Linda Colley writes:
British-based historians are increasingly likely to find sections of their own past being rewritten and revised by overseas scholars in different, sometimes uncomfortable, but generally fruitful ways. James Belich is a New Zealander of Croatian descent, and his book is an argument against both British and American historical exceptionalism and parochialism. At one level, Replenishing the Earth helps to explain why the ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ people of England and its adjacent countries were usually kept within political bounds after the 1780s, despite exponential population growth and an explosion of new ideas and economic stresses. As Belich demonstrates, this was due not simply to the contrivances of political actors within Britain, but also to the fact that substantial numbers of its potentially ‘dangerous’ people moved somewhere else. Before the 1780s, British settlement overseas had lagged behind Spanish emigration to the Americas and elsewhere. But ‘after 1780, and especially after 1815’, ‘Anglos’ drew ‘ahead in the settler races’. Whereas some half a million souls emigrated from the ‘British Isles’ in the 18th century, at least 25 million did so between 1815 and 1924, of whom some 18 million never returned. A parallel mass movement of human beings occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. Before 1776, London had restricted westwards migration from its mainland American colonies, in the hope both of maintaining peace with indigenous peoples and of keeping a close eye on its own white settlers. But after the Revolution, American movement westwards surged, not steadily, but in explosive bursts. Between 1815 and 1930, 12 million American-born individuals migrated to the middle and western regions of their continent. So did millions of others born elsewhere. In 1830, Chicago contained half a dozen houses and a few Indian tepees. Sixty years later, it was home to more than a million people.