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Europe, Europeans and the World

The construction of European identity as it relates to the world: its relations, exchanges, and "return effects".

Editorial managers: Virginie Chaillou-Atrous and Stanislas Jeannesson

View of the stores of the East India Company in Pondicherry (Engraving, eighteenth century). Source: Musée de la Compagnie des Indes, Lorient

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James Gillray, The Reception of the Diplomatique and his Suite, at the Court of Pekin, 14 septembre 1792. L’ambassadeur de Grande-Bretagne, George Macartney, refuse de se prosterner devant l’empereur Qianlong.

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Ports became one of the tools of the expansion of European influence with the great discoveries of the 15th century, the prelude to what some historians have described as the first age of globalisation. This explains why the ports of the Atlantic coast benefited from their advantageous location, promoted by states which, from Spain to the Dutch Republic, asserted their global maritime ambitions. The control of the sea lanes linking metropoles with their colonial empires also explains the creation of powerful arsenal ports and overseas naval bases. Over the centuries, the influence of commercial ports followed the evolution of the economic and political power relations of Atlantic Europe. In the 19th century, the English ports, starting with London and Liverpool, emerged as the most powerful in Europe. However, from the 1860s onwards, at the heart of the process of globalisation resulting from the industrial revolution, the most powerful port range in the world developed between Le Havre and Hamburg.

Hamburg: New tall ship port at the Asia quay around 1890-1900 (anonymous photochrom ©Library of Congress, Washington).

Recourse to the notion of a system makes it possible to go beyond a view of the international scene as being reducible to a simple conglomeration of powers. Any system is based on a collection of values, rules and practices that are shared by the different actors, and that enable their coexistence as well as the easing of tensions and the resolution of conflicts. Europe’s place in the international system has evolved from the early modern period to today. The Westphalian order based on balance of power, which was Eurocentric and built by and for the continent’s great powers, gradually gave way in the twentieth century - under the blows of two world wars - to the universal and normative logic of the LN and the UN, before European construction attempted to provide original responses to post-Cold War challenges.

Gerard ter Borch, The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648.