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Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld [Hardcover]

James Belich
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Book Description

25 Jun 2009
Why does so much of the world speak English? Replenishing the Earth gives a new answer to that question, uncovering a 'settler revolution' that took place from the early nineteenth century that led to the explosive settlement of the American West and its forgotten twin, the British West, comprising the settler dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Between 1780 and 1930 the number of English-speakers rocketed from 12 million in 1780 to 200 million, and their wealth and power grew to match. Their secret was not racial, or cultural, or institutional superiority but a resonant intersection of historical changes, including the sudden rise of mass transfer across oceans and mountains, a revolutionary upward shift in attitudes to emigration, the emergence of a settler 'boom mentality', and a late flowering of non-industrial technologies -wind, water, wood, and work animals - especially on settler frontiers. This revolution combined with the Industrial Revolution to transform settlement into something explosive - capable of creating great cities like Chicago and Melbourne and large socio-economies in a single generation.

When the great settler booms busted, as they always did, a second pattern set in. Links between the Anglo-wests and their metropolises, London and New York, actually tightened as rising tides of staple products flowed one way and ideas the other. This 're-colonization' re-integrated Greater America and Greater Britain, bulking them out to become the superpowers of their day. The 'Settler Revolution' was not exclusive to the Anglophone countries - Argentina, Siberia, and Manchuria also experienced it. But it was the Anglophone settlers who managed to integrate frontier and metropolis most successfully, and it was this that gave them the impetus and the material power to provide the world's leading super-powers for the last 200 years.

This book will reshape understandings of American, British, and British dominion histories in the long 19th century. It is a story that has such crucial implications for the histories of settler societies, the homelands that spawned them, and the indigenous peoples who resisted them, that their full histories cannot be written without it.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (25 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199297274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199297276
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 642,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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original and intelligent (Times Higher Education Supplement)

[A] vast and vastly interesting book. (Australian Journal of Politics and History)

is the biggest, boldest, most truly global [of the] "British World" histories. Book of the week. (Stephen Howe, The Independent)

This is one of the most important works on the broad processes of modern world history to have appeared for years - arguably since Sir Charles Dilke's pioneering Greater Britain introduced a concept very like Belich's "Anglo-world" to his Victorian contemporaries in 1868 (Bernard Porter, Times Literary Supplement)

possesses grandeur of vision. It is written with great gusto in a vigorous quest for explanations of vital phenomena. It is exhilarating and provocative reading and grapples with central historical questions at a structural level which leaves this reader cheering its sheer bravado. (Eric Richards, Reviews in History)

Original and intelligent...this book offers a novel explanation of the rise of the Anglo-world... Whatever the future holds, their past is compellingly told here. (Donald MacRaild, Times Higher Education Supplement)

A provocative, empirically sound reexamination of the expansion of the English-speaking world in the late 19th century. (CHOICE)

A comprehensive survey of and challenge to the immense historiography on Anglophone settler expansions of the long nineteenth century...Teachers will find Replenishing the Earth a rich and provocative source at all collegiate levels...A goldmine for the particulars of growth and expansion. (World History Bulletin)

Useful not just for scholars comparing settler societies but for everyone working on nineteenth-century North America or impressive contribution both to settler history and to world history. (American Historical Review)

Comprehensive, highly original...and always fascinating account of Greater Britains will to power, with which account scholars perforce will grapple for years to come. (Peter A. Coclanis, Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

A great contribution to large-scale history: constantly sparkling in its style, humorous, and offering profound new insights. A magnificent book. (Jared Diamond, UCLA, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of the best-sellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse)

Argued with wit and vigor, this ambitious book makes a provocative, multilayered contribution to comparative and transnational history. (Carl J. Guarneri, Journal of Diplomatic History)

About the Author

James Belich is professor of history at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington. He previously held the inaugural Keith Sinclair Chair in History at the University of Auckland, and has held visiting positions at Cambridge, Melbourne, and Georgetown Universities. His earlier books, all award-winners, include a two volume general history of New Zealand, Making Peoples and Paradise Reforged, and The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, winner of the Trevor Reese Prize for an outstanding work of imperial or commonwealth history published in the preceding two years.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 15 April 2010
Have you ever wondered why the Anglosphere has been the world's most successful group of nations for the past several centuries? James Belich has the answers. Unusually, he analyses the American West and the "British West" in tandem. For Belich, the phenomenonal success of English-speaking settlers in Melbourne and Auckland is no less remarkable - and, indeed, bore many of the same causes - as the settlement of California and the American West.

