Empire, Imperialism and the Partition of Africa

  • Ian Phimister


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


Free Trade Global History African History British Policy Dutch Republic 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

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  • Ian Phimister

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