Cain-Hopkins After 20 Years

23 08 2012

In 1993, Peter Cain and Tony Hopkins published a really important pair of books on the political economy of the British Empire. In British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688-1914 (London: Longman, 1993 and  British Imperialism: Crisis and Deconstruction, 1914-1990 (London: Longman, 1993), Cain and Hopkins advanced a new framework for understanding how the British Empire was run. Which interest groups had the most influence over British policy? Was it Britian’s manufacturers or farmers? According to Cain and Hopkins,  the “gentlemanly capitalist” financiers of the City of London were the ones with their hands on the steering wheel.

The Cain-Hopkins “gentlemanly capitalist theory” of Empire initiated a lively debate about structural power that engaged scholars around the globe. See  Raymond E. Dumett, Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Imperialism: The New Debate on Empire(London: Longman, 1999) and  Shigeru Akita, Gentlemanly Capitalism, Imperialism, and Global History (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). It also  inspired a whole body of historical research by younger scholars. Speaking personaly, I can say that their theory was absolutely fundamental to my 2005 PhD thesis, which was on the role of British gentlemanly capitalists in Canadian Confederation in the 1860s. There are scholars around the globe who owe similar debts to Cain and Hopkins.

A few months ago, I was honoured when I was asked to be on a panel called “Cain and Hopkins 20 years on.” The panel will be taking place on Saturday, 9 November at the North American Conference on British Studies in Montreal.  The other participants are:

Chair/Comment:Michael Collins, University College, London.

Tony Hopkins, University of Texas at Austin,”Expanding the Horizons of ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism'”

Peter Cain, Sheffield Hallam University, “Situating ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism’ Then and Now”

Margo Finn, University College London “Gentlemanly Capitalism and the Colonial Family: Sexing up the Economics of Empire”

Andrew Smith, Coventry University, “Gentlemanly Capitalism, Business Culture, and Comparative Business History”

I’m really looking forward to this panel.





Historian Peter Cain on European Attitudes to China

18 09 2009

Historian Peter J. Cain has an excellent new paper on the History and Policy website.  The paper is called “China, globalisation and the west: A British debate, 1890 – 1914”.

Other papers on economic-historical themes at History and Policy include:  “The ‘credit crunch’ and the importance of trust” by Geoffrey Hosking; “Equality and incentive: fiscal politics from Gladstone to Brown” by Martin Daunton; and “The real lesson for developing countries from the history of the developed world: ‘freedom to choose'” by Ha-Joon Chang. (I like how Chang’s paper title makes an allusion to this man).

The website, by the way, is designed to bring relevant historical research to the attention of policy-makers. John Tosh outlines the mission of the History and Policy here. The History and Policy website has inspired a group of Canadian scholars to establish a similar project called ActiveHistory. The Canadian project is evidently in its early stages but looks very promising.