Forging Empires, Creating Colonies: The Practical and Intellectual Toolkit of Atlantic Empires

AHA Session 276
Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Columbia 7 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Gabriel Paquette, Johns Hopkins University
The Paperwork of Empires in the French and British Atlantic
Alyssa Zuercher Reichardt, University of Missouri
The Spirit of Conquest and the Spanish Commercial Empire
Fidel J. Tavárez, University of Chicago
Pernille Roege, University of Pittsburgh

Session Abstract

This panel examines how Britain, France, and Spain devised new tools of statecraft in the midst of their fierce struggle for control of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World. While scholars of late have assumed that Atlantic empires emerged either from on-the-ground processes of conquest and settlement or from a top-down extension of Old World regimes, this panel proposes that the dynamics of imperial governance were never so simple. Rather, Atlantic imperialisms took shape largely through decades—even centuries—of rigorous mutual observation. Imperial thinkers in Britain, France, and Spain consciously emulated and sought to improve upon each other’s strategies in the New World. Despite their divergent trajectories, by the eighteenth century, they drew upon a common body of administrative ideas and practices. Most agreed, for instance, that an imperial state required both a well-developed science of commerce or political economy and a robust information system. If British, French, and Spanish officials adopted and applied particular elements of this imperial tool-kit according to their own needs and goals, they nonetheless shared a well-defined vocabulary and framework of imperial statecraft. By examining how each empire contributed to this common tool-kit, the panel sheds new light on the time-honored question of how Atlantic empires were imagined and how Atlantic colonies were forged.
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