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Atlantic History British Atlantic World
by
Trevor Burnard

Introduction

The English were latecomers into the Atlantic, with permanent settlement not beginning in earnest until the 17th century. From 1607 and the founding of Jamestown until the latter part of the 19th century, the English and, after the union of England and Scotland in 1707, the British were the most numerous of all European migrants across the Atlantic. The British world was a world in motion, both at home and in the Americas. The sources collected here reflect the dynamism, restlessness, and willingness to take risks that characterized early modern British imperial expansion both into the Americas and into Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. The British Atlantic was most important in the two centuries before the American Revolution but continued to be important after the creation of the United States, as Canada and the West Indies grew while under British control. The British Atlantic world began after the Spanish Atlantic world and changed earlier than the Spanish world into a different sort of polity (one composed of nation-states as well as an empire) but was at least as important in shaping the Atlantic world. British Atlantic world history does not stand by itself: It needs to be placed within an imperial and “British world” perspective and needs to be connected to manifold changes that happened between the mid-16th and mid-19th centuries in Britain itself.

General Overviews

British Atlantic history is a relatively new field, arising out of and related to studies of colonial British America. Greene 1988 is a good early example of a synthesis that bridges the gap between the two fields. Meinig 1986 is an early statement, coming out of historical geography, about how colonial British America might be usefully redesigned as the British Atlantic. Hornsby 2005 is a sophisticated updating of Meinig 1986 that offers a different set of regional classifications. Armitage and Braddick 2002 provides a compelling new set of arguments about how British Atlantic history might be conceived. If one root of British Atlantic history is in colonial British American history, another origin is in British imperial history. Louis 1998–2001 is an authoritative, if conservatively organized, summary of the state of the imperial field at the turn of the 20th century. MacFarlane 1994 and Sarson 2005 are short but wide-ranging textbooks on British America that take an Atlantic approach. Elliott 2006 is a much bigger and more important book than any textbook and is an explicitly comparative study that both summarizes current scholarship and sets an agenda for future work.

  • Armitage, David, and Michael J. Braddick, eds. The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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    Excellent collection of articles on themes in Atlantic history with a powerful introduction by David Armitage that distinguishes between three types of British Atlantic history: cis-, trans-, and circum-Atlantic history. New revised edition published in 2009.

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  • Elliott, J. H. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    An extraordinary work of erudition and a brilliant comparative history. Argues that while the Spanish settlement of America rested primarily on the exploitation of people, the British relied upon the commodification of land.

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  • Greene, Jack P. Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

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    Influential capstone to a generation’s scholarship in new social history that both predates British Atlantic history and provides a colonial British American context into which scholars of the British Atlantic could move. Based on a deep understanding of the secondary literature of the 1960s through the mid-1980s.

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  • Hornsby, Stephen J. British Atlantic, American Frontier: Spaces of Power in Early Modern British America. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005.

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    Offers a geographical perspective on the development of British America before 1800. Puts forward a staple-based typology of British America that is more sensitive to Canada and the West Indies than is the case in Meinig 1986.

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  • Louis, William Roger, ed. Oxford History of the British Empire. 5 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998–2001.

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    Major collaborative set of authoritative interpretative and historiographical essays on British imperialism from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Addresses (especially in volumes 1, 2, and 3) many aspects of British Atlantic history.

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  • MacFarlane, Anthony. The British in the Americas, 1480–1815. London: Longman, 1994.

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    The best short account of British involvement in the Americas, written by a specialist in Latin America. Provides a compelling synthesis of the arc of British territories stretching from Canada to the Caribbean that does not treat the mainland American colonies, particularly New England, as the core of the Anglo-American empire.

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  • Meinig, D. W. The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History. Vol. 1, Atlantic America, 1492–1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    Massively influential historical geography of the British Atlantic that envisions the European discovery of America as a sudden and harsh encounter between two old worlds that transformed both and integrated them into a single New World.

