The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume I

Edited by Nicholas CannyVolume IIEdited by P J Marshall

Max Beloff | Published in

In a lecture at the 1995 meeting of the annual Anglo-American Historians’ Conference I expressed some doubts about the plans for the new Oxford History of the British Empire to be the fruit of an Anglo-American endeavour, in part because I feared that the anti-imperial bias of much American thinking on the subject might lead to an under-estimation of the Empire’s positive role. (An abbreviated version of the lecture was published in History Today in February 1996). I also expressed more general scepticism as to the value of modern collective histories as compared with the products of a single mind.

The appearance of the first two of the planned five volumes gives an opportunity for revising both judgements. On the latter which is in a sense a philosophical one, I can only say that the two volumes can be read straight through as I have done and with much enjoyment. Inevitably there are overlaps as the same topic comes in under different headings – as part of the overall story or in regional context. On the other hand the authors have been scrupulous in pointing to issues where reputable scholars continue to differ. The apparatus of chronologies, statistical tables and diagrams and above all of maps is at a very high level. It would be hard to imagine a better introduction to the advent and initial stages of the British Empire than these two volumes provide.

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