Imperialism: The Robinson and Gallagher controversy: WM. Roger Louis (ed.)

Silvester Percival

Reviewed in the United States on April 22, 2015

Imperialism: The Robinson and Gallagher Controversy, a collection of essays edited by Wm. Roger Louis, stands as a monument to the enormous achievement of Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher’s work on the theories of imperialism. The book emphasizes the main historiographical contributions made by Robinson and Gallagher, and brings to bear the most important critiques made by historians in related fields writing in the years following the first appearance of Robinson and Gallagher’s work. The introductory chapter by Louis, as well as the essays contained thereafter, make clear that Robinson and Gallagher’s main contributions also became the most contested issues. Challenging the established theory of economic imperialism in a coherent manner not only altered the way historians understood imperialism, but also provoked strong criticism from those unwilling to subscribe to the new concepts presented. Informal empire; strategic imperatives; collaboration; peripheral crises; imperial continuity – each of these terms hint at the complex ideas Robinson and Gallagher developed in their ground-breaking attempt to create a unified theory of British imperialism.

A key weakness of Robinson and Gallagher’s work, however, is their attempt to extrapolate the theory of British imperialism to the other European powers. The authors often overlooked detail and nuance in favor of sustaining a general theory. The majority of the critical responses in Imperialism, therefore, respond to Robinson and Gallagher’s failure to account for the specific and the particular – the various facts, details, or historical interpretations which compromise their theory. Moreover, as Victor Kiernan argues, the authors’ focus on the “official mind” skews the evidence. Such a methodological approach, according to Kiernan, indicates the rationale of imperial expansion but does not provide evidence of underlying causes, particularly the economic motivations that were rarely committed to paper. Nevertheless, Robinson and Gallagher’s contribution stands as a significant achievement. Their work pioneered new concepts, posed new questions, and changed the way a generation of historians understood the theories of imperialism. The compilation into one volume of the most important critiques of Robinson and Gallagher’s work reflects this achievement and gives Imperialism its enduring value.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ New Viewpoints (January 1, 1976)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 252 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0531055825
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0531055823
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 12.8 ounces

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