What We Are Reading Today: The Imperial Nation by Josep M. Fradera 

What We Are Reading Today: The Imperial Nation by Josep M. Fradera 

• Translated by Ruth MacKay

Historians view the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a turning point when imperial monarchies collapsed and modern nations emerged. Treating this pivotal moment as a bridge rather than a break, The Imperial Nation offers a sweeping examination of four of these modern powers — Great Britain, France, Spain, and the US — and asks how, after the great revolutionary cycle in Europe and America, the history of monarchical empires shaped these new nations.

Josep Fradera explores this transition, paying particular attention to the relations between imperial centers and their sovereign territories and the constant and changing distinctions placed between citizens and subjects.

Fradera argues that the essential struggle that lasted from the Seven Years’ War to the 20th century was over the governance of dispersed and varied peoples: Each empire tried to ensure domination through subordinate representation or by denying any representation at all. 

The most common approach echoed Napoleon’s “special laws,” which allowed France to reinstate slavery in its Caribbean possessions. 

The Spanish and Portuguese constitutions adopted “specialness” in the 1830s; the US used comparable guidelines to distinguish between states, territories, and Indian reservations; and the British similarly ruled their dominions and colonies. In all these empires, the mix of indigenous peoples, European-origin populations, slaves and indentured workers, immigrants, and unassimilated social groups led to unequal and hierarchical political relations. Fradera considers not only political and constitutional transformations but also their social underpinnings. 

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