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Gresham College: Prof. Sir Richard Evans – The Rise and Fall of European Empires from the 16th to the 20th century – #5/6 – Exploitation And Resistance


About this lecture series

Empire has been the defining world experience of the modern era. Already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European powers put their stamp on the Americas. After the decline of the old pre-industrial empires in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, new empires arose, as Europe raced ahead of the rest of the world in terms of economic and military power. In 1800, Europe and its colonies and ex-colonies covered just over half the land surface of the world; by 1914 this proportion had increased to nearly 85 per cent. By the Second World War, the only major inhabited areas of the world that had never been under European rule were China, Ethiopia, Japan, Mongolia, Persia, Siam, and Tibet. Yet within little more than thirty years, these great global empires had almost all collapsed, and by the end of the twentieth century, all that was left were a few isolated and fragmentary colonial possessions.

This series of six lectures examines the rise and fall of the great European empires in a transnational and comparative framework, taking in not only the British and French experience but also that of other major and minor European colonial powers such as Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Russia and Spain. The lectures conclude with a discussion of the impact of empire and imperialism in the twenty-first century.

About this lecture

This lecture looks at the impact of empire on the colonizers and the colonized. In Europe, ideologies of imperialism emerged, increasingly mingled with racism. These had a material effect on the attitudes of political elites that helped push Europe towards war in 1914. Critics of imperialism argued that colonies were crucial mainly to ensure the continued existence of capitalist economies. Economic exploitation was indeed a key part of imperial rule, as settlers grabbed land to farm, merchants, traders and planters sought profits in commodities such as rubber and coffee, and state administrators tried to minimize the costs of running the colonies by turning them into profitable enterprises. In many cases, notoriously the Belgian Congo, this led to horrific acts of cruelty against indigenous people conscripted as labourers. At the same time, economic imperatives led to attempts to develop the colonies, to provide a transport infrastructure, and to train and educate indigenous elites to meet modern economic needs. This sowed the seeds of later movements of national resistance and liberation.

About Sir Richard Evans, FBA

Professor Sir Richard Evans FBA is Provost of Gresham College. He is a world-renowned historian and academic, with many of his books now acknowledged as seminal works in the field of modern history. He was Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge from 2008 until his retirement in September 2014. 

In 2012 Sir Richard was appointed Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to scholarship. In 2014 he was awarded the Historical Association’s Norton Medlicott Medal for his ‘outstanding contribution to History’, particularly through his ‘significant’ and ‘robust’ engagement in recent national debates about school curriculum reform and about the teaching and commemoration of the First World War. He has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 1993, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 1978 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 2001. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa by London University in 2013.

Sir Richard has published 18 books as author and seven as editor. In 2008 he published the third part of his monumental large-scale history of the Third Reich, The Third Reich at War, which completed the series of The Coming of the Third Reich (2003) and The Third Reich in Power (2005). The series has sold more than 250,000 copies in English and has been translated into twelve foreign languages. His most recent book, Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History, was published to wide acclaim in January 2014. Prior to this his key publications include: Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent (2009), Telling Lies About Hitler: The Holocaust, History, and the David Irving Trial (2002), In Defence of History (1997), Rituals of Retribution (1996) and Death in Hamburg (1987), which won the Wolfson Foundation History Prize.

Sir Richard has a strong public engagement as an historian, including acting as principal expert witness in the David Irving libel trial before the High Court in London in 2000. He is currently Deputy Chair of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a non-departmental public body which advises on claims for the return from public museums and galleries in the UK of artworks looted during the Nazi era.

Sir Richard has lectured extensively all over the world at a variety of literary festivals and events. He has been Editor of the Journal of Contemporary History since 1998 and a judge of the Wolfson History Prize since 1993.

He is a frequent contributor to the broadcast media and the press. His appearances on British television include BBC 1 (Sunday Politics with Andrew Neill) and Channel 4 News. His appearances on British Radio include BBC Radio 4 (Start the Week, In Our Time, Today and World at One), Radio 3 (Nightwaves) and Radio 2 (John Dunn Show). He has also appeared widely television and radio outside the UK, most notably on North German Radio/Television, West German Radio/Television and Radio Multikulti Berlin.

Sir Richard was Gresham Professor of Rhetoric between 2009 and 2013. His series of lectures were as follows:

2012/13 The Great Plagues: Epidemics in History from the Middle Ages to the Present Day
2011/12 The Rise and Fall of European Empires from the 16th to the 20th Century
2010/11 The Victorians: Culture and Experience in Britain, Europe and the World, 1815-1914
2009/10 War and Peace in Europe: From Napoleon to the Kaiser

Previously, he delivered two series of lectures as Visiting Professor of History.

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