded pagodas, and Read More
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European imperialism:

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Secondary sources:

  • Erik Ringmar, Liberal Barbarism: The European Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China, 2013

    Erik Ringmar, Liberal Barbarism: The European Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China, 2013

    This book discusses the Anglo-French military campaign in North China in 1860 and the destruction of Yuanmingyuan, the imperial palace compound north-west of Beijing. More generally the book deals with European imperalism in China (and elsewhere) in the 19th century and tries to make sense of the curious fact that civilized people often behaved in the most barbarian of ways. Read More
  • Jurgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, 2015

    Jurgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, 2015

    A monumental history of the nineteenth century, The Transformation of the World offers a panoramic and multifaceted portrait of a world in transition. Jürgen Osterhammel, an eminent scholar who has been called the Braudel of the nineteenth century, moves beyond conventional Eurocentric and chronological accounts of the era, presenting instead a truly global history of breathtaking scope and towering erudition. He examines the powerful and complex forces that drove global change during the "long nineteenth Read More
  • British Battles

    British Battles

    Welcome to Britishbattles.com the site that gives you the battles fought by Britain and its Empire forces from the 18th Century to the end of the 19th Century, illustrated and mapped. Click on the battle you wish to view in the left margin list. The battles are listed chronologically by war. We are constantly adding new battles to the collection. Read More
  • Colonial Film Catalogue

    Colonial Film Catalogue

    Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team. Read More
  • Erik Ringmar,

    Erik Ringmar, "The Making of the Modern World," 2017.

    This book is designed to be a ‘Day 0’ introduction to International Relations. As a beginner’s guide, it has been structured to condense the most important information into the smallest space and present that information in the most accessible way. The chapters offer a broad sweep of the basic components of International Relations and the key contemporary issues that concern the discipline. The narrative arc forms a complete circle, taking readers from no knowledge to Read More
  • Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

    Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

    The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as 1750, parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product and factor markets, and the strategies of households. Perhaps most surprisingly, Pomeranz demonstrates that the Chinese and Read More
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This section is a draft.

The rise of the sovereign state in Europe.  The connection to the new commercial world economy.  How revenues from trade made it possible for the state to establish its independence.

Medieval kings were really quite powerless. They had no proper bureaucracies at their disposal, no standing armies and few ways of raising money. In fact, there were few good roads, ports and not many large cities. What was not there, however, soon came to be constructed. From the sixteenth-century onwards the states established the rudiments of an administrative system and raised armies, both in order to fight their own peasants and in order to defend themselves against other states. Since such state-building was expensive, the search for money became a constant concern. The early-modern state was more than anything an institutional machinery designed to develop and extract resources from society. The early modern state operated much as a protection racket ― people were asked to pay taxes in return for defence, and if they refused to pay up, state officials had various unpleasant ways to make them suffer.

Once the state had made itself sovereign by defeating both its universal and its local rivals, the only problem was that it was surrounded by other states which they too thought of themselves as a sovereign.  Since there no longer was a  all-European power that could regulate their common affairs, there was no one to keep the peace.  Each state had to look after itself, assure its own security.  They did this by establishing armies, training soldiers, building fortifications and amassing weapons.  All of this cost money of course and the search for money was the state’s constant concern.  It was with this aim in mind that the state became an active sponsor of economic activities.  It is possible to think of the state in early modern Europe as a kind of machine which locates various resources of society, mobilizes them, and eventually turns them into military hardware.  Economic development meant higher revenues from taxes and it gave the kings access to more resources which they could use in their wars.

The state was keen to encourage trade, not least since taxes on trade were a lot easier to collect than taxes on land. It was now that a search began for natural resources ― agricultural land, forests, iron and copper ore, but also manpower ― which the state might make use of. Maps were drawn up which located these resources within the country’s borders, and lists were made of births, marriages and deaths in order to better keep track of the population. Domestic industries were set up and given state subsidies, above all in military significant sectors such as metalworks and in sectors that were easy for the state to tax. In addition, various “useful sciences” were encouraged by the newly established scientific academies, and prizes were given to innovations and discoveries. In state-sponsored universities, future members of the emerging administrative class were taught how best to regulate society and assure peace and social order.

New commercial society.  Above all, by the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602.[Read more: The East India companies] All over Europe similar trading companies were soon established and they were all granted monopolies on the highly profitable East Asian trade. These monopolies were sold, and for European kings this was an easy and quick way to raise revenue.  Connection to the development of the European state.  The first corporations, financial institutions.  People were investing in the lucrative trade.  The development of stock markets, insurances, the corporate form of running a business.  They took the surplus profits and lent the money to the state.  A founded debt, state banks.  The whole system of financial institutions.  There were great profits to be made in the Asian trade.  The goods were light-weight and easy to store.  They were dry.  You could reap great profits on the successful return of a ship.  The only problem was the long and uncertain journey. The state would sell monopolies, the exclusive right to trade with a particular part of the world. We usually think of monopolies as bad, and they often are, but in a situation where there is no existing market, they can help create the market which is not there.  It was too risky to trade with far-away continents.  It took too long to get there.  You had to invest now for a very uncertain return sometimes in the rather distant future.

The problem was only that even this frantic activity never was sufficient to guarantee peace.  In fact, the more one state was arming itself, the more it developed its economy and rationalized its administrative procedures, the more of a threat it posed to its neighbors.  This might not actually have been the case, but this at least is what the neighbors thought.  Better safe than sorry; we had better arm ourselves too so that we are prepared if an attack comes. Often enough threats of war turned into the real thing. From the early seventeenth-century onwards Europe was in a more or less continuous state of warfare.

