This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Agirreazkuenaga, Joseba. Google Scholar. Anderson, Lisa. CrossRef Google Scholar. Anderson, Perry. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso. Ardant, Gabriel. Paris: S. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Asch, Ronald G. Sugar, P.
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Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. Bates, Robert H. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. New York: W. Beckett, J. Beik, William. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Blackbourn, David. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bonney, Richard. Bordo, Michael D. Braddick, Michael J. Manchester: Manchester University Press. State Formation in Early Modern England c. Brandt, Harm-Hinrich. Leamington Spa: Berg. Bratton, Michael and Nicolas Van de Walle.
Brewer, John. New York: Alfred A. Brewer, John and Eckhart Hellmuth. Brewer and E. Brynen, Rex. Butterfield, H.. The Whig Interpretation of History. New York: Scribner. Campbell, John L. Carr, Raymond. Spain: — , 2 nd ed. Carsten, F. The Origins of Prussia. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Casey, James. The Kingdom of Valencia in the Seventeenth Century.
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Chandaman, C. The English Public Revenue — Collins, Irene. Napoleon and His Parliaments, — New York: St. Collins, James B. Berkeley: University of California Press. Dupree, Louis. Ekman, Ernst. Elliott, J. Ertman, Thomas. Evans, R.
Titles in this series
Eyck, Erich. Bismarck and the German Empire.
Gillis, D. The Kingdom of Swaziland. Westport, CT: Greenwood. States and Rulers in Later Medieval Europe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Hardman, John. Louis XVI. New York: Oxford University Press. Jonker and J. Luiten van Zanden. Overall, I argue that for the early modern period, empire as an analytical category seems to be useful only where it is constructed from the sources up. Where historians take the varied entanglements of those who did empire, foremost their status-driven, familial or dynastic agendas, into consideration, speaking of early modern empires eschews narratives of inevitable modernisation and growing differentiation.
A comparative approach to empire needs to keep alive the tension between imperial structures and the individual leeway that agents struggled to maintain. A connected history of empire, by contrast, needs to pay close attention to power structures limiting imperial agents from crossing over from one polity into another. This review essay starts with thoughts on historiographies of empire that shaped the recent literature under consideration here.
Admittedly, these thoughts are limited, most importantly, because I pay special attention to empires in the long eighteenth century. I focus on this period in particular to emphasise the differences between early modern empires and their nineteenth- and twentieth-century counterparts, while, of course, empires can also fruitfully be studied beyond this timeframe.
The essay then moves on to the definitions of empire that these historiographies brought forth: definitions that mostly stress commerce or conquest as driving forces of empire. From the problems of definitions, it transitions into a discussion of agents of empire; to those who did or un-did empire. A picture emerges in which personal enrichment and power struggles matter far less than personal obligations. In my conclusion, I return to the management of difference discussed at the onset. I argue that while historians of empire, of course, write histories for our own time of global capitalism , it is worthwhile to consider other imperial rationales: Adhering to deeply gendered familial, dynastic, and religious obligations constituted the distinctive feature of early modern empires.
Scholarly exchange, English as a new lingua franca , and approaches that push beyond the nation-state as the natural unit of investigation have brought into conversation and continue to connect distinctive histories of empire. These increasing connections between former national historiographies have produced and continue to produce productive misunderstandings. While these misunderstandings have the potential to raise new questions especially in comparative and connected histories of empire, they also blur definitions in national historiographies.
Before discussing definitions in section three, this essay disentangles five examples of prominent imperial historiographies to explain how they have shaped some of the current field. Irish and Scottish critics symbolically embraced a larger European project to reimagine their own unions with England.
Oxford pioneered institutionalisation with a chair in In the interwar-period, Cambridge initiated several projects with imperial implications, but these dwarf in comparison to the research done in London. With the return of former servicemen and well-seasoned critics of empire began a formalisation in the curriculum at Cambridge. It is telling that this historiography turned a European male face to the public, but many non-European and female voices were at work in the background.
