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Ch 24: The Age of Imperialism

From colonies to empires
• In the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, most European involvement in Asia and the Asian trade network
was conducted by trading companies interested in profit- i.e. British East India Company
• As the European powers (particularly the British and the Dutch) expanded their search for overseas profit,
native governments allowed these trading companies to hold commercial monopolies over certain regions,
often in exchange for tribute.
• These trading companies had little interest in political control. However, in reality, agents for these
companies were often drawn into local politics in order to secure better deals with local peoples and to
protect their substantial investments there.
• Local wars, meddling local rulers, pirates and thieves, and hostile natives all necessitated military power in
native lands.
• As Europeans saw greater profits from regions, they became intimately involved in local matters, often
without the direction of the company itself.
• Eventually these agents would transform European interests in foreign lands from merely profits to full
fledged empire.

• Whereas the early colonies were created primarily for economic reasons (profit), by the second half of the
19th century, political rivalry will lead to the creation of massive empires- even in areas with little economic
• Following Britain’s lead, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and even Belgium will acquire empires
stretching across the world.
• As western technology advanced, communication improved and nations were better able to control lands
from a distance. Military power also grew rapidly, making it easier for Europeans to dominate foreign
• Western governments were able to gain support from their citizens by building empires (nationalism).
• By the 1880’s, Europeans were searching for additional lands to colonize and/or rule. Lands in Southeast
Asia, the Pacific and especially Africa became the focus of intense rivalry and domination.
• As the industrial revolution advanced, European militaries became essentially invincible to native
resistance, even if it was fierce.

Conditions of European rule
• At first, management of European empires was generally left to the management of the trading companies
that had built them.
• Very few Europeans actually resided in controlled territories, and most of those were agents for the trade
companies and other profit seekers.
• Generally most Europeans relied on native soldiers to control their territories and used military strength,
wealth, and local divisions to control their newfound empires.
• Administration of the European empires was usually in the hands of local rulers who looked out for
European economic interests, but were otherwise left a free hand.
• European control led to shifts in the local social systems. Generally the Europeans formed a new elite class
that was distinct from the local elites. There was not much intermixing of European imperial masters and
their native subjects.
• European rulers generally did not care much about the social policies of their colonies unless they
interfered with their profits.
- The British will uphold and enforce the rigid divisions of the caste system in India while both the
Dutch and British will forbid Christian missionary activity.

The Dutch take Indonesia
• The Dutch had seized control of much of the Portuguese spice trade in Java.
• After feuding with the local ruler there, the Dutch will come to an agreement to pay him an annual tribute
in return for trading rights.
• By the late 1600’s, local wars had flared up and the Dutch will intervene on behalf of the forces challenging
the local ruler.
• Aiding the challengers to the Javanese throne, the Dutch will supply arms and military support. When
these groups prevail, the Dutch will demand the lands around their major port Batavia.
• As local wars flared up, the Dutch will intervene more and more, each time gaining more territory under
their control.
• Most of the soldiers used by the Dutch were Indonesian natives under the command of Dutch officers.
Their superior guns and military training allowed the Dutch to prevail easily.
• By the middle of the 18th century, the Dutch directly controlled much of Indonesia.

• When the local sultan tries to push the Dutch back and restore his lands, the Dutch sweep him from power
altogether, and claim full control of the islands.
• The Dutch will rule Indonesia for the next 200 years.

The British take India
• At first, India had been exploited by the Portuguese, but by the 17th century, the British and French had both
established trade ports on the western coasts.
• By the 18th century, the British and French were locked in a struggle for colonial dominance and India
became the center of that conflict.
• After the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the British will be the dominant European colonial power in India
(the Portuguese still controlled Goa)
• By the late 1700’s, the British had extended their influence into southern India and into the northern
province of Bengal as well as along the western coast.
• As the British used local divisions and bribes to expand their influence, many local rulers became wary of
British agents. They will try to put restrictions on their activities which the British protested.
• An agent for the British East India Company, Robert Clive, will seek to overturn the Nawab (prince) of
Bengal and consolidate British control of the wealthy Bengali kingdom.
• In 1757, Clive will arrive in Bengal with a small army (mostly made up of Indian soldiers called Sepoys).
• At the Battle of Plassey, Clive’s army will rout the Nawab’s army and seize control of Bengal. (Clive had
extensively bribed the soldiers and officers of the Bengali army, and had the support of Indian financial
interests who opposed the Nawab).

