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British Imperialism and Globalization, 1650-1960

The defining characteristics of the current global economy are integration and hierarchy. The economies of our modern world have become tightly interconnected. Drastic reductions in the cost of transportation and transmission of information have allowed the world market to determine prices and the location of production sites for a host of goods and services. But the integrated world economies have not been equal. Inequality among national economies, regional economies within nations, and among ethnic nationalities and among individuals within nations are also critical defining elements of the integrated global economy. For economic historians, globalization as a historical process requires focusing research on the long-run historical processes (and the major factors in the processes) that have given rise to these defining characteristics, together with the repercussions (good and bad).

This panel focuses on British imperialism, 1650-1960, as a major factor in the long-run historical processes leading to the constitution of the modern global economy, with its defining characteristics. The panelists examine the contribution of imperialism to the development of English transoceanic trade and the commercialization of the English economy, 1660-1700 (William J. Ashworth) and the military successes of England over its European rivals, 1651-1815, which established England’s imperial and commercial hegemony and the Industrial Revolution that followed (Patrick O’Brien). These two contributions provide the foundation for demonstrating the critical role of the English economy, with its new technologies (in manufacturing and transportation) and financial dominance that supported British imperial policy of free trade, in the constitution of the global economy from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The operation of these self-confident imperial policies of free trade is elaborated in British West Africa, where British colonial administrations facilitated the development of commodity production for the global market, but allowed all nations the freedom to trade these commodities and generally low duties on imports from all nations, without discrimination (Joseph E. Inikori, “British Colonial Rule and Globalization: British West Africa, 1821-1900”). The establishment of commercially successful settler economies in British Africa is shown as an important imperial mechanism for integrating the economies involved into the global economy through market demand in Europe (Erik Green). Addressing the issue of hierarchy reopens the debate on whether British colonial rule advanced or impeded development in the colonies. Gareth Austin reviews the literature on the debate as it relates to British colonial rule in West Africa (“ ‘More and More One Cog in the World Economic Machine’: Globalization, Development, and African Agency in British West Africa”). Ralph Austen identifies two periods in British colonial policy in Africa (French colonial policy also), 1890s to 1930s and the decades preceding decolonization. The policies produced no real development in both periods, although Africans in the colonies got some welfare benefits in the second. Morten Jerven examines the recent literature, based on estimates of fiscal capacity, GDP growth, real wages and anthropometric measures, which shows growth and improvements in human development during the colonial period, but questions whether the new literature can overturn the dominant interpretations of the colonial impact in British colonial Africa, given its potential biases from the use of colonial records. Tirthankar Roy examines the construction of the British Indian state, employing the tools economic historians consider fundamental to the construction of modern states, centralization of finances and securitization of public debt. Both elements advanced more in British India relative to Mughal India, yet economic growth in British India remained limited. The paper focuses on explaining why.

Composition

First Half

William J. Ashworth (University of Liverpool, UK), “The Impact of Imperialism and Transoceanic Trade on the Commercialization of England, 1660-1700.”

Patrick K. O’Brien (London School of Economics, UK), “The Consolidation of British Industrialization, Global Hegemony, and Imperial Supremacy in the Wars Against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.”

Joseph E. Inikori (University of Rochester, USA), “British Colonial Rule and Globalization: British West Africa, 1821-1900.”

Gareth Austin (Cambridge University, UK), “More and More One Cog in the World Economic Machine: Globalization, Development, and African Agency in British West Africa.”

Mariusz Lukasiewicz (University of Leipzig, Germany), “Financial Globalization, Imperialism and the South African War: A View from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, 1895-1902.”

Second Half

Ralph A. Austen (University of Chicago, USA), “The British Colonial Project in Africa: Globalization Versus Fordism.”

Erik Green (Lund University, Sweden), “The Establishment of Profitable Settler Economies in British Africa: A Demand Driven Story?”

Morten Jerven (University of Edinburgh, UK), “Economic Growth and Living Standards in British Colonial Africa.”

Prasannan Parthasarathi (Boston College, USA), “British Rule, the Global Economy, and Environmental Change in South India.”

Tirthankar Roy (London School of Economics, UK), “The Construction of the British Indian State.”

