Vassar College Department of Economics

Econ260 - Economics of Imperialism

Spring Semester 1999

David Kennett

Blodgett 124, Ext 7394

E-mail: kennett

OH: M,W: 10.30-12.00 in BH 124, or

M: 3-5 in NE204


Required texts:

R. Chilcote (Editor) The Political Economy of Imperialism, Rowman and Littlefield, New York, Paper (2000) Rowman & Littlefield; ISBN: 0742510107

Ronald H. Chilcote (Editor) Imperialism : Theoretical Directions (Key Concepts in Critical Theory), Paperback - 335 pages (June 2000) Humanity Books; ISBN: 1573928216

They are available in soft-cover in the College Bookstore.

The book I usually use for the introductory part of this course has mysteriously gone out of print. Parry, J. H. (John Horace), The establishment of the European hegemony, 1415-1715; trade and exploration in the age of the Renaissance, which is also available under its old title, Europe and a wider world, 1415-1715. I have put both library copies on reserve, and I am having some photocopies made. You might ask alst years students if they have a copy.


The objective of the course is to review the expansion of European economic influence between the fifteenth and twentieth century and evaluate the theoretical frameworks that have been erected to account for it. It is therefore partly economics, partly history of economic thought and partly history. Reading is essential to the course. A large amount of economic, political, and historical data are relevant to the issues we will discuss, and I cannot hope to cover it al in class. To make the lectures less painful I will insist that everyone reads the most important material before the relevant class.


There will be a take-home mid-term, and a final paper on a topic agreed with me ahead of time. The mid-term will consist of writing essays on given questions in your own time. We will have a one-class break at mid-term to give you time for this. For the final paper you must submit a proposal, outline and bibliography in duplicate by April 25.


Class 1. Introduction to the Course and Terminology. (Jan 17)

Class 2 Venice, Portugal and The East (Jan 22)

An introduction to the first of the "modern" European trading empires, and the relationship between power and the establishment of commercial monopoly and power.

Class 3. The Idea of Mercantilism (Jan 24)

Parry, Ch. 4.

There is quite a nice website on Mercantilism at the New School. You might want to read a short piece that I have written on the "Feudalism, Mercantilism and Commercial Capitalism". Also, the entry on "Mercantilism" in the 1st (1930) edition of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, will set you straight on a few points if you are unfamiliar with the term. Also see D.C. Coleman's "Eli Hecksher and the Idea of Mercantilism" on file for this course and originally printed in D.C. Coleman's Revisions in Mercantilism. See also Thomas Mun's England's Treasure by Foreign Trade for a contemporary piece of lobbying/theorizing. Pay particular attention to Chapter 4, "The Exportation of our Moneys in Trade of Merchandize is a means to encrease our Treasure." You can if you want look at the views and writings of other mercantilists (Petty, Steuart etc.)on the New School Website.

Class 4.The New World (Jan 29)

Both Spain and Portugal acquired extensive possessions in the New World and set about exploiting them in a quite different way from the East Indies.

Parry Chs. 5. (File)

More detailed information on Spain can be found in Parry's more detailed book:

Parry, J. H. (John Horace), The Spanish seaborne empire, New York, Knopf, 1966, which is on reserve.

Class 5: Britain, the Netherlands, and the Old Colonial System (Jan 31)

Possessing superior technology and entrepreneurship the British and the Dutch made inroads into the Spanish empire and developed a new system of trade and colonization, and with it led to an advance in economic thought.

Class 6: Economic Factors in the American Revolution (Feb 5)

The burden of taxation and the restriction of development required by mercantile doctrine is thought by some to have been a significant factor in the American independence movement. This literature examines these issues paying particular attention to cliometrics -- the use of econometric techniques to help us understand history..

Class 7: Informal Imperialism: Britain, Portugal and Brazil. (Feb 7)

The significance of the British/Portugese relationship is that it presages later examples of established dependency that neo-Marxists feel is the dominant form of "imperialism" today. Moreover, it shows how the static comparative advantage model of international trade in which both parties are assumed to share in the benefits can lead to undesirable results in the long-run if one party specializes in manufactured goods with development linkages and the other party is limited to agricultural production. England's relationship with Portugal enables it to take advantage of Brazilian output, ultimately shifting its attention primarily to Brazil after independence.

Class 8: Formal Imperialism: Britain and India (Feb 12)

Britain dominated Portugal and maintained dependency over Brazil without formal possession. British relations with India show that the same end can be achieved by formal possession. The readings deal with the period of East India Company possession of India, the "First National War of Independence", called the Indian Mutiny by the British, and the transition to a Crown possession. The significance is the reversal of Indian development in this period, the destruction of indigenous industryand India's function as a market for English textiles. Read the Magdoff for a general idea of where we are going in this whole section.

Class 9: Classical Economist and Imperialism (Feb 14)

Class 10: Systematic Colonization. (Feb 19)

The theory of colonization became more sophisticated in the early 19th century with complex theories concerning the development of colonial possessions being drawn from the writings of classical economists. From these developed plans for the "systematic" colonization of the southern temperate colonies.

Class 12. The Hobson Lenin Model (Feb 21-Feb 26)

Though Marx himself said little about the economic causation of imperialism and actually viewed it as a sort of progressive force, Marxians appropriated the Hobson thesis and modified it to produce a theory of imperialism as a necessary phase of capitalist development.

Classs 13: European Expansion in Africa in North Africa (Feb 28)

Until the middle of the nineteenth century Africa was scarcely penetrated by the European powers. In a sharp burst of activity, mainly in Europe, the continent was divided among the powers imposing boundaries that persist to this day. These sections take you through the history of that development.


Class 14: European Expansion in Africa in Sub-Saharan Africa (March 26)

Class 15: European Expansion in Africa in South Africa (March 28)

Class 16. The Twilight Era Controversy (April 2)

Conventional wisdom had it that nineteenth century statesmen were influenced by "free trade" theories propagated in the middle nineteenth centuries. Marxians feel that the onset of monopoly capitalism had much to do with the "climacteric", and therefore the existence of a "twilight" period of low activity between the "old" imperialism and the "new" is vital to the thesis. This literature looks at that period with a critical eye.

Class 17. Critiques of the Hobson Lenin Model (April 4)

The Hobson/Lenin thesis attracted a variety of critiques; some are summarized in the readings here.

Class 18: Roots of American Expansionism. (April 9)

What caused the United States to shift towards gathering an empire? Were the causes substantially different from those that motivated the policies of the European powers?

Class 19: European and American Expansion in Asia (April 11)

Class 21. The Hobson-Lenin Thesis an Evaluation (April 16)

Class 22. WWI, anmd the Inter-War Period (April 18)

When the world had been almost completely divided into imperial camps, any shifts in power or aspirations could only be achieved in a conflict environment. This is thought by many to be a key factor in the causation of the first world war. Joll discusses the imperial rivalry issue. The readings from Snyder represent agreements between the powers about global division after the war.

Class 23: Imperialism and the World Today (April 23)

Class 24: Globalization and Imperialism (April 25)

Class 25. Wrap-up and Review (May 1)