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The builders of the Caribbean empire
Benjamin Steiner

Africans and Europeans were not the only ones involved in the construction of the large buildings on the islands. The indigenous populations, the Caribs, whom the Europeans encountered when they landed on these islands, mastered several building techniques, disposed over knowledge about the local materials, different sorts of woods, stones, corals, and how to handle, use, and apply them for construction works. This chapter describes the multicultural constellation of the population in the Antilles at the beginning of European colonization efforts. A close look on materials used in the large buildings reveals the sort of assemblage that the actor–network theory proposes to be an essential image of the interconnection between things and people. In the Antilles bricks, stones, and lime, including sea corals and shells, were used in many buildings; sometimes French engineers imported bricks, tiles, steel, and even stones from Europe making the walls of the large buildings thus perfect examples of assemblages of Atlantic materials.

in Building the French empire, 1600–1800
Julian Hoppit

This chapter explores the issue of the relation between metropole and colony, as well as of the loyalty of imperial subjects, by exploring the phenomenon of compensation, paid by the government in London to those who had incurred losses in relation to the empire. It is, therefore, a study of imperialism in practice, and of the risks associated with imperial expansion, in terms of the response from the centre to failure at the periphery. This is undertaken in order to analyse the assumptions and principles that structured the making, maintenance and loss of empire, themes that require much greater attention than they have received hitherto.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
William J. Bulman

This chapter demonstrates the importance of recognising the connection between two well known issues – anti-popery/anti-puritanism and orientalism – both of which are understood as tools of ‘othering’ that helped to shape national identity. It demonstrates how responses to the religions of Islamic empires involved claims about popery and puritanism, and how this led to the construction of a discourse of oriental priestcraft and tyranny. It thus argues that later orientalism originated not in Enlightenment philosophy but in late Renaissance and post-Reformation historical culture. As such, it informs our understanding of the relationship between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, as well as between domestic and imperial history.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
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Jason Peacey

This chapter sets up the volume by introducing the current state of the historiography on the first British empire, in terms of the sometimes divisive debates about the ‘cultural turn’ and ‘new imperial history’. It highlights the ways in which scholars now seek to build upon such developments while also re-integrating different perspectives and themes, from political economy to religion, law and geography, as well as the interrelationship between policy making in the metropole and policy formation and implementation across the empire. It then demonstrates how the various chapters fit within, but also move beyond, recent scholarship, in order to highlight the wider contribution that the volume makes.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
The making of early English ‘Bombay’
Philip J. Stern

This chapter explores the issues that arose from the ‘transfer’ of Bombay from Portuguese to English control in 1661. It argues that this was a more complex issue than historians have recognised, and that the nature and extent of English sovereignty remained a matter of dispute and a work in progress. Ongoing struggles hinged not only on officials in London and India but also on the regional and geopolitics of imperial expansion, as well as on the critical intersection between maritime and territorial sovereignty. As such, the story offers lessons about the complications at the heart of European claims to colonial sovereignty. Sovereignty, in that sense, was a process rather than a product.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
Jennifer Pitts

This chapter revisits the famous trial of Warren Hastings, and the prosecution led by Edmund Burke. It does so because this was a fertile moment of what might be called the politics of legal pluralism. Burke understood the impeachment of Hastings as a peculiar and potent form of global legal encounter and came to characterise his dispute with Hastings as a controversy about law, and the trial as a mobilisation of British law to rein in and check the abuse of British power abroad. The trial can be used, in other words, to understand the nature and possibilities of law-governed interactions between Indians and the British, and to explore Burke’s legal pluralism, an increasingly important theme within political-science scholarship, and one with important but hitherto under-developed historical significance.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
Editor: Jason Peacey

This collection of essays reappraises the origins and nature of the first British empire. Produced in the wake of protracted and sometimes divisive debates about how best to approach this topic, methodologically and thematically, and in the wake of the so-called ‘cultural turn’, it offers new perspectives and approaches, from some of the most important scholars working in the field, both senior and junior. This is not a matter of returning to older modes of scholarship but rather of learning from the ‘new imperial history’ while also re-integrating political and institutional perspectives. It is not a matter of turning from the experience of empire on the periphery to the study of the ‘official’ mind of empire, but rather of exploring contemporary debates, both within the metropole and across the empire, and how these impacted upon imperial ‘policy’ and its implementation, not least in the face of fairly profound challenges on the ground. These debates ranged widely, and were political and intellectual as well as religious and administrative, and they related to ideas about political economy, about legal geography and about sovereignty, as well as about the messy realities of the imperial project, including the costs and losses of empire, collectively and individually. This book will be of interest to historians and political scientists working in a range of different areas, far beyond merely scholars of empire, and its novel approaches and provocative arguments will help to shape the field on this most important of topics.

J. H. Elliott

This chapter represents a response to the argument about the role of party politics in debates about the British empire, and identifies areas of disagreement relating to the political, economic and intellectual culture that went into shaping imperial expansion. This involves recognising that disagreements existed, while challenging the significance of party alignments, reflecting on the wider historiography and introducing comparisons with the Spanish empire; it also involves expressing some degree of sympathy on wider issues of how to approach the study of empire.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
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Party politics, Spanish America and the Treaty of Utrecht (1713)
Steve Pincus

This chapter revisits the famous Treaty of Utrecht, and does so in order to challenge the existing historiography on contemporary political debates about empire. It emphasises the importance of reintroducing political discussions into the history of the British empire, not in the sense of returning to older ideas about an ‘official mind’ but rather in the sense of recognising the existence of real debate about the nature and merits of empire. The chapter argues that debates about the treaty reflected party divisions and contrasting political economies, and a struggle over the future of the empire. Setting out these rival versions provides an opportunity to reflect more broadly on recent trends within scholarship on empire, in the wake of the ‘cultural turn’.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800
Gabriel Glickman

This chapter re-examines the relationship between the Protestant religion and the politics of English overseas expansion, and looks at how confessional concerns entered into debates over colonisation. It argues that although English plantation may not have followed the coherent Protestant strategy mapped in early scholarship, the debate over the dominions was nevertheless inflected with spiritual, theological and ecclesiastical concerns. Debates occurred over whether to Christianise indigenous populations or reconstruct the ecclesiastical order of the domestic realm. It also argues that the relationship between overseas expansion and the reformed religion became problematic not because colonial policy was secularised, but because Protestants found no consensus over the sweeping moral, pastoral and political questions provoked by ventures outside Europe.

in Making the British empire, 1660–1800