By expanding the geographical scope of the history of violence and war, this volume challenges both Western and state-centric narratives of the decline of violence and its relationship to modernity. It highlights instead similarities across early modernity in terms of representations, legitimations, applications of, and motivations for violence. It seeks to integrate methodologies of the study of violence into the history of war, thereby extending the historical significance of both fields of research. Thirteen case studies outline the myriad ways in which large-scale violence was understood and used by states and non-state actors throughout the early modern period across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Atlantic, and Europe, demonstrating that it was far more complex than would be suggested by simple narratives of conquest and resistance. Moreover, key features of imperial violence apply equally to large-scale violence within societies. As the authors argue, violence was a continuum, ranging from small-scale, local actions to full-blown war. The latter was privileged legally and increasingly associated with states during early modernity, but its legitimacy was frequently contested and many of its violent forms, such as raiding and destruction of buildings and crops, could be found in activities not officially classed as war.
That this book proved a pleasure to produce is chiefly thanks to the energy, commitment and intellectual passions of the contributors. I’ve learned much from each of them, and I hope readers will too.
John MacKenzie has been a staunch supporter from beginning to end. Rob Nixon gave early encouragement. Our initial contributors included Delia Jarrett-Macauley, though sadly force of circumstances required her to withdraw. A decisive moment in organising the arguments of the volume occurred when the authors met together in London. We were particularly delighted that Sue Thomas was able to come from Melbourne and we would like to express our thanks to the Australian Academy of the Humanities who provided her with the Travelling Fellowship which made this possible. We were also joined by a group of friends and colleagues who, for no recompense, over two days worked hard on our behalf: Stuart Hall, Julian Henriques, Peter Hulme, David Scott, Richard Smith and Brett St Louis. Both Stuart Hall and Peter Hulme offered wise counsel during the longer duration of this project, while David Scott’s dedication to bringing alive the intellectual traditions of the Caribbean served us beyond measure. We are deeply grateful to them all. Staff at Manchester University Press have been exemplary in every respect – and we should like to thank the anonymous reviewer whom the Press persuaded to comment on the original proposal.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to record the influence on me (though not on me alone) of two fine Caribbean intellectuals, whose presence has touched the heart of this book: at some geographical distance for most of us, George Lamming; and closer to home, Stuart Hall.