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  • Sarson, Steven. British America, 1500–1800: Creating Colonies, Imagining an Empire. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005.

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    Concise, readable survey of British Atlantic history (mostly on the Americas) that compares dreams of settlement with their realities.

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Primary Sources

Primary sources are abundant for this topic. The entries in this section are highly selective and are intended to demonstrate particular aspects of the British Atlantic experience. Coldham 1987–1993 lists thousands of emigrants taken to British America (including the West Indies) before 1776. His work is biased toward those who went unwillingly. Some of these unwilling migrants became pirates, as the famous Exquemelin 1684–1685 text explains, forming in the process an enduring iconic Atlantic type. Not all migrants of course were European. Carretta 2003 provides many examples of the Atlantic experiences of Africans taken to the Americas unwillingly. Moreover, as Brooks 2006 shows us with the words of Samson Occom, not all residents in the British Atlantic came from elsewhere. But by the middle of the 18th century, the British were dominant and had established societies that resembled those that they had left behind in the 17th century, as is clear in Oldmixon 1741, in the collected writings of Houston 2004, and in the extensive number of documents in Sarson 1968–2010. By the late 18th century, as Bartram 2010 illustrates, British colonists were beginning to evaluate what sort of place they had settled and transformed.

  • Bartram, William. The Search for Nature’s Design: Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings. Edited by Thomas Hallock and Nancy E. Hoffmann. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

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    Interesting selection of previously unpublished writings from the most celebrated botanist and intrepid traveler in 18th-century British North America.

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  • Brooks, Joanna, ed. Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Brings together the writings of the Mohegan political and religious leader. The largest archive of writings by an 18th-century Native American. Many previously unpublished writings.

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  • Carretta, Vincent, ed. Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century. Expanded ed. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.

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    Comprehensive anthology of writings in English by Atlantic people of African descent. Includes letters, poems, captivity narratives, and travel accounts. Expanded edition, first published in 1996.

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  • Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emigrants. 4 vols. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1987–1993.

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    A comprehensive listing compiled from English public records of those who took ship to the Americas for political, religious, and economic reasons; of those who were deported for vagrancy, roguery, or nonconformity; and of those who were sold to labor in the new colonies.

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  • Exquemelin, Alexandre Olivier. Bucaniers of America; or, A True Account of the Most Remarkable Assaults Committed of Late Years upon the Coasts of the West-Indies, by the Bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, Both English and French. 2d ed. London: William Crooke, 1684–1685.

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    Foundational text for histories of pirates and privateering in the Caribbean, establishing enduring images of the pirate as a rebel outside society.

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  • Houston, Alan, ed. Franklin: The Autobiography and Other Writings on Politics, Economics, and Virtue. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    Accessible, well-edited set of writings from Benjamin Franklin that illuminate his developing political philosophies and evolving attitudes toward the British Empire.

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  • Oldmixon, John. The British Empire in America. 2 vols. London: J. Brotherton, J. Clarke, 1741.

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    An update of a work first published in 1708. Gives an excellent contemporary overview of the British Empire in both North America and the West Indies at a period of significant consolidation.

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  • Sarson, Steven, ed. The American Colonies and the British Empire, 1607–1783. 8 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1968–2010.

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    Traces the evolution of imperial and colonial ideologies during the British colonization of America. Lists pamphlets, reports, sermons, and letters.

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Bibliographies and Reference Resources

The revolution in web-based resources has transformed the study of the British Atlantic. Early English Books Online, Early American Imprints, and Eighteenth Century Collections Online give access to virtually every book in English published in Britain or America before 1800. The British History Online Calendars of State Papers is a key source for state-generated resources. America: History and Life and the Bibliography of British and Irish History are excellent and comprehensive guides to secondary material, while the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is the best example of collaborative scholarly work on an important aspect of British Atlantic history.

