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Anti-Colonialism as the Analytical Lens of the Early Modern British Empire

Thursday 11 April 2024, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): David Veevers, Bangor University

This talk seeks to recast the grand narrative of the British Empire’s expansion in the early modern period from one predominantly focused on centrifugal British forces - actors, approaches and ambitions - to one that takes Indigenous and non-European power and resilience as the defining force that shaped the empire’s development.

When we look at early modern maps of the Anglo-British Empire, we consume them as documents depicting the successful realisation of colonial ambitions across the world: vast swathes of pink in North America, the Caribbean, on the littoral of Africa, and, by the closing decades of the 18th century, across the Indian subcontinent. But they also tell us perhaps even more about the frustration and containment of British imperial ambitions in the early modern world. As English colonists, companies, merchants, and officials spread out across the globe from the sixteenth century onwards, they were encountered by powerful, dynamic, ambitious Indigenous and non-European polities and societies. Their containment, accommodation, and of course resistance of the English determined the empire’s expansion in that part of the world.

As such, the lack of imperial pink in East Asia in the early modern period is a testament to the power of the Tokugawa Shoguns, the competitiveness of the Chinese diaspora, and the power of the King of Banten, all of whom either limited, outmanoeuvred, or even expelled the English from their jurisdictions. Even in those regions where colonialism proved successful – in Ireland, Tsenacomoco (Virginia), or the Kalinago islands of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean – the resilience of Indigenous political and economic structures, as well as the durability of cultural systems, defied English hegemony for sometimes a century or more. In India, the power of the Mughals forced the East India Company to participate in and maintain the culture and ideologies of Mughal sovereignty, even as they sought to subjugate it.

Location: BS/104 (the Tree House), Berrick Saul Building