Belich debunks the notion of unique Anglo virtues but he gives equally short shrift to those in post-colonial societies who wilfully distort the past out of embarrassment at their often enthusiastically pro-British histories. He reveals the importance of the colonies' vast land mass to Britain's industrial development, analyses the critical role played by London and New York in developing their respective "Empires" (often for no financial benefit to themselves), and identifies the various stages of colonisation, de-colonisation and re-colonisation. He backs this up with numerous case studies, including non-Anglo settler societies such as Argentina, Brazil and Siberia.

Anyone interested in the English-speaking world will learn a huge amount from this work.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imperial history 17 Sep 2009
A major addition to the historiography of empires, the British one especially. Belich writes convincingly, with authority and gentle humour.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rise & Rise 23 Nov 2009
By Brian Sweeney - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With "Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939", James Belich emboldens his reputation as New Zealand's leading historian. After 25 years of deeply researching and presenting/re-presenting the emergence of Aotearoa New Zealand and its people, indigenous and colonial, and the relationships and politics of each, he turns his narrative towards the rise of the Anglo-World. He combines a grand sweep with meticulous research and a novelist's eye for lateral detail.

Belich was so successful at challenging received historical wisdom in his first book, "The New Zealand Wars" (1987) that his radical take on the 19th century conflict between the British and the Maori has become today's orthodoxy. However, Belich is not a revisionist for the sake of political correctness or provocation. "The New Zealand Wars", in which he awarded a number of pivotal battles to Maori tribes for the first time in (literally) recorded history, was first and foremost a towering feat of historical research.

Belich is a writer who does not allow the density of the subject matter to heavy his prose. This is his thesis: European settlement of the New World came in three successive waves - networks (especially of trade), empire (through conquest), and settlement; that it amounted to a `settler revolution', characterized by the spectacular growth of Anglophone peoples and culture across the globe; and that the settlers themselves were neither heroic nor especially villainous. Belich spells out how British world colonization involved four phases - incremental, explosive, decolonization, and recolonization - each shaped by identifiable social, political and economic forces. He brings forth as persuasive evidence the stories of four famed cities - New York, London, Chicago and Melbourne. (If Melbourne seems out of place, it shouldn't -- as Belich points out, Melbourne in 1890 was a mega-city, boasting a population greater than Madrid and Mexico City and, by a factor of nine, Los Angeles).

His story weaves together strands that are simultaneously riveting on their own and compelling as a whole. In his book "Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century" Belich is at his most compelling when describing the 'protein boom' which saw Maori society grow from three figures to four then five ("Hunters & Gardeners"). (All evolutionary biologists and macroeconomists should study his story technique). In "Replenishing the Earth" Belich stretches this treatment over four great cities and the context of their nations and the world at the time. You might call this "busting out theory" and indeed you could credit Belich as a historian who is "busting out" - reimagining, transforming, reforging.

"Replenishing the Earth" is a tour de force. Belich is well known to New Zealanders as an author and television presenter. He gets standing ovations from his students, and storied prizes from academia in Great Britain. With this wide-angled and keenly-edged book, international audiences who need to know their history will enthrall at discovering a historian and writer at the peak of his investigative power and creativity.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boom boom boom 20 Sep 2010
By Rick W - Published on
A much needed study of the expansion of the English-speaking world in the long 19th century. Pioneers, frontiers, booms, busts, gold rushes, ghost towns, outlaws, natives. This is the stuff that makes up much of the founding mythology of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So why oh why has Belich chosen to hide it beneath such an instantly forgettable title? "Replenishing the Earth"? Both overly grandiose and vacuous - what on earth does it mean? "The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld"? Using two terms from the author's own jargon pool in a subtitle? What - is it there to explain the title to the author himself?

