Steven PressFeb 2, 2021
Contracts and Conmen in Europe's Scramble for Africa
Harvard University Press 2017
Steven Press is an Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University. His marvelous first book, Rogue Empires: Contracts and Conmen in Europe’s Scramble for Africa (Harvard University Press, 2017), is an incredibly well-documented monograph that follows a paper trail of questionable treaties to discover the rogues or confidence men whose actions touched off the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s. Dr. Press shows in captivating detail how private European businessmen and firms produced hundreds of deeds purporting to buy political rights from indigenous African leaders whose understanding of these agreements was usually deemed irrelevant. A system of privately governed empires, some spanning hundreds of thousands of square miles, promptly sprang up in the heart of Africa. These experiments in governance quickly attracted notice in European capitals. The book portrays how the whole dubious enterprise came to a head at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, when international diplomacy embraced rogue empires as legal precedents for new colonial agendas, opening up a host of dilemmas about the nature of modern statehood and sovereignty.
Vladislav Lilic is a doctoral candidate in Modern European History at Vanderbilt University.