Organizer(s)

  • Joseph E. Inikori University of Rochester jinikori@rochester.rr.com USA

Session members

  • Li Zhang, Beihang University
  • Gareth Austin, Cambridge University
  • Mariusz Lukasiewicz, University of Leipzig
  • Ralph A. Austen, University of Chicago
  • Erik Green, Lund University
  • Morten Jerven, University of Edinburgh
  • Prasannan Parthasarathi, Boston College
  • Tirthankar Roy, London School of Economics

Discussant(s)

  • Maxine Berg Warwick University Maxine.berg@warwick.ac.uk

Papers

Panel abstract

The defining characteristics of the current global economy are integration and hierarchy. Drastic reductions in the cost of transportation and transmission of information have allowed the world market to determine prices and the location of production sites for a host of goods and services. But the integrated world economies have not been equal. Inequality among national economies, regional economies within nations, and among ethnic nationalities and among individuals within nations are also critical defining elements of the integrated global economy. For economic historians, globalization as a historical process requires focusing research on the long-run historical processes (and the major factors in the processes) that have given rise to these defining characteristics, together with the repercussions (good and bad). This panel focuses on British imperialism, 1650-1960, as a major factor in the long-run historical processes leading to the constitution of the modern global economy, with its defining characteristics.

1st half

Why Industrialization Started in 18th Century Britain, Not China, from the Perspective of World Market Expansion and International Labor Division

Li Zhang

There are many views regarding the question of why the industrial revolution happened in 18th century Britain and not China. This paper approaches the issue from the perspective of world market expansion and international labor division. The paper contends that dramatic market expansion can break the law of diminishing marginal returns and move the production possibility frontier (PPF) outward. As the gap between fast-growing market demand and supply capacity becomes so wide that it cannot be filled by simply increasing production scale through inputting more capital and labor, technological and institutional innovations will kick in. In contrast, when the market remains basically constant, the law of diminishing marginal returns will apply, giving producers little incentive for innovation. The former case was demonstrated in the British industrial revolution, and the latter is seen in the Smithian growth of the Chinese textile industry of the 18th-19th centuries.

There are many views regarding the question of why the industrial revolution happened in 18th century Britain and not China. This paper approaches the issue from the perspective of world market expansion and international labor division. The paper contends that dramatic market expansion can break the law of diminishing marginal returns and move the production possibility frontier (PPF) outward. As the gap between fast-growing market demand and supply capacity becomes so wide that it cannot be filled by simply increasing production scale through inputting more capital and labor, technological and institutional innovations will kick in. In contrast, when the market remains basically constant, the law of diminishing marginal returns will apply, giving producers little incentive for innovation. The former case was demonstrated in the British industrial revolution, and the latter is seen in the Smithian growth of the Chinese textile industry of the 18th-19th centuries.

British Imperialism and Globalization: British West Africa, 1821-1900

Joseph E. Inikori

Renewed interest in global history has been plagued by the problem of conceptual clarity since the 1990s, forcing some to doubt the relevance of the idea in African historiography. To dispel the doubt, this paper offers, from the onset, the conceptual clarity needed to avoid ambiguity in the examination of its main concern – the role of British imperialism in the integration of West African economies into the global economy. The narrative shows how British Atlantic imperialism of the navigation laws, in tune with the policies and practices of other imperial powers in the age of European mercantilism, impeded the integration of West African economies into the commodity production chain of the evolving Atlantic economy. But, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1900, following the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the free trade empire, British imperialism became a major factor in the integration of West African economies into the global...

Renewed interest in global history has been plagued by the problem of conceptual clarity since the 1990s, forcing some to doubt the relevance of the idea in African historiography. To dispel the doubt, this paper offers, from the onset, the conceptual clarity needed to avoid ambiguity in the examination of its main concern – the role of British imperialism in the integration of West African economies into the global economy. The narrative shows how British Atlantic imperialism of the navigation laws, in tune with the policies and practices of other imperial powers in the age of European mercantilism, impeded the integration of West African economies into the commodity production chain of the evolving Atlantic economy. But, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1900, following the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the free trade empire, British imperialism became a major factor in the integration of West African economies into the global economy.

‘More and More One Cog in the World Economic Machine’: Globalization, Development, and African Agency in British West Africa

Gareth Austin

This paper examines the interaction of colonial rule, the extension and integration of markets domestically and internationally, and economic development (or not) for the case of British West Africa, which, in the context of comparisons between colonial regimes, was and noted for what became a policy of maintaining a virtual African monopoly of land ownership. Taking account of recent quantitative research on living standards in Ghana and Nigeria, the paper shows that these rose significantly under colonial rule, but that progress towards industrialization was minimal. In parallel, the paper emphasises the limits of colonial administrative capacity and the primacy of African agency in the economic achievements of the period.

