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The Inner Life of Empires

An Eighteenth-Century History

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They were abolitionists, speculators, slave owners, government officials, and occasional politicians. They were observers of the anxieties and dramas of empire. And they were from one family. The Inner Life of Empires tells the intimate history of the Johnstones--four sisters and seven brothers who lived in Scotland and around the globe in the fast-changing eighteenth century. Piecing together their voyages, marriages, debts, and lawsuits, and examining their ideas, sentiments, and values, renowned historian Emma Rothschild illuminates a tumultuous period that created the modern economy, the British Empire, and the philosophical Enlightenment.

One of the sisters joined a rebel army, was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, and escaped in disguise in 1746. Her younger brother was a close friend of Adam Smith and David Hume. Another brother was fluent in Persian and Bengali, and married to a celebrated poet. He was the owner of a slave known only as "Bell or Belinda," who journeyed from Calcutta to Virginia, was accused in Scotland of infanticide, and was the last person judged to be a slave by a court in the British isles. In Grenada, India, Jamaica, and Florida, the Johnstones embodied the connections between European, American, and Asian empires. Their family history offers insights into a time when distinctions between the public and private, home and overseas, and slavery and servitude were in constant flux.

Based on multiple archives, documents, and letters, The Inner Life of Empires looks at one family's complex story to describe the origins of the modern political, economic, and intellectual world.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 25, 2011 – This original and remarkable book will be tough going for some readers, but they should persevere. It's the story of the Johnstones, 11 Scottish siblings whose lives spanned the entire 18th-century British Empire—from Britain to Africa and the Americas. By extraordinary perseverance, Rothschild (a Harvard historian) has excavated the tiniest tidbits about them from a vast array of repositories and collections, and used these shards of evidence to broaden and deepen our understanding of the Enlightenment, commerce, empires, revolutions, nation states, sentiments, family relations, and slavery. Her tale often holds the mysteries of a fictional account, especially about a key slave whose life after shipment to the American colonies is lost in the mists of time. It's also about the rising and falling fortunes of a family and its members—people who seem to have interacted with everyone of importance in the British 18th century. But it remains a story of ordinary people, not kings, political figures, or diplomats. While this is a scholarly work and the very model of the contemporary historian's craft, it's also deeply illuminating, humane, at times moving, and altogether captivating. 6 maps.
The Inner Life of Empires
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  • $20.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: May 09, 2011
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 496 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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