Belich, James. Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939.

Author:Harris, Cristian A.
Position:Book review
 
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Belich, James. Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. x + 573 pages. Cloth, $50.00.

"Why does so much of the world speak English?" That is the central question behind historian James Belich's Replenishing the Earth, an impressive comparative account of the settler experience in the nineteenth century and the rise of the Anglo-world. Truth be told, there were similar settler experiences during this period: the French in Algeria, the Russians in Siberia, the Chinese in Manchuria, and Italian and Spanish immigrants in Argentina. However, in a matter of factual style remarkable for its elegance and absence of chauvinism, Belich discusses how international relations following the Napoleonic Wars came to be dominated by two English-speaking superpowers: Great Britain and the United States.

The Anglo-world is a geographically fragmented unit comprised of Great Britain, the United States, and the self-governing Dominions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa). There is a further crucial analytical distinction between the old lands (Great Britain and the eastern seaboard of the United States) and the new lands (Australia, New Zealand, Canada's Ontario and the Prairie Provinces, and the mid-west, central, and western regions of the United States): The old lands were better able to integrate their new lands, and, in the case of the United States, successfully decolonized in economic terms from Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century.

The forces at play behind the Industrial Revolution and a non-industrial technological revolution based on wind, water, and work animals combined to launch a mass transfer of people and support the rise of the Anglo-language world. This is a critical distinction necessary to answer why other settler experiences did not come to dominate the world economy. There is no inevitable path here: areas were colonized, recolonized, and decolonized, busts followed booms everywhere. There is no core exploiting the periphery; in fact, for Belich, exploitation was mutual.

The style of this book is witty and lively. At times, it is hard to keep up with the nuances of different, yet similar sounding terms. If I have to select a unique idea in this book, it would be the author's explanation of the settler transition and the construction of a settler ideology. At the heart of his thesis is the assertion that a crucial...

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