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About this book

This study surveys the growth of European intervention outside Europe between 1860 and 1914. It treats its subject, 'imperialism', as a process of increasing contact, influence and control, rather than as the nature and consequences of colonial rule. The problems of defining 'imperialism' are considered alongside various analytical approaches to the term. In examining the controversial historiographical literature surrounding this subject, the book criticises particular explanations, and introduces readers to some of the new directions in research and inquiry currently being explored by historians.

Table of Contents

1. Definitions and Theories

Abstract
‘Imperialism’ has always been a diffuse and emotive subject, even when there is broad agreement on what is being considered. Recent writings have done little to dispel this problem, and any discussion almost immediately exposes a semantic minefield. Words like ‘political’, ‘social’, ‘cultural’ or ‘economic’ are unavoidable, but, ordinary though they may be, they are difficult to use precisely; the boundaries between the things they describe are rarely clear-cut. Of course, all historians face this problem. Although many solve it to their own satisfaction by labelling themselves ‘political’ or ‘economic’ historians, historians of imperialism cannot specialise in quite the same way. The interest of the subject, as well as its frustrations, lies in the fact that it embraces all these subdivisions. Its study involves historians in attempting both to define and disentangle a wide range of social, political or economic processes, in order to understand their distinct function and perhaps their importance relative to each other. These tasks of identification, disentanglement arid assessment are unavoidably contentious. Even the title of this essay will raise the hackles of at least some readers! However, the problem of definition seems as appropriate a spot as any at which to start.
Andrew Porter

2. ‘Metropolitan’ Explanations: Political

Abstract
Many explanations of imperialism have attached special importance to one central causal factor. There has been a long tradition of treating European imperialism as the direct offspring of the continent’s political, essentially diplomatic, calculations. This is justified in one very obvious sense. Foreign policy-makers, both ministers and their officials, were immediately responsible for the international negotiations inseparable from the initial statement and ultimate confirmation of claims to territory; they also presided over the recognition of spheres of influence, delimitation of boundaries, and agreements over trade, concessions or international loans, as well as the definition of different nationals’ rights. ‘Diplomatic’ interpretations, however, have deeper roots in examinations of European states’ foreign policy as a whole. From this angle, non-European issues in our period only loomed really large between c. 1880 and c. 1912; even then they were rarely seen as vitally important in their own right, being treated as means to more important European ends (which is why, for example, the Fashoda Crisis of 1898 did not result in an Anglo-French war): and ultimately they contributed only secondarily to the fundamental antagonisms which brought European war in 1914.
Andrew Porter

3. ‘Metropolitan’ Explanations: Social and Economic

Abstract
Imperialism, especially in the formal acquisition of colonies, involved matters of conscious choice and rational motive, processes in which individuals adopted certain courses of action in preference to others, with a clear sense of the likely consequences. Contemporaries, well aware of the influences touched on in Section 2, often appealed to them as causes of and justifications for imperial expansion. Critics of empire claimed that had other influences or rational arguments from different premises been properly considered, instead of being wilfully ignored by those in positions of power, then entirely different consequences would have followed, bringing the expansion of imperial control to a halt. Many historians have followed this essentially liberal, individualistic form of analysis, concentrating on motive, intention, and personal contacts. However, others have stressed instead the far greater importance for understanding imperialism of the social and economic structures of European societies.
Andrew Porter

4. ‘Peripheral’ Explanations

Abstract
By the 1860s, a marked feature of Europe’s expansion was the presence abroad of large numbers of her nationals — traders, civilian officials, missionaries, settlers and armed forces. Their activities often bred conflicts, with one another, between individuals of different nationalities, and with local indigenous people. The expansion of European activity — whether by continental consolidation overland, as in the Russian or analogous North American cases, or overseas —produced many ill-defined, unstable and ‘turbulent’ frontiers. These tensions were hardly inevitable, but proved only rarely containable locally, and could not be permanently ignored by metropolitan agencies [220; 226; 230; 233]. Threats to local authorities who failed to maintain impartial and effective control, direct intervention, the often violent assertion of European power, and finally forms of annexation and the permanent extension of colonial rule, frequently followed.
Andrew Porter

5. Other Recent Approaches

Abstract
One approach to our topic, representing almost the polar opposite of peripheral explanations, is that which sees it as yet another, albeit striking, episode in the steady creation of the modern world economy. Developing perspectives derived from Marx, A.G. Frank and Fernand Braudel, Immanuel Wallerstein has started from the proposition that imperialism is the essential servant of an expanding capitalism [294; 295; cf. 277; 279]. He has published three of the four volumes intended to link historical fact with his theoretical argument, and his ideas are clear. Imperialism represents part of an inexorable process of incorporation by which the European capitalist ‘core’ of the world economy, needing to expand in response to internal pressures, gradually draws areas hitherto wholly external to it into a ‘peripheral’ or still closer ‘semiperipheral’ position. This process, which has gathered momentum since the late fifteenth century, is portrayed as one of deepening capitalist development in the areas being linked in a global economic hierarchy to the highly developed core. Its outstanding features include the redirection of major trades, their replacement with new trades in primary products or raw materials required by the core, the transformation of production processes and global divisions of labour, and the enlargement of state structures, not least in the form of Europe’s colonial empires, to organise the expanding economy.
Andrew Porter

6. Expansion and Empire

Abstract
Underlying this discussion has been an attempt to distinguish between the broad expansion of Europe and the more limited but growing phenomenon of domination or actual control of people and their territory by individual European powers. I have argued that those conditions which made for European expansion did not necessarily produce imperial consequences. When expansion manifested itself in the shape of informal or formal empire, when interest, influence or ambition were converted into control, that transformation can only be understood and explained by analysis of the politics, economy and society of both the European and extra-European parties involved in each particular case.
Andrew Porter
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