This paper examines the interaction of colonial rule, the extension and integration of markets domestically and internationally, and economic development (or not) for the case of British West Africa, which, in the context of comparisons between colonial regimes, was and noted for what became a policy of maintaining a virtual African monopoly of land ownership. Taking account of recent quantitative research on living standards in Ghana and Nigeria, the paper shows that these rose significantly under colonial rule, but that progress towards industrialization was minimal. In parallel, the paper emphasises the limits of colonial administrative capacity and the primacy of African agency in the economic achievements of the period.

Financial Globalization, British Imperialism and the South African War: Evidence from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, 1895-1902

Mariusz Lukasiewicz

Southern Africa’s mineral discoveries in the 1880s facilitated the region’s entry into an increasingly global financial system. In Johannesburg, the way early financial gains were transformed into British territorial interests by powerful financiers would rapidly shape the political identity of the Witwatersrand and the whole southern African region. The causality of the events that took place between the Jameson Raid and the South African War on 11 October 1899 has become an issue of much debate for scholars of African and British imperial history. Identifying the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as the nexus between international finance and British imperialism, this paper exposes new economic and political links to the ‘Scramble for southern Africa.’ The paper concludes that despite attempting to balance British commercial interests with Pretoria’s republicanism before the war, the Exchange sided with the British colonial administration once its legitimacy among foreign investors was challenged.

Southern Africa’s mineral discoveries in the 1880s facilitated the region’s entry into an increasingly global financial system. In Johannesburg, the way early financial gains were transformed into British territorial interests by powerful financiers would rapidly shape the political identity of the Witwatersrand and the whole southern African region. The causality of the events that took place between the Jameson Raid and the South African War on 11 October 1899 has become an issue of much debate for scholars of African and British imperial history. Identifying the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as the nexus between international finance and British imperialism, this paper exposes new economic and political links to the ‘Scramble for southern Africa.’ The paper concludes that despite attempting to balance British commercial interests with Pretoria’s republicanism before the war, the Exchange sided with the British colonial administration once its legitimacy among foreign investors was challenged.

2nd half

Globalization and the Rationality of Colonial Expansion: The British Empire and West Africa in the Nineteenth Century

Ralph Austen

This paper examines the relationship between global markets for African vegetable oil exports and British acquisition/retention of colonial territories both before and during the “scramble for Africa” of the late 1800s. In a recent article (with an accompanying African Commodity Trade Database), Frankema, Williamson, and Woltjer (FWW, 2018) challenge existing understandings of the West African export market and suggest that there was “an economic rationale for the West African scramble” Using this data, along with other quantitative sources and the rich literature on “trade and politics” during this era in West Africa, I examine British colonial expansion (and efforts at divestment) during the “free trade” era of the early and mid-1800s and then relate it to French initiatives (the focus of the FWW argument) during the second half of the century. My conclusion is critical of, but also indebted to, the new approach to African economic history represented by FWW.

This paper examines the relationship between global markets for African vegetable oil exports and British acquisition/retention of colonial territories both before and during the “scramble for Africa” of the late 1800s. In a recent article (with an accompanying African Commodity Trade Database), Frankema, Williamson, and Woltjer (FWW, 2018) challenge existing understandings of the West African export market and suggest that there was “an economic rationale for the West African scramble” Using this data, along with other quantitative sources and the rich literature on “trade and politics” during this era in West Africa, I examine British colonial expansion (and efforts at divestment) during the “free trade” era of the early and mid-1800s and then relate it to French initiatives (the focus of the FWW argument) during the second half of the century. My conclusion is critical of, but also indebted to, the new approach to African economic history represented by FWW.

Crops and labor markets: The establishment of profitable European agriculture in the age of de-globalization

Erik Green

The establishment of European settler societies in Africa coincided with a rapid global economic integration, but also the beginning of the end of the golden age of settler societies. In the few cases where European settler farming played an important role for the colonial economy by establishing profitable business in the inter-war period characterized by volatile global markets and increased protectionism. How did European farmers manage to establish profitable businesses under these conditions? Most scholars claim that a precondition for the establishment of competitive European agriculture was colonial policies that ‘created’ wage labor markets. In this paper I revise this explanation by comparing the development trajectories of settler farming in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Kenya. I find that colonial policies mattered less. Instead, the success was determined by the ability of European farms to establish agricultural systems that could tap into already existing labor markets.

