The Debate on the Rise of the British Empire

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Anthony Webster
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This book sets the context for a detailed exploration of the academic debate about the origins of the British empire, and outlines and engages with a key interpretation or approach to the subject. It gives a brief outline of the growth of the empire from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, together with a survey of various theoretical explanations and justifications offered by commentators from the early mercantilists, to apologist historians of the late Victorian period such as Froude and Seeley. The book considers more closely the problems surrounding the concept of imperialism, and its many definitions. It also considers why the British among the various continental European empires, has attracted so much interest and controversy among historians. The White Dominions, particularly Canada, Australia and New Zealand were the beneficiaries of such liberal concession, which was granted on the assumption that the predominantly white and British inhabitants of these colonies needed and deserved the right of self government. It is unsurprising, therefore, given the kaleidoscopic quality of the British empire, its ethnic and cultural diversity and the baffling varieties of its formal and informal rule, that historians of imperialism have come to regard it as the richest source of insights into the subject. It has become a testing ground for theoretical models of imperialism, a function it seems likely to continue to serve.

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