State formation and European expansion

People Involved

Dr Andrew Fitzmaurice

Project overview

Western societies and formerly colonised peoples have been profoundly concerned by the degree to which Europeans were culturally and politically propelled to conquer and colonise. Historians and post-colonial theorists have revealed intricate links between European culture and its colonial possessions.

Yet for all the compelling evidence (which is hotly contested), it remains a moot point whether colonisation was a necessary or an accidental aspect of modern European history. The smoking gun, to use current parlance, has not been produced. The aim of this project is to explore whether European ‘expansion’ was inherent to the emergence of the European state.

Project Details

There is a smoking gun. It is widely accepted that the ideologies of grandezza (or greatness) and raison d’état were fundamental to the emergence of the modern state. They were also fundamental to the advancement of colonisation. In early modern England, the works of the great European theorists of grandezza – Bodin, Boccalini, and above all, Botero – were published and translated in support of the advancement and legitimation of the modern English state.

Historians have completely overlooked two crucial aspects to the reception of this body of work:

  1. Thematically it is deeply concerned with colonisation as a central means of achieving grandezza;
  2. The people responsible for the reception of this state-forming literature in England were central figures in early modern English colonisation.

For these colonial leaders, the processes of state formation were ideologically equivalent to the reasons for colonisation. Not only was colonisation inherent to the formation of states, but the state, the fundamental political unit of modern western societies, was produced in part by empires.


Australian Research Council Discovery project Grant 2005-2006