The establishment of European settler societies in Africa coincided with a rapid global economic integration, but also the beginning of the end of the golden age of settler societies. In the few cases where European settler farming played an important role for the colonial economy by establishing profitable business in the inter-war period characterized by volatile global markets and increased protectionism. How did European farmers manage to establish profitable businesses under these conditions? Most scholars claim that a precondition for the establishment of competitive European agriculture was colonial policies that ‘created’ wage labor markets. In this paper I revise this explanation by comparing the development trajectories of settler farming in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Kenya. I find that colonial policies mattered less. Instead, the success was determined by the ability of European farms to establish agricultural systems that could tap into already existing labor markets.

Economic Growth and Living Standards in British Colonial Africa

Morten Jerven

In the past two decades, African economic history has experienced a renaissance. Responding to seminal contributions arguing that the colonial experience explains why some countries are poor today and others are not, a literature has emerged that quantifies development trends in colonial Africa. We now have estimates of fiscal capacity, GDP growth, real wages and anthropometric measures of living standards. The literature has taken advantage of the existence of colonial records, and do generally point to an external market led GDP growth that supported the expansion of fiscal states and were associated with improvements in real wages and human development as measured by stature. The paper reflects on potential biases in the literature from the use of colonial records, and asks to what extent this kind of literature can overturn dominant interpretations of the colonial impact in British Colonial Africa.

In the past two decades, African economic history has experienced a renaissance. Responding to seminal contributions arguing that the colonial experience explains why some countries are poor today and others are not, a literature has emerged that quantifies development trends in colonial Africa. We now have estimates of fiscal capacity, GDP growth, real wages and anthropometric measures of living standards. The literature has taken advantage of the existence of colonial records, and do generally point to an external market led GDP growth that supported the expansion of fiscal states and were associated with improvements in real wages and human development as measured by stature. The paper reflects on potential biases in the literature from the use of colonial records, and asks to what extent this kind of literature can overturn dominant interpretations of the colonial impact in British Colonial Africa.

British Rule, the Global Economy, and Environmental Change in South India

Prasannan Parthasarathi

This paper investigates the ways in which South India’s global links reshaped the environment of the region. It considers three periods in the long nineteenth century. In the first, roughly 1830 to 1860, the successful export of new heat intensive products led to growing demand for fuel, which resulted in widespread deforestation. In the second, from the 1830s to the early twentieth century, limited import of coal due to its high price limited the use of the mineral in the newly developing railway system, which gave further impetus to deforestation. Finally, in the decades between the US Civil War and World War I, the remaking of agriculture due to shifts in global demand led to a reshaping of water systems in the region.

This paper investigates the ways in which South India’s global links reshaped the environment of the region. It considers three periods in the long nineteenth century. In the first, roughly 1830 to 1860, the successful export of new heat intensive products led to growing demand for fuel, which resulted in widespread deforestation. In the second, from the 1830s to the early twentieth century, limited import of coal due to its high price limited the use of the mineral in the newly developing railway system, which gave further impetus to deforestation. Finally, in the decades between the US Civil War and World War I, the remaking of agriculture due to shifts in global demand led to a reshaping of water systems in the region.

Globalization, State Capacity, and Colonialism in India

Tirthankar Roy

This paper investigates the ways in which South India’s global links reshaped the environment of the region. It considers three periods in the long nineteenth century. In the first, roughly 1830 to 1860, the successful export of new heat intensive products led to growing demand for fuel, which resulted in widespread deforestation. In the second, from the 1830s to the early twentieth century, limited import of coal due to its high price limited the use of the mineral in the newly developing railway system, which gave further impetus to deforestation. Finally, in the decades between the US Civil War and World War I, the remaking of agriculture due to shifts in global demand led to a reshaping of water systems in the region.

This paper investigates the ways in which South India’s global links reshaped the environment of the region. It considers three periods in the long nineteenth century. In the first, roughly 1830 to 1860, the successful export of new heat intensive products led to growing demand for fuel, which resulted in widespread deforestation. In the second, from the 1830s to the early twentieth century, limited import of coal due to its high price limited the use of the mineral in the newly developing railway system, which gave further impetus to deforestation. Finally, in the decades between the US Civil War and World War I, the remaking of agriculture due to shifts in global demand led to a reshaping of water systems in the region.

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