Modules for History Lessons
Economic Aspects of Colonialism: A Caribbean Case Study
Introduction to the Module
Colonialism was driven by economics and connected with the exploitation and management of people and natural resources. There were many trading networks in existence around the world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and although Britain participated in many of them, including those in China and India, it was anchored by European ones. The reasons for this were a number of factors such as historical trade relations, religious links and finance. In terms of finance, it is important to understand that the expansion of Britain’s overseas territories, particularly in the Caribbean, required significant investment and the money provided by European lenders in places like Amsterdam brought Britain into a closer alignment with Europe’s economic systems.
As the economic productivity of Britain’s colonies increased, so too did their interactions with European financial networks, with local and foreign investors, with banks and with merchant houses. British colonialism in the Caribbean was characterised by the exploitation of slave labour, and increased investment there enabled British business to expand and diversify. Like other European countries with colonies in this region, British businessmen and -women used the slaves they owned, who were mostly from Africa, to produce sugar and other profitable products like rum, indigo, salt and coffee. As the British public’s reliance on colonial wealth and these products grew, the British government benefitted from the increased tax revenue that came from sales and the import and export trade. Broader benefits also came from the...
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