Wednesday, August 26, 2009

James Belich's "Replenishing the Earth"

James Belich is professor of history at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington. He previously held the inaugural Keith Sinclair Chair in History at the University of Auckland, and has held visiting positions at Cambridge, Melbourne, and Georgetown Universities. His earlier books, all award-winners, include a two volume general history of New Zealand, Making Peoples and Paradise Reforged, and The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, winner of the Trevor Reese Prize for an outstanding work of imperial or commonwealth history published in the preceding two years.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 test does not work too well for my new book, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-world, 1783-1939. My Page 99 is of course mostly endnotes, which are no-one’s favourite reading. But they are necessary to back up the book’s sweeping new claims about the shaping of the modern world, particularly the English-speaking world. The Anglophones, I argue, were the prime beneficiaries of a forgotten “Settler Revolution”, which repopulated roughly half the world in the 19th century.

Ten pages back (oh for page 89, not page 99) you’ll find a summary of the form the settler revolution took, in a neat table. Twenty great ‘rounds’ of frontier boom and bust rollicked across America’s Great West and across Britain’s far-flung settler ‘wests’: Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Ten pages forward (oh, for page 109, not 99) – you get a description of how old and new technologies worked alongside each other for a time to create revolutionary new means of mass transfer: of people, money, ideas, and status.

But Page 99 does have a few lines of text, perched above the endnotes, and they do hint at the broader thesis and the hard questions it tries to answer.

“We need to explain why settlement took off in 1815, before industrialization in general and steam transport in particular could provide much help. Just to make matters more difficult, we need to ensure that our explanation works for both British and American Wests, and possibly other ‘wests’ as well, in both the age of sail and the age of rail. Still worse, we have compatibly to explain not only the general take-off of 1815, but also the ongoing rounds of boom and bust. The next three chapters address these issues”.
Read more about Replenishing the Earth at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue