The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 3

By William Roger Louis; Andrew Porter et al. | Go to book overview

3
Economics and Empire: The Periphery and the
Imperial Economy

B. R. TOMLINSON

The terms 'core' and 'periphery' are widely, if rather loosely, used in the literature on the economic history of the Empire in the nineteenth century to distinguish the industrial economies of Europe, notably Britain, from the primary producing economies of other continents.1 Such terms demonstrate the interdependence between the manufacture of industrial goods in Europe and the supply of food and raw materials from other parts of the world that became the dominant feature of the global economic system over the course of the nineteenth century. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Europe traded extensively with Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean, exchanging manufactures and metals for exotic foodstuffs, textiles, slaves, and precious metals. By the 1870s, with a mature manufacturing economy established in Britain, with industrialization proceeding rapidly elsewhere in Europe and North America, the needs of the core economies changed fundamentally, and a new wave of expansion took place in the periphery as a result. Industrial Europe required new sources of staple foodstuffs for its urban populations and raw materials for its factories. Over the next forty years the process of economic change became the most intense that the world had known. To fuel this expansion, Europe's relations with overseas economies altered significantly, stimulating rapid territorial expansion and economic growth in those regions where European settlers, capital, and commodities could most easily be employed. The result was to change the physical characteristics of these areas, as well as their economic fortunes and human histories. As one recent survey of environmental history has pointed out, the two 'paramount' reasons for 'the transformation of the earth' in the modern period have been 'the explosive increase of European population and its movement overseas, and the rise of the

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1
These terms also usually imply some imbalance in political and economic structures, with the 'core' being able to exert both economic and political power over the periphery. For these reasons, as well as because of their unusual economic structures, the United States and Japan straddle these categories during the period.

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