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Defining European Imperialism

Defining European Imperialism

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Published by HeatherDelancett
Several scholars point to two events – the discovery of the “New World” and navigation around the Cape of Good Hope – as the catalysts which broke open a new era in human history and began the series of events categorized in our study of European Imperialism. Starting in the late 15th century, these new opportunities for global trade and territory acquisition were seized by the dominant European nation states and the world, and what it means to be human in it, has been irrevocably changed in a relatively short span of time.
Several scholars point to two events – the discovery of the “New World” and navigation around the Cape of Good Hope – as the catalysts which broke open a new era in human history and began the series of events categorized in our study of European Imperialism. Starting in the late 15th century, these new opportunities for global trade and territory acquisition were seized by the dominant European nation states and the world, and what it means to be human in it, has been irrevocably changed in a relatively short span of time.

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Published by: HeatherDelancett on May 07, 2012
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Heather DeLancettHIST 445
 – 
Spring 2011Prof. BitterFirst Short Paper
Defining European Imperialism
 Our task of analyzing the globe spanning phenomenon of 
European Imperialism
fromour current paradigms and place within imperialist and post-colonial history is a bit daunting.The resources at hand to guide us are testament to the multiplicity of theories, approaches andfocuses that scholars utilize to contextualize the meaning and methods of these events. The spanof time focused on by each individual researcher changes, or is changed by, the stipulativedefinitions employed for analysis. Several scholars point to two events
 – 
the discovery of the
“New World” and navigation around the Cape of Good Hope – 
as the catalysts which broke opena new era in human history and began the series of events categorized in our study of EuropeanImperialism. Starting in the late 15
th
century, these new opportunities for global trade andterritory acquisition were seized by the dominant European nation states and the world, and whatit means to be human in it, has been irrevocably changed in a relatively short span of time.Taking the surveyed resources on our topic, there are clearly some complimenting andcontrasting approaches. In the style of presenting a range of contrasting theoretical analyses,
“Theories of Imperialism”
 
and “European Imperialism, 1830
-1930 -
Climax and Contradiction”
both offer a variety of perspectives. These two sources are good companions as summaries of a
 
2
range of period in Imperialism’s scholarship – 
Mommsen offers his interpretation of many of thevarious primary sources presented by Conklin and Fletcher. These theories tend to emphasizethe rise of ideologies, particularly nationalism, free market liberalism and scientific racism. Agreat deal of time and thought is given to whether Imperialism is a necessary consequence (orstage) of capitalism, and if so, whether it is an acceptable consequence for the political andeconomic health of a nation.Retra
cting from the ideological approach, “Tools of the Empire – 
Technology and
European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century” and “Ecological Imperialism – 
The BiologicalExpansion of Europe 900-
1900”
both aim for more empirical and practical cause and effects of European expansionism. Though these authors differ in spans of time covered, their approachesto understanding Imperialism focus on the means of change, both controlled (e.g. weapons,horses, etc.) and uncontrollable (e.g. diseases, weeds, etc.). Even by looking only at the
supposedly “controlled” types of means which were products of the Industrial Revolution, both
of these perspectives bring the ideologies down to the ground by throwing into question howmuch choice was involved as humans played out developing drama of evolution.
Focusing on the people directly impacted by colonialism, “The European Colonial
Empires
 – 
1815-
1919” and “Colonial Encounters in the Age of High Imperialism”
shine lightupon the local politics and cultural transfusions and transmutations of specific colonial locations.These books focus on the desire for resources driving colonialism, but specifically on the humandimensions of mass migrations and slavery as experienced by the colonizers, indigenous peoplesand the enslaved. These views into our economic and political histories explain the roots of somuch of our global strife, economic inequalities, and geographical tensions which we are thebearers of today.
 
3
Most of these perspectives define European Imperialism as the forcible expansion of more powerful and/or technologically advantaged nation states into the lands of less powerfulgroups for profit, resources, trade and increased prestige. This composite definition is a baselinetemplate to grasp the subject of our investigations, but lacks the precision of specific methods,time range and territorial regions to be very useful as a working definition for research. From
my perspective, it would be most beneficial to partition the great generalization of “EuropeanImperialism” into three distinct periods – 
Age of European Exploration, Age of EuropeanInnovation, and the Age of European Exploitation. While it may still present a challenge to finddistinct timeline boundaries, this method of categorization may prove helpful for exploring thetightly interwoven interplay between biology, technology, ideology and psychology as theseelements evolved and changed during European expansionism. It strikes me that there weredifferent actors, goals, means and consequences of each of these stages. By seeking to define the
characteristics of each “wave” of this phenomenon, our investigations could seek more precision
in definition without falling prey to over-generalizations or disassociating ourselves from other
region’s his
torical periods of expansionism.

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