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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.

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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