Intriguing connections also existed with some later historian of empire at work outside of Britain such as Eric Eustace Williams. James constituted but one intersection of a new imperial turn and an emerging field shaped by scholars actively involved in the unravelling of empire. In the wake of decolonisation, schools of researchers with new agendas emerged.
Members of the Subaltern Studies Collective , for instance, responded to tendencies in South East Asian history to see societies after empire solely through the lens of Western agents and solely in their contribution to the European imperial system. Instead, they proposed to study empire as those subject to imperial rule experienced it. This, they assumed, would uncover the intellectual predicaments and the violence and exploitation of empire-building alongside the roots of resistance that ultimately led to the demise of empires.
Subsequent works of synthesis have responded to the upswing in global and world histories. These works have not just further undermined the idea of Europe as a driving force in world history. Some established that European agents played a decidedly marginal role. In the s, early American history developed its own so called Imperial School that took shape around Richard M. As a consequence, these historians struggled with explaining why this once stable colonial machine ultimately collapsed. The generation that followed them paid more attention to two foundational themes of early American history much closer to home: the role of colonial assemblies and the uneven emergence of slavery as a major labour regime.
But it is important to understand both the impact of the Imperial School as well as the focus on the American Revolution. Taking them together, it becomes apparent why historiographical cycles on both sides of the Atlantic were and are not always in sync. The emphasis on the rebellion against an empire as a foundational moment of national history slowed down a critical enquiry into the many unbroken techniques of empire that people carried over into the new American polity.
Despite a shared language and often shared forebears, new imperial history of British making, thus, does not always fit easily with its North American counterpart. Due to the sheer diversity of early American history today a few recent examples will have to suffice. They offer major revisions of how we should think of categories such as slavery, information, and labour.
It suggests that the diverse set of agents that carried information had to adapt to a region in which war unsettled established political structures. Recent work, thus, points to a long-lasting trend towards a historiography that is growing less and less Anglo-Dutch and Protestant. The decades after the Emperor offered his crown strengthened divisions that ran between a school of history oriented towards the emerging Habsburg-centred composite state and the new self-declared Empire that grew out of its Brandenburg-Prussian fringes.
It intersected with vibrant national movements in Central and Eastern Europe that helped unpick and reform empire. After the Second World War, the old early modern empire returned, but it looked strikingly non-imperial. Only where historians downplayed its imperial edge, the Holy Roman Empire could be reimagined as a positive alternative to Prussia. Without painting with too broad a brush, historians contrasted an empire that had teeth and claws and was tied to the rise of National Socialism with an empire of proto-parliaments and religious diversity.
This empire ultimately fell victim to centrifugal forces emerging within its large boundaries and due to its outside enemies. Different political groups could pick and choose from a political history that ran from the Catholic Habsburg Emperors, through liberalism and the multi-ethnic k und k -monarchy into a post-war federal state. The Austrian version of enlightened absolutism, so called Joseph in ism, for instance, has just come under critical reinvestigation. After the war, he continued to find allies among critics of the history of ideas and his research on Southeastern Europe was put to new uses during the Cold War.
Empire also took on a crucial role in the formation of the social sciences in Europe and the United States to give just one example. Steinmetz seeks to trace their career beyond publications and conferences at home and treats them instead as mobile knowledge brokers. Travelling sociologists actively connected both European networks of knowledge to colonies as well as colonial areas to one another.
In history as in sociology, the mobility of agents and ideas, discussing and often wildly disagreeing with one another, furthered the process by which different schools intersected. Historians and sociologists, then, also actively did and un-did empire. Whenever they did, this, in turn, necessitated a renewed interest in definitions of empire and formed ir reconcilable approaches for studying it. Empire has proven chronically hard to define because the definitions of other models of statecraft are in flux as well.
