PERCEPTIONS FROM THE PERIPHERY Colonial American Views of Britain's Asiatic Empire, 1756–1783
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Although undoubtedly of major importance in commercial, cultural, and strategic terms, Britain's eighteenth-century Atlantic colonies represented only one part of a far-flung and ever-expanding overseas empire. It cannot be denied that Britons long remained preoccupied with their "first" empire of settlement and plantations in North America and the Caribbean, but there were many signs after 1756 that they were becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their connections with other parts of the world. No straightforward "swing to the east" occurred in British interests before, or even after, the loss of the American colonies in 1783, but during the decades following the Seven Years'War and the conquest of Bengal in 1763-65 many Britons opened their eyes and minds to the various new opportunities offered to them by the development and extension of commercial activity in the Asia-Pacific region. 1 In the context of the core-periphery relations addressed in this volume, the gradual broadening of Britain's overseas horizons meant that "imperial" connections had to be established beyond those that had already been forged between England and its outlying provinces in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, North America, and the West Indies. Over time, many bridges had been built between the core and the peripheries of the Atlantic world, but now additional bridges were required to support and sustain ever-increasing levels of British activity in Africa, India, China, and the Pacific. These were established and then strengthened in order to facilitate flows of goods, people, ideas, and information of types that were often quite different from those that linked together the English-speaking parts of the Atlantic basin. As the balance of British imperial interests began the long-term process of shifting away from the Western Hemisphere to the East, a global empire emerged that was multinational and multifaith in character and contained a bewildering array of institutional and organizational forms. Its creation posed a whole series of challenges to those who had long defined British imperialism within the terms of reference applied narrowly to the Atlantic empire.