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About this book

A distinguished international team of historians examines the dynamics of global and regional change in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Providing uniquely broad coverage, encompassing North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and China, the chapters shed new light on this pivotal period of world history.

Offering fresh perspectives on:
• the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions
• the break-up of the Iberian empires
• the Napoleonic Wars.

The volume also presents ground-breaking treatments of world history from an African perspective, of South Asia's age of revolutions, and of stability and instability in China. The first truly global account of the causes and consequences of the transformative 'Age of Revolutions', this collection presents a strikingly novel and comprehensive view of the revolutionary era as well as rich examples of global history in practice.

Table of Contents

1. Sparks from the Altar of ’76: International Repercussions and Reconsiderations of the American Revolution

A half-century has passed since the first volume of R. R. Palmer’s Age of the Democratic Revolution (1959, followed by a second in 1964) offered a stunning treatment of the geographic reach of the American Revolution. More than any other historian of his generation, Palmer initiated the move towards an Atlantic-wide consideration of political ideology and political practice in the second half of the eighteenth century. In Palmer’s view the American Revolution, suffused with enlightened ideological energy, ‘dethroned England and set up America as a model for those seeking a better world’. In particular, he explained how Europeans cast their eyes in wonderment upon the state constitutions cobbled together during the long war with Great Britain, seeing these expressions of fundamental law as ‘the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment … put into practice’ and ‘made the actual fabric of public life among real people, in this world, now’.1 Palmer showed how key elements of American Revolutionary ideology spread — very unevenly to be sure — across the breadth of Europe and, eventually, in paler forms, to Latin America in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Gary B. Nash

2. The French Revolution in Global Context

Until the past ten years or so, historians have given largely internalist accounts of the French Revolution. Most scholarly attention has focused on causes such as food shortages and on major mechanisms, e.g., the push for popular democracy or the resistance to women’s rights, that were internal to the history of metropolitan or ‘hexagonal’ France. Few denied that the French Revolution had a global dimension, but that global dimension was usually seen either as an effect of the geopolitical ambitions of the revolutionary leadership or as an overseas echo of radical revolutionary ideology at home. The arrow of influence always pointed outward, from mainland France, and especially from Paris, to other places, including the French colonies. Mainland French historians were only too happy to note the far distant reverberations of their French Revolution, but by and large they rejected efforts to make the French Revolution part of a broader Atlantic movement, as R. R. Palmer had argued it should be. Indeed, those most favourable to Palmer’s argument tended to come from outside of France or from the periphery of the French mainland.1
Lynn Hunt

3. Revolutionary Exiles: The American Loyalist and French Émigré Diasporas

One March day in 1794, a keen-eyed Frenchman with a pug nose limped into an inn at Falmouth, on the dark, stony coast of Cornwall. Chatting with the innkeeper over his meal, the man mentioned that he was bound for the United States as soon as his storm-damaged ship was repaired. Oh, said the innkeeper, there was an American lodger at the inn, an old general. The Frenchman asked to meet the American, and promptly started up a conversation about the United States, though he found his interlocutor awkwardly reticent. Eventually the Frenchman asked his new acquaintance for letters of introduction to friends in the United States. ‘No’, answered the American, abruptly; then added, ‘I am perhaps the only American who cannot give you letters for his country. All my ties there are broken … I must never go back.’ His name was Benedict Arnold. Once one of George Washington’s best generals, Arnold transferred his loyalty to Britain at the height of the American Revolution. In the United States, his name stood as a synonym for treachery. He lived now in Britain, an exile, chased by stress and debt. ‘I must admit that he made me feel very sorry for him’, the Frenchman remarked. ‘Political puritans may blame me, but I am not ashamed, for I was witness to his torment.’1
Maya Jasanoff

4. Iberian Passages: Continuity and Change in the South Atlantic

This chapter is about the ways in which the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the Atlantic world made the passage through an age of global confrontation between rival political systems, culminating in the dissolution of the empires and the redefinition of sovereignty in the 1820s. It makes several entwined arguments. First, the Iberian empires were part of an interlocking system of imperial competitions from which there was little to immunize themselves. Instead, faced with the compound pressures of a global system, they adapted. They did so with hitherto under-acknowledged effectiveness, and with unintended effects for the internal make-up of each empire. Still, modifications could not withstand the escalation of global competition to a crisis when it ravaged the core of the system, which leads to this chapter’s second claim: the Napoleonic wars — when seen from a more global perspective — hammered the occupied or stricken empires, from the Ottomans to the Iberians. For the Iberian Atlantic, the internal structures of sovereignty collapsed in the metropoles and forced colonies to amalgamate older practices with newer ones to shore up legitimacy as politics grew increasingly polarized and social systems imploded.
Jeremy Adelman

5. The Caribbean in the Age of Revolution

According to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, two institutions have defined the Caribbean region: black slavery and colonial rule.1 No other part of the world was ruled from Europe for so long or had such a large proportion of its population living as slaves. Slavery and colonial rule shaped an export-oriented plantation economy that dominated the region from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The years 1760–1840 may be seen as a watershed in the unravelling of this history, but the changes the period witnessed were extremely uneven and contradictory. Although the Caribbean was home to the most transformative revolution of the age, which created Haiti out of French Saint Domingue,2 revolution was not necessarily the most transformative force at work in the region, which also saw the peaceful abolition of slavery in all the British colonies, a generalized abandonment of legal racial discrimination, and a weakening in the Caribbean’s position in the world market that were only partially connected to the political violence of the Age of Revolution.3 Scholarly assessment of the relative importance of European and local influences in promoting change in the region has trended in recent decades toward stressing Caribbean agency, but with varied success.
David Geggus

