Monday, September 28, 2009

Belich on The Anglosphere

[Should have credited Andrew Smith, who got to this story first!]

The New Zealand historian James Belich's new global history Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World (Oxford University Press), thoughtfully reviewed here, seems to be history book of the week. Canadianists will want to be looking at how he integrates Canadian experience into this global development.

Belich reflects on the transformation of the world caused by the settlement colonies, from the United States to New Zealand. His subject is:
the migration of the British people over the globe, including North America; with the aid of some state power, certainly – the general protection afforded by the Royal Navy, occasional military expeditions to pull the migrants out of trouble, charters and treaties – but not in order to dominate anyone. Rather, the aim was to reproduce British-type “free” societies, usually freer than Britain’s own, in what were conveniently regarded as the “waste” places of the earth.
Well, yes, though having just refought the siege of Quebec, I'm inclined to think more than "occasional military expeditions" helped make all that territory British. And I'm a little gobsmacked to read:
with all due respect to the rich scholarship on European imperialism, in the very long view most European empires in Asia and Africa were a flash in the pan
I'm reminded of the Oxbridge don who tried to defend some reforms to his college by demonstrating that they were perfectly in keeping with the last three hundred years of college tradition. Ye-es, said one of his fellows, surely. But wouldn't you agree the last three hundred years have been, well, rather unusual. How long a view does it require to persuade Asians and Africans to see most of the last five hundred years as a flash in the pan?
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