Journals

The major journal dealing with British Atlantic history is the William and Mary Quarterly. It publishes top-ranked articles on colonial British American history and culture and increasingly has engaged seriously with British Atlantic history. No exact counterpart exists for the study of British history in this period, but Past and Present contains many of the best articles on 17th- and 18th-century British history. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History is better on post-1800 imperialism than on subjects usually central to British Atlantic history but covers British imperial history well. Common-Place is the closest to a scholarly magazine.

Britain and the Wider World

The British, more than any other European nation, moved outside their small islands into the wider world, creating in the process both settlements and an empire. Armitage 1999 argues that Britain’s involvement with a wider world—first in the British archipelago and then in the British Atlantic—helped define what Britain was. Daunton and Halpern 1999 explores this more deeply, asserting that British identity was formed in large part by encounters with the “other” in the empire, including the British Atlantic. Devine 2003 and Canny 2001, two quite different books, explore what becoming British meant for the Scots and the Irish, especially for those Scots and Irish involved in Atlantic concerns. Wilson 2003 addresses the same issues, adding to the discussion a sophisticated understanding of gender in British encounters with a wider world. Karsten 2002 deals with a later time period than other writers and is more empirically grounded, examining the above issues with reference to the law.

  • Armitage, David. “Greater Britain: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis?” American Historical Review 104 (1999): 427–445.

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    Polemical invitation to 17th-century English historians, only partially taken up, to expand their horizons and see early modern England as part of Britain and also as part of larger British polities. Connects to 19th-century imperial historians’ notion of a British world.

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  • Canny, Nicholas. Making Ireland British, 1580–1650. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Contribution to historiography of “greater Britain” that explores the tortuous attempts by the English to create in Ireland a sense of British national identity. Plays off the works of Edmund Spenser in the late 16th century to show how plantation policies developed in Ireland through to the period of Cromwellian intervention.

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  • Daunton, Martin, and Rick Halpern, eds. Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

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    Sweeping set of eighteen essays by twenty contributors, ranging from wide-ranging surveys by C. A. Bayly and Philip D. Morgan to in-depth case studies, half of which concern British America. Major topic of investigation is how identity is constructed.

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  • Devine, T. M. Scotland’s Empire, 1600–1815. London: Allen Lane, 2003.

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    Lively and well-written survey of Scotland’s extensive involvement in the global development of the British Empire, paying considerable attention to how Scottish involvement in the British Atlantic fueled economic change in Scotland itself.

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  • Karsten, Peter. Between Law and Custom: “High” and “Low” Legal Cultures in the Lands of the British Diaspora—the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, 1600–1900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Strongly empirical and comparative study that ranges outside the British Atlantic into British settlements in the antipodes. Interested in exploring the gap between law as prescribed and law as practiced.

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  • Wilson, Kathleen. The Island Race: Englishness, Empire, and Gender in the Eighteenth Century. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    An exemplary example of “new” imperial history in which English national identity was constituted by the bodies, practices, and exchanges of people across the globe. Pays particular attention to the intersection of ideas of gender and national identity.

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Economy

The British Atlantic world was about the movement of things as much as people or ideas. Merchants were key, as Doerflinger 1986 shows for Philadelphia, as Morgan 1993 illustrates for Bristol, and as Hancock 1995 demonstrates for the Atlantic world as a whole. The result of 18th-century mercantile activity was a growing integration of the British Atlantic world through commerce and increasing prosperity. McCusker and Menard 1985, in a classic account, outlines how economic growth in 18th-century British America can be explained. Engerman and Gallman 1996 updates and extends this analysis in a summary of economic history in early America. Egnal 1998 also concentrates on economic growth, paying particular attention to the role of the foreign sector in making the economy increase. Kulikoff 2000, on the other hand, is more interested in the domestic economy and the long process whereby capitalism became entrenched in the United States. Koehn 1994 points out some of the problems that could result from too rapid economic growth with an investigation of the relation between government and the economy in the third quarter of the 18th century.

  • Doerflinger, Thomas M. A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

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    Closely grained study of the social and business world of Philadelphia merchants that analyzes how these merchants became involved in an Atlantic mercantile world.

