Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The sources of and responses to imperial expansion around the world from 1860 to 1914


Imperialism is the act of domination of one country over the political, economic and cultural life of another country or region.  While such practices have existed for many hundreds of years, the Age of Imperialism refers to a period in the second half of the nineteenth century to the early part of the twentieth.  Most of the imperialistic activities were carried on by Western European nations.  However, Japan and the United States also participated.

European Imperialism

What were the sources driving the imperialistic movement?

The imperialism resulted from three key factors:

1.     Nationalism prompted rival European nations to build empires in their competitive quests for power.  If one country started a colony in Africa, other European nations felt pressure to do the same.  It was a feeding frenzy to acquire property and power.

2.     The Industrial Revolution created a tremendous demand for raw materials and expanded markets for the products, which prompted industrialized European nations to seek new territories. 

3.    Both religious fervor and feelings of racial and cultural superiority inspired Europeans to impose their cultures on distant lands. Religious and humanitarian impulses inspired many people to travel to distant colonies. The desire to spread Western technology, religion, customs and traditions also fueled colonial expansion.  Probably the most popular were Catholic and Protestant missionaries who attempted to bring the Christian message to the colonies

African Colonization

Before 1870 Europeans had little presence in Africa mainly because of their lack of resistance to the area's tropical diseases.  The Industrial Revolution gave them two new weapons: vaccines for combating the diseases and rifles and machine guns for combating the African natives. The publicity generated by an expedition by the journalist Henry Stanley to find the explorer David Livingston acted as a catalyst to seek expansion. 

This started a frantic scramble by European nations to gain a presence in Africa.  In 1885, 14 nations met in Berlin and agreed to divide Africa.  By 1914 European nations controlled 90 percent of that continent.

Effects of African Imperialism

The impact on colonies was generally negative.  The colonial boundaries drawn by the European nations at Berlin often cut across old tribal boundaries or combined peoples of different and hostile tribes.  This mess is still being sorted out today, a continuing legacy of European rule. 

The colonial peoples were subjected to humiliation and suffering.  While Europeans did work to abolish slavery, they still killed thousands through forced labor in order to complete their building projects and bring the "benefits" of European civilization to Africa.

The colonies suffered the negative effects of imposing European culture upon native peoples because it was supposedly superior.  For example, Europeans imposed their agricultural techniques on Africans and, in the process, ruined the soil.  In the end, this cultural policy backfired against Europeans.  Many colonial subjects went to Europe to get college educations and brought back the dangerous ideas of liberalism, nationalism, and Marxism.  That, combined with the fact that many colonials served in European armies and had picked up on European firearms technology, helped lead to the ultimate downfall of the European colonial empires.

The multinational European companies gained substantial economic power during the period.

American Imperialism

The primary source of American imperialism was the concept of Manifest Destiny, a belief widely held by Americans in the 19th century that the United States was destined to expand across the continent.  It was used repeatedly to justify their imperialistic acts. 

Seeing the rapid global expansion of European nations, America desired to gain a presence in other lands and also prevent European countries from encroaching on their borders.  Protecting their local interests and attempting to help Cuba from Spanish oppression, America entered into a war with Spain which they very quickly won. As a result of this war the United States gained the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Although independent, Cuba was under American protection.

To further their imperial ambitions United States made many other significant territorial gains. They purchased Alaska from Russia and annexed Hawaii after American entrepreneurs had overthrown the Hawaiian queen. In 1917 the United States purchased the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) from Denmark.

In 1845 Texas joined the American republic as a state.  With their eyes on the great expanse of land in the West and under the theory of Manifest Destiny, they soon invaded Mexico and quickly won the war.  With this action the US almost doubled in size.

East Asia – Japanese Imperialism

A few years after the arrival of Commodore Perry, Japanese leaders made Japan into a great power capable of competing with Western nations. They strengthened the military, and worked to transform the nation into an industrial society. Their ever expanding industries needed more natural resources and the government felt they needed a buffer zone from the giant to the West – China.  To accomplish this they began to establish their own overseas empire. The first nation to fall to them was Korea. They continued to expand for the next few decades.

By the end of the 1800s, a handful of European countries, together with the United States, controlled nearly the entire world thus giving this age the appropriate name as the Age of Imperialism.