Quibbles on the title aside, this is an excellent work. Belich covers the world from the late 18th to the mid 20th century in his bid to explain why the English-speaking world exploded in the way it did in both population and prosperity, growing from 16 million in 1783 to 200 million in 1939 while also massively increasing in wealth. This is a phenomenon unequalled in world history and one certainly worth examining. The usually given reasons are the relative emptiness of the frontier, the impact of industrialization, and the rush for resources. However Belich points out that the colonies, despite in some cases having existed for up to two hundred years, never came close to booming 19th century style until after 1815 and that the first booms nonetheless occurred before significant adoption of industrial technology. He also argues that gold and other resource rushes only occurred in proximity to booms and enhanced rather than creating them.

So what caused the booms? While Belich does give credit to expansion room, industrialization, and gold rushes, he believes they are not the full picture. Pre-industrial culprits include an increase in efficiency and bulk of transportation networks, an extension of British global trade in response to the Napoleonic Wars, and a change in home country views of the colonies (from places of exile to potential utopias). He argues that in many respects the booms created themselves, like pyramid schemes, dragging in people and resources until the inevitable bust occurred. Busts would generally end in government intervention with the would-be utopia inevitably settling down in its new role supplying some basic good to the homeland (meat, grain, wool, etc). However, unlike pyramid schemes, it was not all for nothing.

Belich finishes off by comparing the different fates of the United States, where the new states were successfully integrated with the east coast homeland, and 'Greater Britain' (UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, NZ), which ultimately drifted apart. He also examines the non-Anglo booms, particularly Argentina and Siberia, for comparison. Overall, a fascinating and thought-provoking read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The epitome of historianship 15 Sep 2012
By Phil Hayward - Published on
I rate this book as "5 star" even though I want to disagree with one of the author's conclusions. I agree with the 2 reviewers who have preceded me, and will not repeat anything they have said, most usefully, as an assessment of the book. This book establishes Belich as a colossus of historianship. He has presented as near-comprehensive a set of data and observations as one could wish for, so that someone like me who might draw a different conclusion to the author himself, can do so using the author's own work. This is true dispassionate historianship, so Belich absolutely deserves 5 stars.

This is simply one of the most educational books you will ever read. Readers will glean insight after insight about subjects that intersect with the main one. For example, I am extremely passionate about the process of socio-economic, path dependent evolution that leads to developed, urbanised economies and a wide spectrum of different city types - I love the work of Fernand Braudel and Colin Clark and Sir Peter Hall. The "big picture" scholarship that is provided by reading this book, is well worth the effort even if you have a distaste (politically correct civilisation self-loathing!) for the central subject. The economic and socio-economic evolution of urban form is enmeshed with the subject, and I constantly picked up points that I was unaware of.

Belich quotes the famous urbanist Lewis Mumford several times and convincingly refines Mumford's points on things such as the progress of civilisation from the technologies of "eo-technic" to "paleo-technic" to "neo-technic".

Belich says, correctly in my view, that Mumford insuffiently identifies the vast flowering of older technologies as the new ones start to be established - for example, "....rail increased the demand for horse transport. More passengers and more freight needed more feeder transport to get to and from the trains. Settler newlands in the nineteenth century featured two full suites of technology, eo-technic and paleo-technic, side by side, and this doubled the action. Log rafts of twelve acres, seven-masted sailing ships, giant wagons with ten-ton loads hauled by twenty span, should be as much symbols of explosive settlement as are steamships and locomotives......"

