This chapter examines imperialism in the context of the early development of capitalism, up to the period of the mid-nineteenth century. This is done by focusing on a number of closely related theoretical approaches — under-development and world systems theory, and the ‘new global history’ — which suggest that British take off in the early nineteenth century was closely linked to, or even caused by, the contribution of the colonies, particularly in the New World and India. Although these theories are concerned with a long history of relations between the developed core and under-developed periphery, and we will return to their claims in later chapters, they deserve some initial treatment as they have a particular conception of capitalism and its origins. Their argument is that imperialism largely caused the take off of capitalist development in what came to be the advanced countries, and Britain in particular. This chapter therefore focuses on the claims made by this theory in the period of mercantilism.
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