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  • Egnal, Marc. New World Economies: The Growth of the Thirteen Colonies and Early Canada. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Argues that colonial prosperity depended on colonial reliance on Britain and on the wealth that staple trades brought into the Americas. Is critical of some aspects of traditional staple trade theory but follows these theorists in seeing foreign trade as critical for economic growth.

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  • Engerman, Stanley L., and Robert E. Gallman, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of the United States. Vol. 1, The Colonial Era. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    Multiauthored survey of the economic history of British North America and the Caribbean. Authoritative with excellent bibliographies.

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  • Hancock, David. Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Seemingly narrowly focused study of wealthy transatlantic merchants living in London that offers wide-ranging analysis of how international commerce linked together the Atlantic world in the mid-18th century.

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  • Koehn, Nancy F. The Power of Commerce: Economy and Governance in the First British Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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    A careful case study of the interrelationship between rapid economic growth and problems of governance in the quickly expanding British Atlantic empire in the ten years following the end of the Seven Years’ War.

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  • Kulikoff, Allan. From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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    Impressively researched, Marxist-influenced, and heavily quantitative treatment of how yeoman British American small landholders adapted to capitalist innovations in agriculture, moving from peasants to farmers in the process.

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  • McCusker, John J., and Russell R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607–1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

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    Comprehensive survey of research done before the mid-1980s on the British Atlantic economy that sets out an agenda for future research focused around issues of economic growth and the production and distribution of wealth.

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  • Morgan, Kenneth. Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Thoughtful and detailed business history of the involvement of merchants at a major English provincial port that enjoyed quickening Atlantic trade in the 18th century.

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  • Smith, S. D. Slavery, Family, and Gentry Capitalism in the British Caribbean: The World of the Lascelles, 1648–1834. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Deeply detailed re-creation of the multiple business and social links among members of the Lascelles merchant family in the eastern Caribbean and Yorkshire.

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The Peopling of British America

Growing prosperity was a result of increased population in the British Atlantic and also contributed to even more rapid population growth as migrants decided the Americas were a good place to go. Bailyn 1986 famously argues that the British Atlantic was a world in motion, and one aspect was the moving of all sorts of people throughout the British Atlantic world. Most of these migrants were British, as Richards 2004 details in a study that ranges into the 19th century and farther than the Atlantic. Fischer 1989, a controversial book, argues that these British migrants shaped colonial cultures in distinctive ways, depending on which part of Britain they came from. Griffin 2001 shows that a lot of these Britons came from other places than England, and Fogleman 1996 points out that many migrants did not come from Britain but from Germany. The result, as Wells 1992 discusses, was an American mosaic that was a mixture of inheritance (what was brought over from Europe and Africa) and experience (what was discovered in the Americas). That mosaic made the British Atlantic heterogeneous ethnically and racially, as the essays in Bailyn and Morgan 1991 demonstrate. That heterogeneity made America diverse but, in the opinion of some commentators, barbaric, as people from the peripheries predominated over people from the metropolitan center. Calloway 2008 talks about some of the ideological consequences that ensued as indigenous people struggled to be included in imperial polities.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1986.

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    In-depth study, based on sophisticated social science investigations into a comprehensive register of migrants to North America, 1773–1776, that is at once a detailed study of the British Atlantic world as a world in motion and also a practical demonstration of Bailyn’s concept of an Atlantic world.

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  • Bailyn, Bernard, and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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    Pathbreaking collection of essays on seemingly marginal people in the British Atlantic world—Celts, Germans and Dutch, Indians, and African Americans—that shows how peripheral places and people were as important as people in the center in developing Atlantic culture.

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  • Calloway, Colin G. White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Intriguing and imaginative comparison of two groups of racially different people on the peripheries of metropolitan settlement in Britain and America that investigates how indigenous peoples adapted to inclusion in a British Atlantic world.

