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The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700

1. The Empire Project

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About this Lecture


In this module, we provide a broad overview of how we should think about the British Empire, focusing in particular on: (i) the concept of the British Empire as an ambition or a project rather than a reality of co-ordinated and closely-managed British power; (ii) John Darwin's characterisation of the British Empire in his 2009 book, The Empire Project; (iii) five key drivers that led to the various overseas activities in the period 1500-1700 – dynastic interest, discovery, trade, capital and settlement; (iv) the extent to which these overseas activities should be though about as a connected whole; and (v) the four kinds of turning-points that change the character of (what later becomes described as) the British Empire.


In this course, Professor Michael Braddick (University of Sheffield) explores the origins of the British Empire between 1500-1700. In the first module, we provide some thoughts on how we as historians can best approach such a complex historical phenomenon as the British Empire. In the four modules that follow that, we trace development in four distinct periods – the Tudors (1500-1603), the early Stuarts (1603-40), the civil war(s) and interregnum (1640-1660), and the Restoration (1660-1700). In each case, we think about key developments in what kinds of activities were taking place, where they were taking place, the extent to which the government was involved in these activities, the role of capital and investment, and the overall 'vision' (if any) of what was going on. In the sixth and final module, we provide some more thoughts on how to think about the development of the British Empire, and offer some suggestions for how the kinds of analyses seen in this course can be fruitfully applied to the development of the Empire from 1700 onwards.


Michael Braddick is a Professor of History at the University of Sheffield. Before that, he was Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama and Assistant Professor at Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama. He has held fellowships from the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation and a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. He has also held visiting scholarships at the Huntington Library, California, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, and an ARC distinguished visiting fellowship at the University of Adelaide.

He is the author of five books and around 40 chapters and articles, dealing with aspects of state formation, the English revolution and forms of political engagement and agency in early modern England, Ireland and the British Atlantic. He is also editor or co-editor of nine essay collections, three special editions of academic journals and of a major edition of seventeenth century letters.

His most recent publications are: The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution, God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars, Popular Culture and Political Agency in Early Modern England and Ireland (co-edited with Phil Withington), Suffering and Happiness in England 1550-1850: Narratives and Representations (co-edited with Jo Innes), as well as an edited collection on The politics of gesture: historical perspectives.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Braddick, M. (2021, February 21). The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700 - The Empire Project [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Braddick, M. "The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700 – The Empire Project." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Feb 2021,