Imperialism In The Nineteenth Century

  • A significant shift occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • After 1870 and even more dramatically after 1885, there was a remarkable increase in the European acquisition of colonial territories in the South Pacific, Asia, and Africa
  • In 1870, about 10% of Africa had been colonized, whereas by 1895 approximately 90% had come under European colonial control.

New Imperialism

  • After 1870 European powers began to rely more on the colonization of formal empire, than on informal economic ties. This period is called “new imperialism”
  • What conclusion can you make from looking at the political cartoon?
    • New Imperialism in Asia and the Indies
    • From 1870 to 1914, major European powers joined the race to acquire colonies and exert their influences over indigenous people.
    • China was not formally occupied by a European power but essentially lost control of trade within its own borders as a result of the Opium Wars
    • The British, French, Germans, Russians, and Americans controlled the majority of the trade-in China.
    • In 1868, Japan initiated its own program of industrial development and political reform.
    • Japan managed to preserve its autonomy, but also by 1892, had become an imperial power of its own

New Imperialism in Africa

  • Within twenty years, from 1880 to 1900, every corner of the Earth, from the highest mountains in the Himalayas to the most remote Pacific island and Antarctica, came to be claimed by one or another European power.
  • Africa saw the most dramatic colonization. It was divided up as if it had been a cake split between greedy European leaders. This was called the “Scramble for Africa”.

Berlin Congress

  • The key political event in the race for colonization in Africa was the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.
  • Bismarck called together representatives of 15 nations to deal with rival colonial claims in Africa.
  • Ignoring the rights of existing African kingdoms and peoples altogether, European powers claimed the right to acquire inland territories by expansion from existing coastal possessions.
  • To avoid dominance by a single state or war between rival colonial powers, the Conference agreed that possession involved more than a “paper partition” based on claims made over a map; they agreed that possession should involve effective occupation of the land and control over the people.

Change and Continuity: Causes of Imperialism

  • Unequal Power Relations
    • The level of success of a dominant power has largely been attributed to its level of technological advancement
    • Those with more advanced military technology and methods of production have tended to dominate.
    • The “new imperialism” of the late nineteenth century was another example of the consequences of unequal power.
    • Nationalism and Geopolitics
    • According to the Eurocentric view, the primary motive for colonization was political.
    • Governments encouraged by the emerging sense of nationalism and the chauvinism of a mass electorate enhanced their power and prestige by possessing colonies
    • Colonies are provided with “bargaining chips” at the tables of international conferences
    • Colonies often also carried geopolitical significance.
    • It was important because they were placed on the map.
    • For example, Britain established control in Egypt in order to preserve control of the Suez Canal, which was vital to maintaining a quick trade route to India
    • Proponents of empire claimed that the superiority of industrial civilization gave Europeans the right to take over territories.
    • Hobson and Lenin argue that colonies were acquired as fields for investment, as the urging of capitalists with surplus wealth.
    • These investors, some of whom owned popular newspapers and had an influence on politicians, promoted imperialism to get the state to acquire territories and protect their overseas investments.
    • Lenin predicted that competition for colonies would eventually lead to war and revolution

The Economic Legacy of Imperialism

  • The shift from commercial capitalism to industrial capitalism created greater differences in wealth, and it transformed relations between the colonizers and the colonized.
  • Under industrial capitalism and its doctrine of laissez faire, the restraints of the colonial empires came under attack, and the new idea of free trade became the orthodox economic doctrine
  • Under imposed conditions of free trade, Indian handloom weavers could not compete in price with British manufactures of cotton cloth, so India became an importer of cotton textile and an exporter of raw cotton
  • Under free trade, a form of nominally predominant and colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas become dependent sources of raw materials as well as markets for manufactured goods
  • Prior to the development of the dependent relationship of imperialism, most of the people in the non-Western world were involved in subsistence agriculture – farming primarily for themselves.
  • Imperialist powers succeeded in forcing Native peoples to change to producing agriculture for export.
  • Today, the term is also referred to as “cash crops”.  The agricultural products are grown primarily for exporting purposes.  Products such as banana, pineapple, coffee or sugar canes are grown to be exported to developed countries consumption
  • The imperialist powers need their colonies to supply raw materials to support the growth of industrial European cities.
  • The transformation of local production from a subsistence economy to an export economy had various effects.
  • As more and more land was used to grow cash crops for export, these territories would become increasingly dependent on imports of both food and manufactured goods
  • Created a dependency in the colony
  • Mass-produced goods from Europe were far cheaper and often of better quality than locally produced goods.
  • Africans found their lives changed against their will but also came to endure working and living conditions worse than it was prior to Western intervention
  • The process of converting Africans into laborers in a cash economy was extremely brutal.
  • They often had to work far from their home villages, and brutal punishment was inflicted upon them for failure to meet the required quotas.
  • Adolescent boys were punished by mutilation, including the cutting off of ears or hands.
  • Failure of particular villagers to meet quotas resulted in raids on their home villages, where women were raped, children and elderly beaten and houses destroyed.
  • In the image, African slaves toil on a pepper plantation in the East Indies as a dealer samples a peppercorn to see if it is smell or taste is strong enough
    • The economic impact of imperialism had had far-reaching consequences.
    • The global economic relationship established during this period have shaped the modern world system and some would argue, are the foundation of poverty in developing nations in the twenty-first century

War and Resistance to Colonization

  • Colonial nationalist movements developed a sense of belonging to a larger international movement of colonized peoples seeking liberation from colonialism and racial oppression.
  • Anti-Western protests, sometimes called primary resistance movements, organized to expel foreigners and restore the culture to its original state.

Colonial Nationalist Movement

  • The leaders of the nationalist movement in the colonies tended to be from the Western-educated elite.
  • The Indian National Congress
  • Founded in 1885, INC was one of the earliest colonial nationalist political parties.
  • The modernization of agriculture and the extension of railroads had changed patterns of landholding and had converted some areas to the production of export crops
  • These reforms had also increased the peasant’s indebtedness and their vulnerability to famines that struck in the 1870s and 1880s.
  • Some Indian nationalists charged the British connection acted as an economic drain on the resources of India
  • British officials viewed them as unrepresentative trouble makers until more radical voices and popular protests began to change the face of Indian nationalism.
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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