The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources

By Robin W. Winks | Go to book overview

THE AMERICAN CONTINENTAL
COLONIES IN THE EMPIRE

Robert L. Middlekauff

SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLISHMEN were prone to think of the founding of colonies virtually as an act in nature. Colonies were plantations; their settlement, planting, in the sense of placing seeds in the ground. English literature brims with such figures. Thus John Smith described the "first planting" of Virginia and Richard Hakluyt wrote A Discourse of Western Planting. Later in the colonial period men on both sides of the Atlantic commonly referred to England as the "mother" and the colonies as her "children"; and they sometimes speculated about what the "growth" of these children would yield in the future. Other terms were also used, of course, but descriptions that implied that the relationship of England and her colonies was organic were most frequently employed.

These pleasant metaphors were discarded in 1776 when Thomas Paine showed in Common Sense that behind the smile of the "tender mother" lurked a "devouring monster." But the old natural figures have had a persistent way of cropping up in accounts of the colonies and the Revolution. They have because they appear to be extraordinarily apt. Historians of early America face the problem of explaining enormous changes, not the least of which is how thirteen small English settlements transformed themselves into an independent nation. Saying that the colonies "grew" and "matured" has proved to be a convenient answer.

Words, we all know, convey thought and the choice of words implies a way of thinking. But words may also control thought. Likening historical change in the American colonies to developments in nature has sometimes resulted in such control.

The most recent historians to offer a general interpretation of the American colonial past, the Imperial school, expressed their views in a

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The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors ix
  • Introduction 3
  • The American Continental Colonies in the Empire 23
  • The Empire Since 1783 46
  • Canada 69
  • Australia 137
  • New Zealand 174
  • The British Territories in the Pacific 197
  • South Africa 212
  • British Central Africa 237
  • British East Africa 248
  • British West Africa 261
  • Egypt and the Sudan 279
  • Great Britain and Inter­national Trusteeship: the Mandate System 296
  • Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus 312
  • Ireland's Commonwealth Years, 1922-1949 326
  • The British West Indies 344
  • India 357
  • Pakistan 396
  • Ceylon 421
  • Burma 448
  • Malaysia 460
  • Commonwealth Literature: Developments and Prospects 493
  • Appendix: An American Report 523
  • Index 529
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