Unfolding Empire in Adam Matthew Digital’s Colonial America.

05 September 2018

Empire and Globalism | History | Politics

Dr Colin Nicolson is a history lecturer at the University of Stirling and editor of The Papers of Francis Bernard. He has published numerous books and articles on the Imperial Crisis of 1765-76 and he has contributed an essay on this subject for the fourth module of Colonial America: Legislation and Politics in the Colonies.

Adam Matthew Digital's Colonial America is a magnificent achievement, testimony to the company's vision and the skill and dedication of the staff in providing accessible, machine readable facsimiles of original historical documents. As a research resource, it is unquestionably enriching the research process. Together with printed collections, online repositories, and archival collections, scholars today have opportunities to scope projects on larger scales. The publication of module IV, covering the proceedings and legislation of the continental American Colonies, enables intercolonial comparative research like no other resource. From a desktop, scholars can browse the journals of the assemblies, council deliberations, and legislative acts of the colonies from New Hampshire to Georgia. Add to that the correspondence of governors and generals, documents enclosed with letters such as accounts, depositions, maps, memorials, newspapers, pamphlets, petitions, and so on. We can follow the escalation in colonial protests, from the Stamp Act riots of 1765 to the dramatic historical turning points of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and the onset of military hostilities eighteen months later. We historians have at our immediate disposal—at our finger tips—a cornucopia of sources scarce imaginable in previous generations. But what it means for historiography may be less obvious.

Part of the August 1754 minutes of the Virginia Assembly discussing French acting in “open contempt and violation of the treaties now subsisting between the crowns of Great Britain and France…committing the most violent hostile act, by attacking our forces…”. In the Virginia: Minutes of the Council, 22 Aug - 5 Sep 1754. Image © The National Archives London, UK. To see this document in the collection click the image.

"It is the nature of great events to obscure the great events that came before them," American historian Francis Parkman, once advised, when writing of the British and French struggle to dominate the American content (Montcalm and Wolf, 1884) . The "great events" preceding the American Revolution —the expansion of colonial governments and societies, demographic change, economic expansion, the French and Indian War, settlement of the interior, the consolidation of slavery—might seem disconnected from political narratives. Module IV helps scholars connect with each of these "great events." The French and Indian War that fascinated Parkman, the commercial expansion of the American Colonies that occupied historians of the imperial school in the early twentieth century, and the ideologies and internal conflicts investigated by more recent scholars of of the neo-whigs and neo-progressive schools—all might be explored in Colonial America: Legislation and Politics in the Colonies. More than that, Colonial America facilitates a "neo-imperial" perspective on colonial government during the eighteenth century—its functions and operations—and the struggles of imperial officials to enforce imperial power and authority in the decades preceding the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. We have, more than ever, the capabilities to examine the dynamics of the imperial relationship as it unfolded.

Extract from a letter to the British Board of Trade from the Viriginian Lieutenant Governor, 15 Aug. 1754, reporting Washington's engagement with French forces on 27 May (in "Jumonville's Glen"), referred to here as the "small Skirmish" but which started the French and Indian War. In Letters to and from Robert Dinwiddie about Virginian relations with the French and Indians along the Ohio River. Image © The National Archives London, UK. To see this document in the collection click the image.

Colonial America: Modules I-IV are available now. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Dr Colin Nicolson

Dr Colin Nicolson

Dr Colin Nicolson is a history lecturer at the University of Stirling and editor of The Papers of Francis Bernard. He has published books and articles on the Imperial Crisis of 1765-76, the American Revolution, the American Loyalists, John Adams, and Massachusetts.

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