This fourth volume explores the intersections and transformations of empire in the late 17th and 18th centuries: an age of “Enlightenment” understood here both as a product of these new forces and as a matrix shaping their emergence and development. As innovative ideas transformed warfare, commerce and agriculture, the great “universal” empires confronted new capitalist forces that both splintered and reinforced imperial relations across the globe. Dutch, English and French trading companies backed by state power increasingly overtook the imperial ascendency of Spain and Portugal, while Ottoman and Russian territorial expansion slowed or halted. Commodities and capital circulated in new ways, along with people and ideas, yet that mobility was hardly a free exchange. The new forces found their first great expression in the global trade in human labour that transformed communities, environments and social relations in Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Above all, A Cultural History of Western Empires in the Age of Enlightenment reveals the profound imprint left by the Atlantic slave trade on global conceptions of race, sexuality and power, and the burgeoning imperial rivalry, resentment and resistance that contributed to the explosion of revolutionary change at the end of the 18th century.