The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, was the bloodiest and most protracted military confrontation of the era.  The Thirty Years War is often called a religious conflict since Catholic states confronted Protestants, yet Protestant and Catholic countries sometimes fought on the same side, and besides religious dogma was clearly not the first thing on the minds of the combatants. Instead the war concerned which state should have hegemony over Europe; that is, which state, if any, that would take over from the universal institutions of the Middle Ages. The main protagonists were two Catholic states, France and Austria, but Sweden — a Protestant country — intervened on France’s side, and in the end no hegemonic power emerged.  As a result of the war Germany’s population was reduced by perhaps a third, and in the region of Brandenburg ― today’s Berlin ― the male population was decimated by half. What the Swiss or the Scottish mercenaries did not steal, the Swedish troops destroyed, and the people who did not die on the battlefield, died of the plague.

The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, which concluded the thirty years of warfare, has come to symbolize the new way of organizing international politics which emerged at this time. From now on international politics concerned relations between states and no other political units. All states were sovereign, meaning that they laid claims to the exclusive right to rule their own territories and to act, in relation to other states, as they themselves saw fit. All states were formally equal and they had the same rights and obligations. Taken together the states interacted with each other in a system in which there was no overarching power. Sovereignty and formal equality led to the problem of “anarchy”: to the problem, that is, of how to assure peace and order in a situation where everyone looked after themselves and no one looked after the system as a whole. There were no institutions that could enforce the peace or stop a war once it had begun. As a result states had to rely on their own resources, to look after themselves, or to form alliances through which the power of one alliance of states could be balanced against the power of another alliance. Yet such power balances were precarious, easily subverted, and given the value attached to territorial acquisitions, states had an incentive to engage in aggressive wars.

At the same time various practices developed which helped regulate common affairs. The foremost example were perhaps the practices of diplomacy, as exemplified, by the way peace treaties were negotiated. From the early modern period onward, European states met after each major war in order to reach a settlement and lay down the terms of their future interaction. These diplomatic practices had their origin in relations between the city-states of northern Italy. Once they became independent both of the pope and the emperor, these city-states discovered that their relationship with each other had become vastly more uncertain. In order to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary wars, the various rulers began dispatching ambassadors to each other’s courts. This network provided a means of gathering information, of spying, but also a way of keeping in touch with one another, of carrying out negotiations and concluding deals. The practices of diplomacy soon expanded to include a number of mutually advantageous provisions: the embassies were given extraterritorial rights and legal immunity for the diplomats themselves, diplomatic dispatches were regarded as inviolable, and ambassadors had the right to worship the god of their choice. These originally north-Italian practices gradually expanded to embrace more states and by the middle of the seventeenth-century the system included France, Spain, Austria, England, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and the Ottoman empire. The diplomatic practices were never powerful enough to prevent war ― indeed wars continued to be common ― but they did provide Europeans with a sense of a common identity. There were common rules to play by, even if they often were broken.

This section is a draft.

It was quite obviously not by means of imperialism that the logic of the European international system spread to the rest of the world.  Colonialism is a sort of mercantilism. From Adam Smith’s point of view, and the point of view of free trade, it was something like an intellectual mistake.  The wealth of a nation is not determined by what it has but by what it can produce.  No hoarding.

The colonies were dependent on the European states.  As different from sovereignty as you could imagine. The graduation argument.  Non-European societies as growing up.  The paradox of sovereignty — you can be whatever you want to be as long as you first become one of us.

But this was not how the European state and the European way of organizing international relations came to spread to the rest of the world, at least not directly. After all, a colonized country is the very opposite of a sovereign state; the colonized peoples had no nation-states and enjoyed no self-determination. It was instead through the process of liberating themselves from the colonizers that the European models were copied. The Europeans would only grant sovereignty to states that were like their own; the only way to be an independent state was to become an independent state of the European kind. To create such a state was consequently the project in which all non-European political leaders engaged. Thus, once they had become independent, all new states had their respective territories and fortified borders; their own capitals, armies, foreign ministries, flags, national anthems and all the other paraphernalia of sovereign statehood. Whether there were alternative, non-European, ways of organizing a state and its foreign relations was never discussed. Whether it made sense for the newly independent states to try to live up to these European ideals was never discussed either.

How it became more and more impossible for the European states to pay for the empire.  There is quite a scholarly discussion regarding whether European countries actually benefited from the colonies.  There is no doubt that some individuals did, notably the owners of companies that could extract various resources.  But there were also high costs associated with military defense.  This was true already during the Indian Uprising. [Read more: Indian Uprising of 1857]

During the First World War the Europeans had their minds on quite different things.  There was an enormous destruction in Europe, not least of human lives.  The position of Great Britian and France was actually extended as a result of the outcome of the war.  They took on former German colonial possessions as “protectorates.”

Nationalist movements started in India at this time, and soon elsewhere too — Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, Indonesia, Malaysia, throughout the Middle East.  Indian National Congress.[Read more: G.K. Chesterton on Indian nationalism]  Revolutionary movements in China and the Ottoman Empire sought to renegotiate relations with the European powers.

It was instead the way in which the rest of the world came to be decolonized that determined their future.  They became independent on European terms, and in this way they also perpetuated their status as inferiors in the international system.  There was next to no one among them who could live up to the requirements. This was a source of great worry to members of the English School: were these states really going to be able to become trustworthy members of the international system?

The problem of “failed states.”  But what is it really that has failed. Why impose a certain foreign system on a country which is singularly badly suited for it and then blame the country in question when things go wrong?