The University of Exeter offers several interesting podcasts on the history of the British Empire. The first podcast on the site discuses Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson’s “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” a quintessential essay for students of the modern British Empire. I first came across this essay while studying post colonialism in a global history class and again when studying the African historiography.
I focus on the British slave trade in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Right now, I am investigating The Company of Merchants Trading to Africa (hereafter CMTA). The history of the CMTA helped me understand contemporary thoughts about the changing roles of companies, merchants, and the state in the eighteenth century. While studying the CMTA, I came across a work by Judith Williams, an American (U.S.) historian writing before Gallagher and Robinson. Her work portrays the ‘innocent’ vision of free trade, which Gallagher and Robinson challenged in their article. This helped my grasp an appreciation for a larger perspective of the political and economic aspects of Empire from the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century (though I am careful not to take a teleological/ Whiggish approach).
Reading “The Imperialism of Free Trade” with my current studies on the CMTA reminded me of transatlantic history, where professors and students push the Atlantic time period closer to the twenties century than normal–looking at the long duree . But this is also occurring at a time when scholars are publishing works on the history of capitalism. Will eighteenth-century Atlantic history, transatlantic, and the history of capitalism overlap or interact?
I hope to elaborate on this later and any feedback would be greatly appreciated.