The British Seaborne Empire


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Jeremy Black

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Sea-power made the British Empire what it was: without sea-power there would have been no empire, or at least no empire in the form it actually took. In this masterful analysis of the role of the sea in the history of the British Empire, Jeremy Black follows in the tradition of classic works by C. R. Boxer on the Dutch and Portuguese seaborne empires and by J. H. Parry on the Spanish seaborne empire. Black considers how the ocean affected British exploration, defense, trade, commerce, and the navy, as well as the attitudes and perceptions of the British people themselves.
The book covers the process of imperial expansion, the decline of the Empire, and the role of the navy in the postimperial age. Attractively illustrated and wide in scope, the book demonstrates the profound influence that proximity to the sea has exerted on virtually every aspect of British history and culture.

Jeremy Black is professor of history at the University of Exeter. His books include Maps and History, War and the World, and Italy and the Grand Tour, all available from Yale University Press.

"This is a healthy and much needed corrective to a great deal of careless thinking, and writing, on Imperial history and is to be welcomed by all seeking a balanced view of this aspect of our history."—Contemporary Review


"An ambitious work. . . . Earlier works masterfully chartered the overseas expansions of European empires beginning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the ongoing formal and informal connections that colonial traders and settlements maintained with their respective mother countries. Black does this and more. . . . Black opines that Britons find solace in stories set in the days before their nation was perceived as an aggressive territorial empire. By reading his impressive book, however, they would know that, for good or bad, the sea was never a diversion from British imperial glory, but always the pathway to it."—Denver Brunsman, H-Net Reviews

"Black's coverage of the Empire is immense. . . . He is a master of deft observation and succinct summary; the book is an undeniably impressive piece of historical synthesis."—Stephen J. Hornsby, Journal of British Studies

“A nuanced, well-researched history of the ways in which Britain’s maritime industry influenced its foreign policy and public culture. . . . The result is not only an important contribution to military history, but a reminder that we are all part of a long historical narrative.”—Publishers Weekly

“The naval element is carefully tracked but this is essentially one for those who are puzzled by the concept or nostalgic for the experience of empire.”—Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Guardian

"There is every reason to recommend this book. Specialists will find much that is familiar, but also much intriguing material from related fields. Students will find it useful. It is the kind of synopsis which needs the touch of a mature scholar, and Black has succeeded admirably."—Paul Webb, The Northern Mariner


“Black is refreshingly unapologetic about the British Empire and this book is a valuable contribution to the debate about its merits and demerits”—The Sunday Telegraph

“In this book, Jeremy Black offers an updated analysis of how proximity to the ocean affected Britain’s trade, politics, and strategy, along with public attitudes toward the sea. The British Seaborne Empire takes a broad view of its subject, integrating culture and the arts into a discussion that also notes how perspectives change over time. Mr. Black models his volume on classic studies of the Spanish and Dutch seaborne empires, but his book covers a far broader period and will doubtless join them as a definitive work. . . . If Britain’s seaborne empire has passed away, Mr. Black’s study of its history leads to the conclusion that its relationship with the seas and distant lands remains as important as ever.”—William Anthony Hay, The Washington Times

"Had one not once laid eyes on Jeremy Black, one would suspect that name was a nom de plume for a large factory of diligent researchers and writers. . . . It will be a rare historian who cannot profit from reading Black's book. . . . No one who reads the book will be left in doubt about the strength of the links between the navy and empire, and all those interested in the evolution of those links over the past five centuries will find plenty of grist for their mills in Black's pages."—J.R. McNeill, Itinerario

"The coverage is extraordinarily extensive in terms of both geography and subject matter, and the book is a mine of rich information on matters great and small, familiar and unfamiliar. . . . Black's book can thus act as an important point of departure for those wishing to explore Britain's complex relationships with its overseas empire."—H.V. Bowen, International Journal of Maritime History

"Black provides a key overview to synthesising specialisms, a valuable distillation of sources for British maritime imperial history."---Ann Coats, Southern History

"British historians as well as imperial historians will all find The British Seaborne Empire illuminating, stimulating, and even aggravating at times, and for those reasons I would recommend that they give it the respect it deserves."—Douglas M. Peers, Canadian Journal of History

Shortlisted for The Mountbatten Maritime Prize at the Desmond Wettern Media Awards 2005. The prize is awarded by the British Maritime Charitable Foundation.

ISBN: 9780300103861
Publication Date: September 10, 2004
432 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
18 b/w illus.
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