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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 powers? 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 empires.”


   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 deeper issues.




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