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Robinson and Gallagher Compared with Cain and Hopkins Essay

As we all have hopefully already learned, Robinson and Gallagher’s main focus when it came to the study of the British Imperialism was the importance of continuity throughout Britain’s imperial age. While previous imperial historians mostly limited their attention to the fluctuations within the formal empire, Robinson and Gallagher argued that we must not only pay attention to where Britain maintained direct control over within the world, but also the area’s where they maintained a huge amount of political and economic influence, also called the informal empire. According to their argument the best way to think about British Imperialism before the development of ‘New Imperialism’ is : “trade with informal control if possible, trade with rule if necessary”.

Robinson and Gallagher’s argument has had a large influence on most British Imperial historian’s, including Cain and Hopkins. While Robinson and Gallagher linked the growth of empire to the need for foreign markets and investment (before the age of ‘New Imperialism’), they did not specify what was the driving force behind the changing economy in Britain and the ever expanding need for foreign markets and investments. Cain and Hopkins on the other hand while they appear to agree with Robinson and Gallagher on the emphasis of continuity, give a more detailed explanation as to what was actually driving the economic change that was occurring within Britain. This economic change was in turn, linked the expansion and the continuity of the British empire.

The main contrast between Robinson and Gallagher’s thesis and the thesis offered by Cain and Hopkin’s is in their explanation of the New Imperialism that began to occur after 1870. After 1870 the informal colonial system began to breakdown and their was a larger increase in the expansion of the formal empire. Robinson and Gallaghers explanation behind this was the increasing rivalry between the Great Powers of the time. They denied any sort of connection with the social and economic changes that were occurring within Britain. Cain and Hopkins on the other hand, agreed that the growing rivalry between the great powers did play a role the breakdown of¬†informality, but felt that it was not the real cause of change in British imperial policy. Instead they felt that economic and social factors did played large role in the changes.

Overall Cain and Hopkins did not think that British expansion was the product of manufacturing interests but of a gentlemanly elite who used the empire as a means of generating capital, in a way which complimented their ideals.


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