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  • Fischer, David H. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Ambitious, controversial, and not always successful attempt to see British North America as arising out of the British inheritances of four distinct set of migrants, setting up cultural hearths that continue with distinctive features into the present.

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  • Fogleman, Aaron S. Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717–1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

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    Impressively researched reconstruction of dimensions and characteristics of German immigration to British America (mostly Pennsylvania) in the mid-18th century. Germans formed the largest group of European migrants to British North America in the 18th century.

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  • Griffin, Patrick. The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689–1764. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    Surveys the movement of 100,000 Ulster Scots—the largest emigrant group from the British Isles—to mainly backcountry British North America in the 18th century. Shows how, in the process of creating new identities for themselves, this group significantly shaped the character of the British Atlantic world, especially in the North American interior.

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  • Richards, Eric. Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland since 1600. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2004.

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    The first scholarly treatment of emigration from the British Isles as a whole covering both the early modern and the modern periods (concentrating on the period before 1900). Very good on the dimensions of the diaspora and on the motivations behind migration.

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  • Wells, Robert V. “The Population of England’s Colonies in America: Old English or New American?” Population Studies 46 (1992): 85–102.

    DOI: 10.1080/0032472031000146026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An update by a leading colonial British American demographer of the essential characteristics and cultural orientations of the colonial population in British North America.

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Culture and Politics

The third element in the movement that characterized the British Atlantic was the movement of ideas across the Atlantic. The most important of those ideas were conveyed by books. The Atlantic world was in part a world of readers and a world of imaginative construction. The contributions in Amory and Hall 2000 discuss all aspects of how books got to the Americas and how these books were read when they got there. This culture of book learning exploded during the 18th century and was a crucial factor in the flowering of intellectual thought that Porter 2000 describes as a series of “Enlightenments,” rooted in England and Scotland. That Enlightenment had both liberal and, as Clark 1994 shows, conservative aspects and was more a “mood” than a distinct intellectual event. It was as much Scottish as British, so very much an Atlantic event. The Enlightenment or Enlightenments gave a transformative aspect to all facets of British Atlantic intellectual discourse, such as the law, as the essays in Grossberg and Tomlins 2008 show. But it is going too far to see the movement of ideas throughout the Atlantic as entirely positive. Eltis 2000 explains that one of the great paradoxes of British Atlantic life was how a people passionately devoted to liberty, both in the period of the English civil war and in that of the American Revolution, could also invent a new and fundamentally oppressive form of slavery that marked out the British as being only concerned with liberty for themselves. Kriz 2008 examines slave life through the medium of representation in a highly original study.

  • Amory, Hugh, and David D. Hall, eds. The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Impressive first volume in a five-volume series on the history of the book in the United States. Takes a British Atlantic perspective to the book trade, insisting on the persistent connections between books in Britain and books in the Americas.

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  • Clark, J. C. D. The Language of Liberty 1660–1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    Polemical, revisionist study that sees the period between 1660 and 1832 as a single period in British Atlantic history, dominated by Anglicanism, Toryism, and a devotion to constitutional monarchy in Britain and much the same impulses in America until the American Revolution.

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  • Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Provocative but persuasive analysis of the paradox whereby a liberty-loving people—the English—could convince themselves that enslaving Africans was not just economically desirable but was also morally justifiable. Supported by masses of economic data but underlain by a sophisticated ideological position. Also demonstrates the extent to which developments in Africa shaped developments in early America.

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  • Grossberg, Michael, and Christopher Tomlins, eds. The Cambridge History of Law in America. Vol. 1, Early America (1580–1815). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    Comprehensive set of essays on law and lawmaking in what became the United States. Strong set of bibliographical essays.

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  • Kriz, Kay Dian. Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700–1840. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    Lavishly illustrated book on the art history of the British West Indies, paying particular attention to the depiction of color and gender in the paintings of Agostino Brunias.

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  • Porter, Roy. Enlightenment: Britain and the Making of the Modern World. London: Allen Lane, 2000.