(Other useful work on this point, i.e. the late flowering of older technologies, will be found in the work of "systems analysts" like Robert Herman, Arnulf Grubler, Cesare Marchetti, and Jesse Ausubel. Older technologies tend to be still rising to "saturation" for decades, even as new ones begin to be established).

Belich points out that early colonies were not based on "exports" - they simply were self contained economies just like Britain itself, only with "growth" itself as an industry. Exporting back to Britain came later, with refrigeration and modern transport. This export-driven phase was actually a "rescue" of the collapsed "growth bubble" condition in which many of the colonies ended up.

One historical reality that could be better known, is that in the pre-internal combustion engine era, as much as one third of croplands were required to feed horses and draught animals. (Belich's reference: Susan Previant Lee and Peter Passell, "A New Economic View of American History"). Because the number of horses greatly increased in cities in conjunction with the flowering of early rail transport (to provide "feeder" transport within the city), it was necessary to dedicate large amounts of land adjacent to the city, to the growing of oats, and to freight bulky supplies of "feed" into cities. The amount of land taken up by "sprawl" subsequent to the advent of the automobile, is still considerably less than the land gained through the elimination of the need to feed horses and indeed other draft animals.

If we go back a few more decades in history, prior to the advent of rail and refrigeration, "road congestion" principally consisted of huge herds of livestock being driven to the city's markets in preparation for killing, butchery, and sale. Further land space surrounding the city was required for temporary "fattening" of livestock that had lost too much weight en route from remoter farming areas. In our obsession with the "negative externalities" of contemporary civilization, we tend to heavily discount, without even being aware of it, the negative externalities of the preceding system. Even New York was described as "one gigantic pigsty" in its pre-automobile history, while London's principal "export" to the surrounding regions for some decades, was animal dung.

One thing contemporary history seems to be quite clear about, is the misery of industrial revolution conditions in Britain, and yet, the misery of the rural subsistence that preceded it was even worse.

Emigrating to wide open spaces allowed people to have the best of both worlds: rapid economic-technological progress and "urbanisation", but with the ability to live in far healthier conditions within their limited means. Owning sufficient land to be able to own and maintain your own horse was an impossibility for most people in Britain. The rate of horse ownership in the colonies anticipated society's later "love affair with the car".

Low cost land and business premises provided massive opportunity for entrepreneurship that generally remained unrealised under "old country" conditions. It also provided far greater opportunity to "provide a future for one's family", than a future trapped in the urban "rich get richer, poor get poorer" net. Karl Marx was actually right under conditions where only a few own most or all urban land, because rising incomes always just force up rents. Mobility, either via widespread horse ownership (as in the colonial economies) or later, universally, by automobiles, destroys the "tyranny of rent" and enables the democratisation of land ownership.

Feeding rising urban populations prior to refrigeration and modern transport always hit its own limits. Emigration allowed people to escape the inevitable famines and plagues. It is a question whether "progress" would have been anywhere near as rapid without this "spreading out" of enterprising people. It is worth noting here, that the economist Everett Hagen made a remarkable study, in the book "On the Theory of Social Change; How Economic Growth Begins", of the introducers of industrial innovations in late 18th-century England, a critical period of economic growth. Almost all, he found, were of "dissenting" religions; that is, Protestants who nevertheless rejected the established Church of England. Hagen attempted to explain this correlation, all the more remarkable because of the numerical minority of the dissenters, in terms of the kind of mind that would both dissent and be inventive. But surely this misses the point. History has not lacked dissenting minds, what it had lacked up till the Reformation, was non-establishment churches in which this kind of mind could come to full flower.

Matthew Parris, in his remarkable recent essay entitled, "As an Atheist, I Honestly Believe Africa Needs God", notes that ".......Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework.....(of) tribal belief.....(which) is no more peaceable than ours; and (which) suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the "big man" and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the literal inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition. Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders......"

This matches Belich's observation about "The Black English" (the Protestant Christian converts among the natives) in his section of that name; these people tended to be just as enterprising, entrepreneurial, thrifty, and successful as the Colonisers themselves.

