One of the major works of the later Enlightenment was the Histoire philosophique des Deux Indes, edited by Guillaume-Thomas Raynal. First published in six volumes in 1770, it had gone through over forty French editions by 1788, ranking high on the chart of forbidden bestsellers. There were also over twenty English editions (including several in Ireland and the United States), two rival German versions, as well as translations into Danish, Italian, Spanish and Polish. ‘Raynal’, as the collection was commonly known, also found a significant readership among educated elites in India and the Dutch Indies, in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Its ostensible theme, Europe’s global expansion from the founding of the Iberian settlements onwards, provided the setting for an indictment of colonialism: its exploitation and barbaric subjugation of native peoples and its rapacious perversion of the principles of commercialism. Nonetheless this behemoth had made the world into a