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    Lively encyclopedic account of many kinds of enlightenment in 18th-century Britain. Asserts that the Enlightenment was less a single phenomenon than a multifaceted movement or “mood.”

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Religion

Culture was manifested especially in religious practices. Bonomi 1986 and Butler 1990 provide useful surveys for British North America, concentrating on the 18th century. Pestana 2009 is a broader, more explicitly Atlantic study that sees Protestantism as dominant but always contested. The origins of British American religion lay in the tumults of the Reformation, usefully summarized in MacCulloch 2004. The ripple effects of the Reformation profoundly shaped settlement and society in British America, as Hardman Moore 2008 shows in a deeply researched transatlantic 17th-century study. Clark 1994 goes further, seeing Anglicanism as central to Anglo-American identity through the American Revolution. Kidd 2006 outlines that religion shaped most aspects of British American culture, including how race was conceptualized. But African Americans, as shown in Frey and Wood 1998, eventually came to see Christian religions as ways they could avoid oppression, despite the ways Protestant doctrine had demonized them.

  • Bonomi, Patricia U. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    Overview of British North American religion until the eve of the American Revolution, offering well-considered judgments on such long-standing questions as the relationship of the Great Awakening of the 1740s to the American Revolution. Revised edition published in 2003.

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  • Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

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    Influential work that is especially remembered for Butler’s controversial discussion of an “African spiritual holocaust.” More generally Awash argues that religion did not become well developed in the colonies until the 18th century, in a process he described as “Christianization.” Places stress on structural developments in the Anglican Church in the 18th century.

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  • Clark, J. C. D. The Language of Liberty, 1660–1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    Controversial work arguing that the American Revolution pivoted on religious issues. Sees British America as a traditional, religiously inflected society and presents the American Revolution as a last “war of religion” that was fought over the denominational divisions within the British Atlantic. Overstresses the religious dimension of the American Revolution.

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  • Frey, Sylvia R., and Betty Wood. Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

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    Situates work against Jon Butler’s notion of a spiritual holocaust for Africans in the Atlantic slave trade. Argues that religious change was everywhere the product of a reciprocal process rather than of conversion by confrontation and helps explain why the transition to Christianity was a momentous event in the history of British American slavery.

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  • Hardman Moore, Susan. Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    Providential thinking was central to the process of choosing to go to and then to depart from New England, according to this deeply researched social history.

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  • Kidd, Colin. The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Wide-ranging intellectual history of how Protestant interpretations were used to buttress changing understandings of race.

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  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation: A History. New York: Viking, 2004.

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    Monumental history of the Reformation that carries the story up to 1700 and therefore deals with the dispersal of Protestants into various extra-European locations, particularly in the Atlantic world.

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  • Pestana, Carla Gardina. Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

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    Places British expansion into the Atlantic world in a religious context, covering 1500 to 1830, employing themes of circulation, transplantation, and negotiation. Good synthetic survey.

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British Imperialism before the American Revolution

The most important consequence of Britain’s involvement in the wider world from the 17th century onward was the articulation of new forms of imperial attachment and the physical creation of the British Empire. Until 1776 most of this empire was located in the Americas. It was an empire founded on tropical produce and slavery, as Blackburn 1997 demonstrates in a wide-ranging analysis of how the British Atlantic slave system came into being and was dismantled in the 19th century. The British Empire in the Atlantic developed in the 17th century but only flourished in the 18th century. It depended on developments in the British state. First, Britain had to establish a workable political system based on constitutional monarchy and a degree of public involvement in politics. Harris 2005 and Harris 2006 trace the process by which this political system came about, arguing that the major transformations came with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 rather than earlier. Brewer 1989 describes how imperial expansion was underwritten by successful bureaucratic innovations in the British state. Colley 1992 examines how the successful expansion of Britain overseas had important domestic consequences, including the development of a British sense of identity out of disparate identities in the three British kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Kidd 1999 and Kidd 2006 offer a longer perspective on national identity making. By the mid-18th century British involvement in the Americas was a significant element in its geopolitics, as Bowen 1998 outlines in an important article on global conceptions of empire in the third quarter of the 18th century. Nevertheless, Simms 2007 forcefully reminds us that British international diplomacy remained at least as focused on traditional power politics in Europe as on new imperial configurations.

