A review by
Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star,
2 April 1967,
THE COLONIAL EMPIRES: A Comparative Survey From the Eighteenth Century,
by D. K. Fieldhouse.
Xxxx: Delacourt Press, 19xx
"Back of Colonial Empires"
THE COLONIAL EMPIRES: A Comparative Survey from the Eighteenth Century.
By D. K. Fieldhouse. Delacourt Press. 450 pages. $8.
This is the first volume
to appear in a new 35-volume history of the world. It is a good beginning,
written by a fellow of Nuffield College who is Beit lecturer at Oxford.
The author knows his subject and asks important, often difficult, questions
about it: Were the early colonies really forced into a mercantilist
pattern? Was the effort to do this a hardship on them? Did it contribute to
their desire for independence? Were colonies a source of profit to European
The tentative answers given to such questions are of great interest and form the
chief merit of this volume, which is not directly concerned with the history of
colonization, but is rather a survey of colonialism organized historically.
This book's emphasis on problems rather than on narrative brings up the
question of the validity of the accepted ideas on these matters. Accordingly, the high points of the volume are two chapters on “Myths and
Realities,” the first concerned with the old empires, before the impact of the
French Revolution, and the second concerned with the subsequent “modern
The chief weakness of the volume appears in its chronological structure,
expressed in the title as "from the eighteenth century." In the text this
is divided into a twofold sequence ("Before 1815" and "After 1815"), which the
author calls the "first" and "second" expansions of Europe, with a transition
period, 1763-1830, in between. This periodization of the subject is sufficiently
inaccurate to influence the book adversely. The “first expansion of
Europe," of course, was that of 1100-1350, which culminated in men like Marco
Polo; the second expansion of Europe was from about 1420 to about fellow 1650
and was followed by a long retraction of Europe, including the almost complete
withdrawal of European pressure from Japan, China, tropical Africa, tropical
South America, and the southern United States area. This withdrawal of European
pressure, which included the cessation of the Russian intrusion into China by
the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), is of some some importance to Mr. Fieldhouse's
discussion, but he does not seem to see its significance. This is one of
several reasons why the brief section on "The Russian Empire in Central Asia"
(pp. 334-341) is the weakest part of the book.
The subject of this book is
deliberately restricted to colonialism from Europe’s point of view. There
is no effort whatever to trace the impact European culture on native peoples, a
matter which is now of great concern to many readers. But within its
allotted field of conventional "imperial history," this is a compact,
well-informed, and intelligent volume which shows considerable awareness of the