John M. MacKenzie
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in Imperialism and the natural world
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The study of imperial history has entered a new phase. In the era of decolonisation, the search was on for explanations of imperialism as an aberrant phenomenon, a fever in human affairs with a complex epidemiology requiring close aetiological scrutiny. In Britain, historical studies were dominated by a school of 'Little Englander' historians who believed that imperialism had no significance for domestic history. The history of the natural sciences helps to confirm that the imperial connection was far from being simply a diffusionist process. Imperial explorations served to create the social and political contexts of the development of geological ideas in the nineteenth century. The imperial state called forth new disciplines, developed old ones, and served to institutionalise and professionalise them. But this activity took place within, and was conditioned by, specific cultural configurations. In coping with the natural world, the effectiveness of colonial corporist strategies should never be overestimated.

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