Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rothschild, The Inner Life of Empires

Princeton University Press has released The Inner Life of Empires:
 An Eighteenth-Century History, by 
Emma Rothschild (Harvard).  It caught my eye because of Rothschild's creative use of legal records, among other sources.

The Press describes the book as follows:
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.
Here are a few of the blurbs:
"Tracing the lives of a single Scottish family whose eleven siblings roamed the globe to seek their fortunes, Emma Rothschild has explored the great elements of the eighteenth-century world: empire, politics, slavery, warfare, and Enlightenment thought and sensibility. An extraordinary book, weaving back and forth between microhistory and the greater world, it is based on archival research on three continents, written with literary grace, and inspired by a sensitive historical imagination." --Bernard Bailyn, Adams University Professor, emeritus, Harvard University
"This is an important and original book. Based on a wealth of archival research--much of which has been neglected by previous historians--The Inner Life of Empires looks at the Johnstone family to explore issues of British imperialism. It makes a critical intervention in the history of intimacy and interiority, and poses a series of challenges to concepts of the public and private. A wonderful read." --Margot Finn, Warwick University
The Introduction and TOC are available here.

Hat tip: bookforum