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The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History

por Emma Rothschild

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983273,230 (3.08)3
"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"--… (mais)
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A frustrating book in that there's a mass of information but the author has trouble organizing it and in her attempt to do so repeats certain themes over and over and also spends too much time talking about the nature of this micro history and difficulties in gathering information. Despite these faults, it does give a picture of the times and the nature of some lives during that time. ( )
  snash | Oct 17, 2018 |
This is an interesting look at the 18th-century through the perspective of the Johnstone family, who lived throughout the British empire and who were both slaveholders and abolitionists, soldiers and merchants. I'll admit that I struggled to keep all the family members straight (11 children in one family!) and that the most interesting characters were not the Johnstones themselves but those who surrounded them. The story of Bell or Belinda will likely stay with me for quite some time, as will the little tidbits about David Hume and Adam Smith. This is a great book to read for those interested in better understanding the 18th-century British empire. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | May 13, 2018 |
After reading several extremely complimentary reviews of Emma Rothschild's The Inner Life of Empires (Princeton University Press, 2011) I ordered up a copy and waited in anticipation for it to arrive so I could dig in. I enjoy very much the concept of microhistorical perspective, and Rothschild's effort, to focus on the far-flung brothers and sisters of a single family, the Scottish-born Johnstones, seemed likely to work well.

The Johnstones saw it all: four of the brothers ended up in the House of Commons, several traveled to various reaches of the empire (India, the Caribbean, North America), there were complicated inheritance suits and legal cases of grave import, and a not-insignificant body of correspondence both between the family and with their many acquaintances to draw on. Cameo appearances are made by a whole host of figures, everyone from James McPherson (of Ossian fame) to James Boswell, Alexander Wedderburn, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Dave Hume, and many others.

Certain sections of this book were extremely well executed. Rothschild has clearly done her research, mining the archives for every scrap of evidence about the family and their activities, and documenting it well (the notes, which are lovely, take up 150 pages). What she has not done, however, is make the disparate parts of her story into a cohesive whole. Information is repeated (sometimes three or even four times), and the book is separated into short chunks of text which severely restrict the possibility of any narrative flow. The family's story, and how it fits into the larger cultural, political, and economical life of the period, gets lost amidst the repetition.

I hoped, quite honestly, for more from this book. The idea is a wonderful one, the Johnstone family works perfectly as a case study, and the information is there. Some additional attention from a skilled editor might have made it a great book. Instead, I'm sorry to say it was a disappointment.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-review-inner-life-of-empires.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jul 10, 2011 |
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The latest historian of Scotland's imperial salad days is Emma Rothschild, a Harvard history professor hitherto known for her scholarship on that most eminent Scot, Adam Smith. Ms. Rothschild's "The Inner Life of Empires" offers us a fascinating tour of Scottish society during the age of empire, and it does so from a unique perspective. Ms. Rothschild has written a "micro-history," a mode of scholarship that attempts to elucidate large historical themes by closely narrating the small history of a particular individual. Her micro-history is not about an individual but a family. The book is unusually well-researched and wide-ranging.
 
That seeking out of narratives that are almost lost, the honorable attempt at reconciling the messages from the past: there is the fascination—and that is the pleasure for me in Emma Rothschild’s The Inner Life of Empires.

Sitting in the Edinburgh University Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Room in 2002, as Rothschild explained to me by email, she was pursuing a paper trail about Adam Smith. That led her to one John Johnstone of Fife, and John Johnstone pointed her to a letter-book of his brother James. Thus Rothschild began to listen—I have always thought of it that way—to the messages, some whispered, some declared loudly, sent across the centuries from an extensive and fascinating family who lived at the margins of history’s elite during the British Empire’s 18th-century expansion.
adicionada por sduff222 | editarLibrary Journal, Margaret Heilbrun (Feb 15, 2011)
 
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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"--

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