  • Blackburn, Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800. London: Verso, 1997.

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    The second of a two-volume account of the rise and demise of the plantation system, written with verve and putting British slavery in the context of global economic trends and with respect to the transition to modernity. Not focused on the British Atlantic solely. The other volume is The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (London: Verso, 1988).

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  • Bowen, H. V. “British Conceptions of Global Empire, 1756–1783.” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26 (1998): 1–27.

    DOI: 10.1080/03086539808583038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Incisive article arguing that Britons had a cohesive plan for what they thought global empire should look like in the period from the Seven Years’ War to the end of the American Revolution. Argues that affairs in Asia had considerable effect on events in the Americas and vice versa.

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  • Brewer, John. The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688–1783. London: Knopf, 1989.

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    Extremely influential book that traces how Britain moved from a minor to a major player on the world stage. Emphasizes how Britain, unlike France, developed effective means to levy and collect taxes that were then used to develop a flourishing military and an independent and wealthy financial community.

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  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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    Enormously influential and ambitious analysis of how British national identity was forged in the 18th century out of constant battle with the French. Argues for Britain being an invented nation, defined by war and characterized by a commitment to Protestant culture and attachment to constitutional monarchy.

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  • Harris, Tim. Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms, 1660–1685. London: Allen Lane, 2005.

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    Does not deal with the reigns of Charles II and James II in British America but is a first-rate in-depth investigation of Stuart “tyranny” (a concept mostly endorsed by the author) in the British archipelago.

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  • Harris, Tim. Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685–1720. London: Allen Lane, 2006.

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    Argues for the Glorious Revolution being more important than the civil war in shaping the creation of Britain.

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  • Kidd, Colin. British Identities before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Examines the status and uses of ethnicity in political debate during the 17th and 18th centuries in the British Atlantic world. An especially interesting look at identity before the development of modern racialist and nationalist thinking.

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  • Kidd, Colin. The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    A continuation of Kidd 1999, this second book looks at religion. Both Kidd 1999 and this book look at identity before the development of modern racialist and nationalist thinking.

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  • Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714–1783. London: Allen Lane, 2007.

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    International history of British imperialism in the 18th century that argues against an Atlantic interpretation of British expansion in favor of seeing Britain as firmly tied to European power politics.

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The Impact of Imperialism in British America

The British Atlantic world and the British Empire are not synonymous, but they were closely linked, especially in the 18th century. In that century Americans and West Indians of British descent were proud to be part of a British imperial world and shaped their identities according to their belief in their shared British heritage, as Greene 1993 argues. Steele 1986 argues that their sense of themselves as British increased during the last half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century, as the British Atlantic world became increasingly more physically integrated. The key period of integration was in the later half of the 17th century, according both to Steele 1986 and Webb 1979. The nature of that integration, however, is debatable, as can be seen in the reactions to the provocative thesis in Webb 1979 about the British Empire being a military empire. Empire became a dominant motif in the 18th-century British Atlantic world, as Hinderaker 1997 shows in an examination of cross-cultural conflict within the context of competing empires on the American frontier. Shammas 2002 does not deal directly with empire in the treatment of domestic authority, but it argues in respect to patriarchy that there is a linkage between how domestic authority was conceived and the nature of political forms of authority.

  • Greene, Jack P. The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Short but incisive exploration of the enduring presence of ideas of American exceptionalism in Americans’ conceptions of their collective identity. Important for understanding how these ideas emerged and why people found them persuasive, despite the inadequacy of exceptionalism as an interpretative paradigm.