For empires in early modern Europe, definitions often hinge on the one hand on absent structural features to emerge in later periods such as mass communication  , industrialisation  , participatory government  , and the great isms racism, colonialism, imperialism, etc. Definitions of empire also often use different contemporary forms of political organisation such as monarchies or republics. The impression, voiced very succinctly by Stephan Wendehorst and others, that definitions of empire have lost their edge is, thus, an indication of something positive and challenging: the increasing connections between a set of scholarly endeavours formerly confined to one academic tradition, language, or region.
The teleology of empire from formation, over peak to decomposition and successor states that once set empires in the nineteenth century apart from their early modern counterparts is also wearing thin: Definitions seemed easier when, for instance, an ideal type of the nation-state was available to define empire against. It follows that the close connection between European capitalism and empire also merits a word of warning.
Admirers turned his lessons into a full-fledged theory of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. These major theorists like Hobson and Lenin, however, always answered to very contemporary problems. Formulating a baseline definition of empire these authors also show how sensitive the imperial rule will always be to the exceptions of day-to-day imperial practice.
I will go through these categories one by one contrasting them with early modern case material. This tradition of envisioning empire reaches back, for instance, to claims to what British and French considered North American hinterlands.
Territorialised ideas of early modern polities, in fact, sit oddly with many theorists of empire in the world and Europe. More often, they thought of empire in terms of rights in labour, privileges, and people. To be sure, political thinkers formulated legal claims to land that Europeans considered unused and ritualistically took possession of that land. Even if they settled overseas, these settlements remained confined to small, if exploitative pockets until well into the eighteenth century.
Groups that were systematically marginalised in the many smaller and larger polities they constituted found access to imperial institutions or the emperor very attractive. Recently, Wendehorst has coined the term Guiccardini-paradigm , after the Renaissance historian who first systematically discussed it, for this phenomenon.
The ruler could take on a central role in embodying that authority, while those inhabiting empire imagined themselves as subjects. Let us consider some examples from the Holy Roman Empire to explore that aspect further. Depending on the circumstances these courts offered subjects chances to circumvent and challenge intermediary princely powers. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor, for instance, had agents at local princely courts to negotiate diplomatic relations, a subject Thomas Lau has recently studied.
The disproportionately large number of seats that Scotland won in British Parliament in , for instance, stands out — especially if we consider how North American colonists failed to achieve a comparable representation in London. Subjects in the Danish empire shared one faith from the imperial fiefdoms Schleswig and Holstein over Denmark and Norway to Iceland and the Faroe islands. Regime change could also introduce a ruler with a different confessional outlook as was the case in struggles between Protestant Riga and the Polish-Lithuanian king Sigismund II August.
Connections between religion and empire, thus, empowered subjects, but they also bolstered an early modern sense of imperial mission and historical purpose 8 that was later often interlaced with concepts of civilisation, progress, and race. Let us investigate one caesura around , traditionally associated with imperial crisis.
Maya Jasanoff, for instance, uncovers the fates of roughly 60, who sided with Britain and were displaced during the American Revolutionary War. This entailed demands for imperial reform which closely resembled the demands of American revolutionaries themselves. He explained how magnates in the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires came to rival their imperial overlords.
This is for three main reasons: First, it does not disallow anyone from integrating a pluralised notion of modernity as Partha Chatterjee and others have proposed. And, third, it helps frame why those who spoke of empire in the nineteenth century could still invoke family, friends, and kings before speaking of industry, telegraph, or steamship. Much of the debate about definitions also amounts to conflicts between inductive and deductive approaches.
But even inductive approaches need to justify why they consider a certain set of practices as imperial. The group of German-speaking historians discussed above who study early modern empires that are usually neglected by imperial history have proposed to focus on techniques, personnel, and institutions within a set definition. It seems crucially important that even inductive approaches that treat empire — like I will in the next part — as a set of practices relate them to a common denominator. This merely replaces one problem with another as the rich literature on statecraft has already shown.
