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Empire, Imperialism and the Partition of Africa

  • Ian Phimister

Abstract

Peter Cain and Tony Hopkins wrote:

From the perspective of … [our study of British Imperialism], there is an argument to be made for reducing the attention customarily paid to the partition of Africa because the importance of the continent, as measured by trade and financial flows, did not give it a high ranking among Britain’s international trading partners or even among regions that felt the force of her imperialist ambitions. … However, given that partition … is so firmly entrenched in the literature as the classic case of late nineteenth century imperialism, there are compelling historiographical reasons why we have situated our own interpretation in the context of the existing literature.1

Profoundly dissatisfied with explanations for Africa’s partition which have emphasized variously the significance of strategic concerns; the crucial role played by protonationalism; or the problems besetting Britain as ‘an ageing, defensive power struggling to fend off new challenges to her interests’, Cain and Hopkins instead argued that:

the impulses motivating [British] policy can be traced to the metropole, and particularly to the expansion after 1850 of … gentle-manly occupations and values … Indeed Britain’s actions in partitioning Africa followed the contours of this development: the main weight of her interests lay in Egypt and southern Africa, where City and service interests were most prominently represented, and it was there that Britain showed the greatest vigour in promoting her claims.2

Keywords

Free Trade Global History African History British Policy Dutch Republic 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    P. Cain and A. Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688–2000 (London, 2002), 335–6.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    For earlier versions, see Cain and Hopkins, ‘The Political Economy of British Expansion Overseas, 1750–1914’, Economic History Review, 1980, 33, 4; idem, ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Expansion Overseas, II: New Imperialism, 1850–1914’, Economic History Review, 1987, 40, 1.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    See, particularly, G. Ingham, ‘British Capitalism: Empire, Merchants and Decline’, Social History, 1995, 20, 3;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  8. and R. Dumett (ed.) Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Imperialism. The New Debate on Empire (Harlow, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    R. Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians. The Official Mind of Imperialism (London, 1961), 120.Google Scholar
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  11. 11.
    Cain and Hopkins, British Imperialism, 313, 315. See also Cain, ‘Hobson Lives?, Finance and British Imperialism 1870–1914’, in S. Groenveld and M. Wirtle (eds), Government and the Economy in Britain and the Netherlands since the Middle Ages (Zutphen, 1992).Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    Notably Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (Harlow, 1973);Google Scholar
  13. and Cain, Economic Foundations of British Overseas Expansion 1815–1914 (London, 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 23.
    E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (London, 1987), 62.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    G. Barraclough, An Introduction to Contemporary History (Harmondsworth, 1967), 44.Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    Hopkins, Economic History of West Africa, 148. See also R. Law (ed.), From Slave Trade to ‘Legitimate’ Commerce: the Commercial Transition in West Africa (Cambridge, 1995);Google Scholar
  17. and M. Lynn, Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa. The Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 28.
    J.F. Munro, Africa and the International Economy 1800–1960 (London, 1976), 72. See also Lynn, ‘From Sail to Steam: the Impact of the Steamship Services on the British Palm Oil Trade with West Africa, 1850–1890’, Journal of African History, 1989, 30.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. For differing assessments of the significance of this pressure, see R. Austen, African Economic History: Internal Development and External Dependency (London, 1987);Google Scholar
  20. W. Hynes, The Economics of Empire: Britain, Africa and the New Imperialism, 1870–1895 (London, 1979); and B. Ratcliffe, ‘Commerce and Empire: Manchester Merchants and West Africa, 1873–1895’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 1979, 7.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    J. Flint, ‘Britain and the Partition of West Africa’, in Flint and G. Williams (eds), Perspectives of Empire: Essays Presented to Gerald. S. Graham (London, 1973), 101. For discussion of the key technological issues involved, see espe-daily R. Headrick, ‘The Tools of Imperialism: Technology and the Expansion of European Colonial Empires in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Modern History, 1979, 51; and his Tools of Empire (Oxford, 1981).Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    Munro, Africa and the International Economy, 73. See especially Newbury and A. Kanya-Forstner, ‘French Policy and the Origins of the Scramble for West Africa’, Journal of African History, 1969, 10; and Newbury, ‘The Tariff Factor in Anglo-French West African Partition’, in P. Gifford and W. Louis (eds), France and Britain in Africa (New Haven, 1971).Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    As cited in Newbury, ‘Trade and Authority in West Africa’, in L. Gann and P. Duignan (eds), Colonialism in Africa: I, History and Politics of Colonialism (Cambridge, 1969), 93.Google Scholar
  24. 36.
    R. Hyam and G. Martin (eds), Reappraisals in British Imperial History (London, 1975), 150–1.Google Scholar
  25. See also S. Forster et al. (eds), Bismarck, Europe and Africa (Oxford, 1988);Google Scholar
  26. P. Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism 1860–1914 (Boston, 1980);Google Scholar
  27. and H. von Strandemann, ‘Domestic Origins of Germany’s Colonial Expansion under Bismarck’, Past & Present, 1969, 42. For the part played by Leopold II, see especially J. Stengers, ‘King Leopold’s Imperialism’, in R. Owen and R. Sutcliffe (eds), Studies in the Theory of Imperialism (London, 1972).Google Scholar
  28. 52.
    Kennedy, ‘Continuity and Discontinuity in British Imperialism 1815–1914’, in C. Eldridge (ed.), British Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1984), 38.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian Phimister

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