European Empires

Authored by: Philippa Levine

The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Imperial Histories

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754664154
eBook ISBN: 9781315613277
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042525


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At the heart of European imperialism throughout its history lies massive population movement – among Europeans, those they enslaved and colonised, and those with whom they traded. Between the start of the sixteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth century, more than 2 million people left Europe bound for a variety of destinations, all of them colonial. In roughly the same period some 12 million Africans also left their homes, and they too, were headed for colonial destinations. 1 1

H.L. Wesseling, The European Colonial Empires, 1815–1919 (Harlow, 2004), p. 16. See also Julia Clancy-Smith, ‘Marginality and Migration: Europe’s Social Outcasts in Pre-Colonial Tunisia, c.1830–1881’, in Eugene Rogan (ed.), Outside In: On the Margins of the Modern Middle East (London, 2002), pp. 149–82; Robin Cohen, The Cambridge Survey of World Migration (New York, 1995); Marc Donato, L’Émigration des Maltais en Algérie au XlXème siècle (Montpellier, 1985); David Eltis (ed.), Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives (Stanford, CA, 2002).

A good number of the Europeans left under duress as convicts or indentured labourers. Many more were spurred on by the prospect of a more affluent life. 2 2

Nicholas Canny, Europeans on the Move: Studies on European Migration, 1500–1800 (Oxford, 1994).

In the case of the African migrants, choice was irrelevant; they left as slaves and those who survived the dangerous crossing arrived in the Atlantic to be sold in the market place. The English, Scots and Irish were the likeliest of Europeans to migrate, although Portuguese, Spanish, German and Dutch settlers were to be found in the Atlantic and in Africa by the middle of the seventeenth century. Over the course of that century, more than 700,000 people left England, of whom half went to the Americas. Between 1700 and 1760, only 23 per cent of trans-Atlantic migrants were not slaves, but most were under some form of indenture. 3 3

David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (Cambridge, 2000), p. 11.

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