Unfolding Empire in Adam Matthew Digitalâ€™s Colonial America.
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vision and the skill and dedication of the staff in providing accessible, machine readable facsimiles of original historical documents.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 disposalâ€”at our finger tipsâ€”a cornucopia of sources scarce imaginable in previous generations. But what it means for historiography may be less obvious.
"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 â€”the expansion of colonial governments and societies, demographic change, economic expansion, the French and Indian War, settlement of the interior, the consolidation of slaveryâ€”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 schoolsâ€”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 centuryâ€”its functions and operationsâ€”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.