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Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire
France in the Americas and Africa, c.1750–1802

Part of New Studies in European History

  • Date Published: August 2020
  • availability: Not yet published - available from
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108716413


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About the Authors
  • Exploring the myriad efforts to strengthen colonial empire that unfolded in response to France's imperial crisis in the second half of the eighteenth century, Pernille Røge examines how political economists, colonial administrators, planters, and entrepreneurs shaped the recalibration of empire in the Americas and in Africa alongside the intensification of the French Caribbean plantation complex. Emphasising the intellectual contributions of the Economistes (also known as the Physiocrats) to formulate a new colonial doctrine, the book highlights the advent of an imperial discourse of commercial liberalisation, free labour, agricultural development, and civilisation. With her careful documentation of the reciprocal impacts of economic ideas, colonial policy and practices, Røge also details key connections between Ancien Régime colonial innovation and the French Revolution's republican imperial agenda. The result is a novel perspective on the struggles to reinvent colonial empire in the final decades of the Ancien Régime and its influences on the French Revolution and beyond.

    • Offers a fresh interpretation of the French colonial empire in the late eighteenth century
    • Explores continuities between France's first and second colonial empires
    • Will appeal broadly to historians of economic thought, colonial policy and practice, and the Age of Revolutions
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'For some time, historians have been searching for the links between the first and second French colonial Empires. Røge finds a compelling set of answers in the critique of plantation slavery and empire developed by the Physiocrats beginning in the mid eighteenth century.' Paul Cheney, University of Chicago

    'This ambitious and original book illuminates the emergence of a new vision of empire in eighteenth-century France, explaining how physiocratic ideas informed colonial policy during and after the French Revolution. Røge's rigorous analysis makes important contributions to the history of political economy as she traces the transition of empire from the Caribbean to Africa.' Michael Kwass, The Johns Hopkins University

    'A complete reinterpretation of the dynamics of the French colonial empire. Delving into abundant first-hand material, Røge reveals the true importance of West Africa in rethinking French imperial expansion after the Seven Years' War. She brilliantly bridges the colonial orientations of the Ancien Regime and of the First Republic, revealing the enduring influence of the Physiocrats. A fascinating and successful historical enquiry.' François-Joseph Ruggiu, Sorbonne Université, France

    'An elegant and subtle re-interpretation of the ideological origins of modern French imperialism: rather than a product of nineteenth-century republicanism, the book shows France's new imperial project had its roots in Old Regime ideas and practices. The balance between change and continuity and the appreciation of interactions between the imperial centre and the colonial peripheries are remarkable.' David Todd, King's College London

    'The physiocrats (or économistes), market-oriented economic reformers of France's late Ancien Régime, have recently drawn increasing attention from historians. In this insightful study, Røge argues that physiocratic writings on empire in the pre-Revolutionary period helped shape a republican vision of empire as mission civilisatrice, an idea that would reach its apogee under the Third Republic … Highly recommended.' D. A. Harvey, Choice

    '… the findings presented in this book indeed shall lead us to re-evaluate the importance of physiocracy … a major contribution to scholarship on both colonial and Enlightenment history.' Damien Tricoire, Connections

    'Røge's work will assuredly change the way we think about the Physiocrats - no small merit. In the discriminating account it offers of the place of ideas in political context it will be a model for others to emulate.' John Shovlin, Global Intellectual History

    '… this is a stimulating and original book.' Richard Whatmore and Gabriel Sabbagh, History of European Ideas

    '… Pernille Roge's book on the influence of physiocratic thought on slavery and French colonialism, Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire: France in the Americas and Africa, c. 1750–1802, is a welcome event … the originality of Røge's work is that it covers a range of topics, including slavery, French navigation laws (the Exclusif), foreign policy, conflicts between planters and merchants, abstract political economy, and action on the ground … elegant and robustly argued.' Liana Vardi, American Historical Review

    'Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire offers a welcome and surprisingly revelatory change of perspective by pulling the Physiocrats from the familiar context of the Flour Wars to consider their thinking on matters international and imperial.' Rebecca L. Spang, The William and Mary Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108716413
    • length: 312 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.4kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus. 5 maps
    • availability: Not yet published - available from
  • Table of Contents

    1. A colonial empire in crisis
    2. Empire beyond the mercantile system
    3. Between enslaved territories and overseas provinces
    4. Supplying or supplanting the Americas
    5. A revolutionary crescendo
    Conclusion: Ancien Régime legacies.

  • Author

    Pernille Røge, University of Pittsburgh
    Pernille Røge is Assistant Professor of History and convener of the Early Modern Worlds Initiative at the University of Pittsburgh. She is author of numerous articles and book chapters on the eighteenth-century French, Danish, and British colonial empires. She is also co-editor of The Political Economy of Empire in the Early Modern World (2013), with Sophus Reinert, and of the International Review of Social History's special issue on 'Free and Unfree Labor in Atlantic and Indian Ocean Port Cities (Seventeenth–Nineteenth Centuries)', with Pepijn Brandon and Niklas Frykman.

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