6. The Dynamics of History in Africa and the Atlantic ‘Age of Revolutions’

The historical processes that European monarchies experienced at the end of the eighteenth century as an ‘age of (political) revolutions’ were a particular moment in a much broader, long-term global dynamic of commercialization. Africa was also very much a part of that dynamic. Europeans who went overseas to seek personal advantage in the accelerating worldwide rush towards global markets found themselves in disorienting contexts of anonymity and increasingly isolated from the smaller and more tangible families, guilds, and parishes of their parents, as well as from theoretically benevolent monarchical protectors in Europe. Both at home and abroad Europeans experienced a political crisis of confidence in royal patrons whom they saw as increasingly remote and overbearing. Feeling abandoned, they looked to themselves for salvation in civic terms, as sovereign individual citizens. While Europeans around the globe were creditors in this new world of disengaged commercial competition, Africans laboured under a burden of debt to it.
Joseph C. Miller

7. Playing Muslim: Bonaparte’s Army of the Orient and Euro-Muslim Creolization

Arab Muslim civilization was a multivalent cultural symbol for the French of the Enlightenment and revolutionary eras. Muslims were made to stand for both Self and Other, were deployed as both icons of enlightenment and symbols of hidebound rigidity. The most thorough experience the French of the Revolutionary era had with Muslims came during Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest and occupation of Egypt. How did the French construct this religion that was so alien to them? What differences were there among them in this regard? My question is not ‘what did Islam mean to them?’ in a unitary sense, but ‘what were the various sorts of things they used Islam to symbolize?’ More interestingly, how did they see the interplay of identity between Egyptian Muslims and French Deists? The other side of the coin is the question of how Egyptian intellectuals invoked French cultural symbols for their own, internal purposes.
Juan Cole

8. Imperial Revolutions and Global Repercussions: South Asia and the World, c.1750–1850

In Eric Hobsbawm’s rendering of the Age of Revolution (first published in 1962), ‘the world revolution spread outward from the double crater of England and France’. The dual revolution that underlay this global eruption comprised the French political revolution and the British industrial revolution, and these together launched the lava-streams of European imperialism. In this model, Europe was situated broadly speaking on the supply side of modernity, and India (as part of the non-West) on the demand side. ‘Before the merchants, the steam-engines, the ships and the guns of the West — and before its ideas — the age old-civilizations and empires of the world capitulated and collapsed.’1
Robert Travers

9. Revolutionary Europe and the Destruction of Java’s Old Order, 1808–1830

At first glance, it may seem strange that Java, an island situated half a world away from Revolutionary France, should end up being one of the key battle grounds in the global conflict that followed the fateful Girondin decision to declare war on Austria in the spring of 1792.Yet, in the compass of less than a decade, Java’s own ancien régime was violently overturned as in quick succession a Franco-Dutch regime (1808–11) under Napoleon’s only non-French marshal, Herman Willem Daendels (1762–1818), and a five-year British occupation (1811–16) under the equally dictatorial Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826), transformed the colony. This paved the way for the restoration of Dutch rule in 1816 under the terms of the Treaty of Vienna, by which time the commercial dealings of the Company had been replaced by the beginnings of a modern colonial state, the post-January 1818 Netherlands Indies. Over the next century, this would reduce the power of the local rulers and establish Dutch authority in nearly every corner of the archipelago. The boundaries of present-day Indonesia were determined at this time.
Peter Carey

10. Their Own Path to Crisis? Social Change, State-Building, and the Limits of Qing Expansion, c.1770–1840

The period from about 1770 to 1840, or at least 1785 to 1840, can be seen as one of escalating crisis for the Qing empire, fitting well with the proposed ‘age of revolutions’ or ‘world crisis’. (In the Qing case, however, the situation worsened after 1840.) The most striking indication of trouble was a series of rebellions, which revealed surprising military weaknesses and wiped out longstanding fiscal surpluses. Four of these rebellions — including by far the largest one — originated in highland areas to which many Han Chinese1 farmers had recently migrated: in Taiwan (1787–8); Hunan and Guizhou (1794–5); Sichuan, Hubei, Henan, and Shaanxi (the White Lotus Rebellion of 1796–1805); and in Shaanxi again (1813–15). North China millenarians led two brief uprisings (1774, 1813) — the only two that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to have begun in a ‘core’ region. (The relevant area was a long-settled, easily accessible plain entirely populated by Han Chinese, but it was economically and ecologically quite fragile.) Chinese pirates off the Guangdong coast, allied with a resurgent Vietnamese state, led another. Unsuccessful Qing incursions into Burma (1770) and Vietnam (1788) and an inconclusive war with the Kokandis on the far western frontier (c.1817–35) add to this sense of accumulating problems.
Kenneth Pomeranz

The Age of Revolutions in Global Context: An Afterword

The global ‘turn’ in historical studies was an indirect response to the perceived decline of the nation-state, the huge flows of capital across the world, and the rise of Asia in the international economy that occurred in the 1990s. Much of the new global history consisted of comparison and analogy at world level, though analogy, as Freud once said, is the weakest form of analysis. This volume demonstrates, however, that a global perspective can be combined with significant revisions in regional and national histories. Two interconnected questions emerge from the book. First, what determined the ‘age of revolutions’ as a period of global historical time? Second, what were its defining characteristics and consequences?
C. A. Bayly
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