My disagreement with Belich's conclusions, is that he explicitly disagrees with previous authors who place great importance on the role of "culture" - in this case, "dissenting" Protestantism, in the phenomenon he is writing about - but he provides ample evidence for anyone who wants to draw the conclusion that culture does indeed matter. As I say, this is true historianship.

For example:

According to W. E. Van Vugt in "Britain to America: Mid Nineteenth Century Immigrants to the United States"; between 1845 and 1855, two thirds of British emigrants were "non conformist" - 20% Presbyterian - with only 12.6 per cent from the Anglican majority.

The following books in addition to the one immediately above, are cited by Belich as supporting the argument that non-conformists and Methodists in particular, featured disproportionately in the great Anglo migrations of the 19th century:

Elizabeth Cooper: "Religion, Politics and Money: The Methodist Union of 1832-1833"
Geoffrey Serle: "The Golden Age: A History of the Colony of Victoria 1851 - 61"
Don Wright and Eric Clancy: "The Methodists: A History of Methodism in New South Wales"
Lawrence H. Larsen: "The Urban West and the End of the Frontier"
Mark A. Noll: "A History of Christianity in The United States and Canada"
Christopher Adamson: "God's Continent Divided"
J.C. Deming and M.S. Hamilton: "Methodist Revivalism in France, Canada and the United States"
G.A. Rawlyk and M.A. Noll "Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States"
Richard Carwardine: "Trans-Atlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America 1790 - 1865"

James Belich tries to play down this aspect of the unique vigour of the great Anglo migrations and procreation of which he is writing, by presenting alternative theses and noting the absence of similar migrations from nations equally as Protestant as Britain, but perhaps misses the point that Edmund Burke made when speaking to the British parliament in defence of the U.S. revolutionaries:

".....Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it. I do not think, Sir, that the reason of this averseness in the dissenting churches, from all that looks like absolute government, is so much to be sought in their religious tenets, as in their history. Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed......"

Belich does note that Dutch and Germans and Scandinavians and other "white European" races were popular with Anglo majorities in the Colonies (he refers to them as "the honorary English"), as compatible with their own society, in contrast to the suspicion with which Catholic Irish and southern Europeans, Orthodox Eastern Europeans, and unconverted pagans were regarded. Belich ascribes this somewhat to a kind of racial superiority complex, perhaps failing to credit the feature that many of these immigrants were in fact dissenters from the "established" church in their own lands, just as the most of the British settlers were from Anglicanism. Christianised pagans were, however, referred to in some regions as "the Black English", and Belich gives a section of the book, this title.

Perhaps Belich deserves credit, though, for titling his book with a scriptural quotation that in fact was a strong influence on the thinking of the migrants, and Belich notes this in the book. He also notes that "......the point of the (evangelical) revivals was to stimulate personal change....."

One wonders whether that for Belich to have dared to endorse the "cultural" narrative, would have risked too much backlash from the anti-Christian, Marxist-materialist history department/educational/publishing "establishment".

One of the modern Left's successful lies in the historical narrative it has largely imposed in modern institutions of learning, has been to portray the "Anglo Settler Revolution" in terms of "imperialism" when in fact a major part of it consisted of "religious refugees". This insight helps very much, in getting an accurate picture of why the USA in particular is what it is.

Had the USA's founding fathers truly been what the Left wishfully claim them to have been - kind of "Jacobin-Lite" enlightenment secularists - there is no way that the USA would have ended up as the kind of nation it did. There is a far higher chance that it would have ended up like a disastrous blend of France's colonies, Latin America, and the later USSR. Of course the kind of "culture" that the colonials brought with them was crucial. So I will end this review by recommending M. Stanton Evans' book "The Theme is Freedom", another reference-laden work of historianship of "colossus" proportions, as the other unique book everyone needs to read to see why a different conclusion to Belich's can be drawn from the historical material that Belich himself so ably provides.
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