Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Administrators of Empire

Book Cover

Book Title

Administrators of Empire (Series: An Expanding World Vol. 22) Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998


Burkholder, Mark A. (ed.) and John Leddy Phelan


The book is part of a series which covers a specific aspect of the European initiative and reaction across time and space. It is a reference for the study of European presence beyond Europe in the early modern period, interaction with non-Europeans, and experiences of peoples of other continents, religions and races in relation to Europe and Europeans. The series highlights revisionist interpretations and new approaches to what has been called 'the expansion of Europe' and whose historiography traditionally bore the hallmarks of a narrowly Eurocentric perspective, while focusing on widening the scope of this European role to more than those characterized by dominance, conquest and control.

This volume is a collection of articles which illustrate the assortment of imperial administrators, the methods they had used to secure office, some of the pressures they experienced, and the opportunities they had enjoyed as office holders. While Despite variations in the physical size and populations of the conquered and settled territories, they still demanded significant differences in the complexity and extent of the colonial bureaucracies. As such, all drew on institutions and personnel from the mother country and provided for executive, judicial, legislative and taxation responsibilities. The book allows for the comparison between the colonial powers, as well as the criteria for the employment of the colonial administrators.

While the first administrators were men born in Europe, the maturation of both the colonies and the descendants of the first settlers brought up the issue of the colonists' participation in administration. Imperial administrators' exploitation of, or integration into the local population was related to the length of their service.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The essays selected for this volume emphasize the imperial administrators and their working environments rather than colonial administration in general. For example, John Leddy Phelan's "Authority and Flexibility in the Spanish Imperial Bureaucracy" provides a broad overview of the pressures on administrators within the colonial context. Although focused on colonial Spanish America, the article possesses several insights which help in understanding the behavior of administrators in other colonies as well. "Army and Empire: English Garrison Government in Britain and America, 1569-1763" also gives information on the governor-general within a broader argument concerning the nature of colonial administration. Chapters such as these are hoped to provide a wider dimension for students of empire to consider how the British colonial power was influenced by their administrative structure in America, before they begun their colonial conquest in Asia.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

It is argued that the imperial administrators' exploitation of, or integration into the local population was related to the length of their service. Those who were promised a longer term of service in the colonies showed greater tendency to settle into the urban centre where they served and became permanent members of the community. Thus, the degree of exploitation was lesser than those of provincial administrators who were limited to 3-5 years' term, hence using their position to enrich themselves by serving as conduits for merchant houses, in the case of Spanish colonial administration.

Colonial chief executives were men from their home country, nobles and professional soldiers who had previously served their monarchy elsewhere. Later, men of European descent born in the colonies began to secure government positions and in some cases rose to offices just below the chief executive within decades after colonization officially began. Aside from such generalizations, however, the differences were more striking than similarities.

Annotated by Michelle Djong