Empire, Incorporated

he Corporations That Built British Colonialism

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Pub Date 16 May 2023 | Archive Date 16 May 2023

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Description

An award-winning historian places the corporation—more than the Crown—at the heart of British colonialism, arguing that companies built and governed global empire, raising questions about public and private power that were just as troubling four hundred years ago as they are today.

Across four centuries, from Ireland to India, the Americas to Africa and Australia, British colonialism was above all the business of corporations. Corporations conceived, promoted, financed, and governed overseas expansion, making claims over territory and peoples while ensuring that British and colonial society were invested, quite literally, in their ventures. Colonial companies were also relentlessly controversial, frequently in debt, and prone to failure. The corporation was well-suited to overseas expansion not because it was an inevitable juggernaut but because, like empire itself, it was an elusive contradiction: public and private; person and society; subordinate and autonomous; centralized and diffuse; immortal and precarious; national and cosmopolitan—a legal fiction with very real power.

Breaking from traditional histories in which corporations take a supporting role by doing the dirty work of sovereign states in exchange for commercial monopolies, Philip Stern argues that corporations took the lead in global expansion and administration. Whether in sixteenth-century Ireland and North America or the Falklands in the early 1980s, corporations were key players. And, as Empire, Incorporated makes clear, venture colonialism did not cease with the end of empire. Its legacies continue to raise questions about corporate power that are just as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.

Challenging conventional wisdom about where power is held on a global scale, Stern complicates the supposedly firm distinction between private enterprise and the state, offering a new history of the British Empire, as well as a new history of the corporation.

Philip J. Stern is a historian of the British Empire and the author of the award-winning book The Company-State. He is Associate Professor of History at Duke University.

An award-winning historian places the corporation—more than the Crown—at the heart of British colonialism, arguing that companies built and governed global empire, raising questions about public and...


Advance Praise

“Brilliant, ambitious, and often surprising. With great clarity and remarkable archival reach, Stern convincingly argues that it was joint-stock ‘venture colonialism’ that financed and drove the earliest attempts at establishing Tudor and Elizabethan colonies from Ulster to Spitsbergen, Virginia to ‘Cathay,’ and even a Puritan Republic of the Bahamas. A remarkable contribution to the current global debate about Empire and a small masterpiece of research and conceptual reimagining.”—William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

“This is an extraordinary book of great erudition and vast scope. Stern has written the definitive work on how the British Empire was driven by the joint-stock company and the legal device of incorporation. This remarkable account of a dizzying number of corporations that drove imperial expansion will be unrivaled for many years to come.”—Andrew Fitzmaurice, author of King Leopold’s Ghost Writer: The Creation of Persons and States in the Nineteenth Century

“Stern has written the most important book on the history of the company in the English-speaking world in over a century. Empire, Incorporated is a gift for historians and general readers alike. Lawyers and investment bankers—always looking for the next clever idea to structure a deal or a new commercial entity—will delight in all the examples this book provides, and profit from the cautionary tales that abound.”—Paul Halliday, author of Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire

“Brilliant, ambitious, and often surprising. With great clarity and remarkable archival reach, Stern convincingly argues that it was joint-stock ‘venture colonialism’ that financed and drove the...


Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780674988125
PRICE $35.00 (USD)
PAGES 368

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