Instead, this essay sees empire as a type of Herrschaft which uneasily translates into authority. As the Roman term imperium suggests, empire was meant to enable people to do something. To be sure, coercion played a central role and violence occurred in early modern power relations, but in most cases it was not the desirable outcome. In addition to downright force, power relations, of course, crucially hinged on language and mutual perception. These mutual perceptions transformed power into Herrschaft. And they help historians shift the focus from structure to process: from empires as state-like entities to empire as a practice that could help some to create and help others to unpick existing institutions.
Depending on the empire under consideration, successive historiographical waves have presented a string of contenders. The basic parameters governing how empires could take shape — from above, from below, from between empires or from in-between and across empires and other polities — reflect the historiographical trends outlined in the first part of this essay. Some suggested that metropolitan politicians, merchants, missionaries, and soldiers made empire.
In the background, rivalries between empires also continued to exert a crucial influence. These competing claims that rivalling groups haphazardly made empire from above and others instantly unmade it from below also inspired an increasing focus on intermediaries who moved in-between alleged centres and peripheries and between empires. It is, of course, something of a truism that local agents could undercut imperial agendas and that, quite often, they used the very tools of empire to do so.
But while this inversion of power dynamics sits well with a historiography sceptical of top-down histories of states and empires, it also upsets the very subject under consideration. If means of coercion were so limited, those who practiced empire either had to share some ideological common ground with distant rulers, or they had to fear coercion enough to comply regardless.
To soften the dichotomy, local agents needed to manufacture obedience with their allies. This manufacturing process involved many hands whose personal obligations ranged from friendship, marriage, kinship, fiefdom, vassalage, and servitude to bonds of money and ideology. If coercion became necessary, imperial elites sometimes put boots on the ground; or rather, cannons on deck. To the contrary, protecting the British Isles and interrupting trade patterns dominated naval strategising.
Scholars have reinvestigated, for instance, the role of the Navy as a forum for critique in the period leading up to the British Civil War and identified the Navy as a source of discontent in the American crisis. Early modern empires shared significant common ground with monarchy, dynasty, and noble family. In fact, thinking in terms of families and personal obligation permeated other areas as well.
Historians of early modern Spain and its empire have already gone far in advancing this notion. The remainder of this section looks at some of these practices of empire in more detail. Empires used political voids, hijacked existing institutions, and often recruited personnel of the realms they incorporated. Imperial stability, thus, crucially depended on a degree of flexibility that an instructive comparison of Qing China and Imperial Rome delineates. When and how depended on the social clout of those who uttered these words.
In , Antony G. Power lies not just in conquest, but in claiming the authority to forge the story of empire and define what preceded it  : Imperial narratives even inverted the relationality of colonial violence, turning the colonised into perpetrators. Chatterjee, for instance, shows how Thomas Babbington Macaulay utilised a version of an almost forgotten event in Mughal India, the death of a group of imprisoned British soldiers in Calcutta, to present the British as a civilising force in a disorderly and despotic India. Many of these stories were so strikingly similar in different regions not just because they were remade by Western historiography, but because empires responded to the comparable challenge of maintaining loyalty among vast networks of interdependent followers.
Religious agents occupied a major role as critics and promoters of empire. Quite often they played both roles at the same time. Religion was neither on the way out during the early modern period, nor should it be put in too stark a contrast with Enlightened arguments to legitimise empire. Imperial religious fervour no longer pertains to Catholics or a small group of radical Protestants in New England either.
British historians have argued that the first post-Reformation empire was born out of militant Protestantism, and grappled from the start with its inbuilt heterodoxy. It helped agents to reshape empires. Successions drew imperial networks in sharp relief as they were often accompanied by purges or struggles over rights to particular subjects, territories or privileges.
Furthermore, taking dynastic thought seriously sets Europe apart from other dynastic systems: Agnatic primogeniture, monogamous marriage, and Salic law framed political conflict. At the same time the focus on the rule of the first-born son from a legitimate marriage also created dynastic crises well into the eighteenth century.
