Britain's Empire and the Economy

Stylised blue-green photos of a monk, a pixellated dog, a close-up spore, a person on a hill, a toy robot and a banana wrapped in chains

This lecture series considers the role of the empire in the growth and development of the British economy. 

Why did Asia, with levels of income that were similar or even superior to Europe, diverge from Europe from the end of the Middle Ages and even more from 1800? What role did trade with India play in British economic development? Did Britain drain wealth from India and impoverish its economy, as argued by nationalist critics? To what extent did Atlantic slavery and plantations underpin the industrial revolution?

These issues were deeply contested in the past between slave owners and abolitionists, between critics and defenders of British rule in India – and they remain controversial in the present.

Who gained and who lost within the metropole and the empire?