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  • Hinderaker, Eric. Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673–1800. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Sophisticated examination of the clash of empires in the Ohio Valley that sees cross-cultural conflict around three separate empires: land, commerce, and liberty. Incisive chapter on the impact of the American Revolution on Native American sovereignty.

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  • Shammas, Carole. A History of Household Government in America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.

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    Wide-ranging survey of domestic life and gender relations in Anglo-America that stresses the extent of dependency of most Americans on patriarchal authority.

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  • Steele, Ian K. The English Atlantic, 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    Formative scholarship that explores the practical ways (from technology to social arrangements) a British Atlantic world was integrated in the decades on either side of 1700.

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  • Webb, Stephen Saunders. The Governors-General: The English Army and the Definition of the Empire, 1569–1681. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

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    First volume in an uncompleted reinterpretation of the British Empire in the Americas before 1763 that sees empire as a top-down driven, heavily military institution prone to autocracy. Provocatively revisionist and controversial but an important book that is firmly Atlantic in conception.

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Nineteenth-Century American and British Atlantic Worlds

The British Atlantic world did not end with the American Revolution. Britain continued, as Bucknor 1993 and Hall 2002 show in their studies of imperial relations in Canada and Jamaica, to have both an empire in the Americas and also considerable internal conflict over what the nature of that American empire should be. Bayly 1989 places the remnants of British America after the creation of the United States into a global imperial context as the empire was reconsolidated and rethought after 1783. Shared cultural inheritances, such as a love of liberty and a determination to exclude non-Britons, especially nonwhites, from inclusion in democratic polities, meant that the breakup of the British Empire in the Americas in 1783 did not entail an end to Anglo-American interactions. Greene 2009 explores these connections in respect to constitutional and political matters; Belich 2009 looks at continuing links in the economic sphere. What historians are increasingly terming a “British world,” combining the United States with the “white” dominions in the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa, formed, as Dubow 2009 hints, an alternative formulation to a nationalistic one of Britain and its empire, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other. How the United States developed in the immediate aftermath of its break with Britain and how it remained, well into the 19th century, part of a British Atlantic world is a subject of much scholarship, well summarized in the Wood 2009 authoritative survey of the early Republic period of US history.

  • Bayly, C. A. Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780–1830. London: Longman, 1989.

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    Partly a textbook, partly a revisionist account of how Britain adapted to the loss of America and created a different sort of British Empire. Places great emphasis on how empire changed as a result of Atlantic revolutions.

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  • Belich, James. Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Ambitious investigation of the dynamics of settlement patterns in the 19th-century Anglophone world, informed by political economy and by scholarship on globalization. Prefers a British world to a British imperial approach to the 19th-century British diaspora.

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  • Bucknor, Philip. “Whatever Happened to the British Empire?” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 4 (1993): 3–32.

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    Provocative overview of the declining importance of imperial history within Canadian historiography with a plea to reassert the importance of Canada as part of a larger and mostly British world.

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  • Dubow, Saul. “How British Was the British World? The Case of South Africa.” Journal of Commonwealth and Imperial History 37 (2009): 1–27.

    DOI: 10.1080/03086530902757688Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Though concentrated on the late 19th century and the 20th century, places the concept of the British world, as seen in the case of South Africa, alongside the idea of a British Atlantic world.

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  • Greene, Jack P., ed. Exclusionary Empire: English Liberty Overseas, 1600–1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    Penetrating update on an old subject, how English ideas of liberty were transferred to settlements populated by Britons overseas. Excellent essays that cover an extensive range of British imperial and US history over three centuries.

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  • Hall, Catherine. Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867. London: Blackwell, 2002.

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    Imaginative exploration of the manifold connections between British industrialists and humanitarians in 19th-century Birmingham and abolitionists, planters, and ex-slaves in pre- and postemancipation Jamaica.

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  • Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Comprehensive account of the first and tentative attempts to develop an American nation after the making of the Constitution. Stresses the ambiguities and contradictions involved in establishing a viable state in the United States of America.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0012

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