Taxation and representation
Faruqui convincingly shows how the critique of a prince pierced through layers of courtly etiquette that otherwise prevented a discussion of policies. What past historians have, thus, often considered a failure to create modern institutions served an important political function in harnessing elite rivalry and preventing critique from damaging the emperor. Subjects in empires also made sophisticated legal claims that did not merely pit an imposed legal system against a pre-existing one. Quite often these claims considered multiple legal repertoires.
At the centre of many of the answers stood an ideal type that approximated the British Empire combining a powerful fiscal-military state at home with a mercantilist system abroad. But this static view has become a lot more fluid in recent years. The editors suggest that transformations of thinking about the universe, the natural world, and the body politic were inseparable from commerce in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. European trading companies, combining as they did joint stock capital, organisation, and a state-backed monopoly, were, indeed, unprecedented. They combined personal with political and economic responsibilities without always drawing clear boundaries between them.
Consider, for instance, the classic case of Spain and its empire. The work of Arndt Brendecke and others on information suggests that the ideal of an all-knowing ruler aspiring to dispense justice was confronted with agents in Spain and overseas who filtered, exaggerated, and misinformed. If the annual silver fleet did not arrive in Iberia at the right time, it made a difference in European politics. Slavery stood at the apex of a spectrum of forms of unfree labour that maintained different empires in world history. As such, practices of slaving are central not just to the history of early modern European empires  , but both to the history of empire and the connected history of Europe more generally.
The influx of convict labour that once jump-started sugar, could not maintain it subsequently. For historians, they showcase early modern forms of intersectionality: How ties between status, race, and gender were made in practice and re produced in writing practices. Those organising migration, for instance, accepted work as a payment for passage. They contributed to what some now call the Anthropocene. Imagine for a moment the sight of a silver mine in Peru, a sugar mill on Jamaica, or a hacienda in colonial Mexico. It is a daunting task. Most readers in a modern consumer society, myself included, inhabit a world in which humans decisively impact upon the environment, but in which they often live disconnected from the materiality of imperial production.
Human changes to the environment subtly accompanied most of the processes of empire. Every piece of silver intersected in a meaningful way with a vast set of people all embedded in networks of dependency to patrons, family members, and social peers. But they also pushed societies built on interaction, trust, and bonds of family, clientage, and friendship to their natural limits.
As this literature review should have made clear, it also led them closer to how historical agents themselves conceived of the worlds they inhabited. A history of early modern empire needs to account for the intersecting roles of individual agents and the intertwined nature of systems in early modern society. Conclusion: Contemporary Problems? Dr John-Paul A. Balliol College. Professor Lyndal Roper. Regius Professor of History. Oriel College. Professor Giora Sternberg. Associate Professor of Early Modern History.
Hertford College. The History of the British Isles. Dr Alexandra Gajda. John Walsh Fellow and Lecturer in History. Jesus College. Dr Perry Gauci. Tutor in Modern History. Lincoln College. Professor Bob Harris. Professor of British History. Worcester College.
Early Modern Literature
Professor Joanna Innes. Professor Emeritus of Modern History. Somerville College. Dr Sarah Mortimer. Christ Church. Dr Jon Parkin. Associate Professor of History. St Hugh's College. Dr Grant Tapsell. Dr Lucy Wooding. Langford Fellow and Tutor. The History of Power, Politics and State-formation. Professor Natalia Nowakowska. Professor of European History. Art, Architecture and Material Culture. Professor Craig Clunas.
Professor Emeritus of the History of Art. Trinity College, History of Art Department. Professor Hanneke Grootenboer. Professor of the History of Art. St Peter's College. Professor Geraldine A. Professor Gervase Rosser. St Catherine's College. The History of Science. Dr Philip Beeley. Research Fellow and Tutor. Professor Robert Iliffe. Professor of the History of Science. Linacre College. Intellectual History and Political Ideas. Professor Laurence Brockliss. Professor of Early Modern French History retired. Magdalen College.