The British Raj
• Following Clive’s example, later agents for the British East India Company will continue to use military
superiority to gain control of further Indian territories.
• Like the Dutch, the British would take advantages of local disputes and divisions to expand their influence.
The weakness and corruption of the ruling Mughal empire helped this process along.
• Over time the British expand their control from the coastal and border areas into the center of the Indian
• Generally, the British left the local princes and rulers in control while steadily eroding the authority of the
Mughal state.
• Indians had very little loyalty to the Mughal rulers and the British were able to bribe local officials and pay
native Indians to serve them. Indians wee eager to serve the British because they paid well.
• By 1800 the British had expanded their control into (modern day) Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and
• By 1800, Indian had become the “crown jewel” of the British empire and fueled its early industrialization
by providing cheap cotton and a market for surplus manufactured goods.

Reform of Colonial Rule in India
• Over time, the free hand left to the trade companies in managing the colonies led to massive corruption and
• The lure of quick profit led Europeans to abuse the local inhabitants and take advantage of the weak local
- In 1770, British greed will lead to a massive famine in the province of Bengal. 1/3 of the Bengali
population will die as a result.
• Reforms will be taken by the British parliament the governor-general, Charles Cornwallis.
• Cornwallis will place the East India Company under greater regulation and improve accountability.
• Cornwallis will also place more authority in the hands of British citizens, rather than local Indian rulers.
• By 1800, a religious revival across Europe will put pressure on governments to allow greater religious
penetration of colonies.
- Many evangelicals will press for the end of the slave trade, and the reform of native practices they
saw as barbaric or backwards.
- Among these in India were the caste system and the practice of the Sati (widow burning).
• Reformers wanted to introduce western style education to the “uncivilized” natives.
• Between 1830 and 1850, the British will introduce major reforms to India in the interest of eliminating
social practices they saw as morally abhorrent.
- The sati will be outlawed
- The caste system will be undermined by educating the lower castes
- Western style education will be introduced- centered on the learning of the English language
- Agricultural reform will be introduced along western models- i.e. scientific field management
- Thousands of miles of railway and telegraph lines will be built
- A western style central bureaucracy will be introduced, staffed by western educated Indians, many
from the lower castes (Indian Civil Service)
- European manners, social customs, dress, and culture will be introduced- and Indians will be
expected to emulate them.

Partition of Africa
• By the 1870’s only the interior of Africa remained free of colonial control.
• The British held lands in South Africa and Egypt, and in the 1870’ will begin a push toward the interior
with the aim of linking north and south Africa by building a railway line.
- The British will encounter major resistance from both Boer settlers and Zulus
• British expansion will lead to a rush by other nations to grab as much African land as they can.
• This increased rivalry over territory will lead to an increase in tension between the European powers (it will
be a major cause of WWI)
• In 1886, the European powers will convene in Berlin to discuss the division of Africa between them (no
Africans were invited).
• British, French, and German claims were recognized and made official.
- Britain received official control of Egypt, Sudan, the Transvaal, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya,
Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and South Africa
- French control of most of North West Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar was recognized
- Germany obtained three states: Cameroon, Namibia, and Tanzania
- Portugal received Angola
- Italy received Libya
- Even Belgium (the waffle people) got the Congo (it came under the personal rule of king Leopold)
- Only Ethiopia remained independent (and that was only because they couldn’t decide who got it)
• Native people will resist European rule, especially the Zulus who fought fiercely against the British, but it
made no difference.
• Unlike India or Java, there was very little effort to incorporate natives into imperial government and even
less attempt at educating Africans (Europeans felt they were too inferior to bother).
• Most African colonies will be ruled directly by Europeans with direct oversight by the mother countries.
• Many western nations will specifically forbid intermingling between the native people and their European
rulers. This led to many racist regimes that looked upon their subjects as “savages”.

Tropical Dependencies
• The vast majority of European colonies were in tropical areas that were difficult for Europeans to live in.
- The warm climate and tropical disease prevented large western populations.
• European rule of these territories was largely directed by European overseers with a large pool of native
bureaucrats below them.
• Economic exploitation remained the primary motivation for colonial control.
• Raw materials drove the economies of almost all colonial territories.
• In those places which had more developed manufacturing (such as India) those industries were shut down
and the territories were forced to buy finished goods from their colonial masters.
• This made the colonies economically dependent on the mother country.
• Taxes on colonized peoples often took the form of the raw material or crop the colony was intended to
• As European nation became reliant on the cheap raw materials provided by colonies, their economies
surged and industrialization intensified.

White Dominions
• Some colonial areas were deemed worthy or European settlement.
• Over time, colonial territories with climates similar to Europe will see millions of colonists settle, typically
displacing the native populations there.
• Native in these areas offered minimal resistance and were usually unable to combat the technological and
military advantages of westerners.
• The major White Dominions were:
- Canada
- Australia

Contested Settler Colonies
• Some colonial settlements did encounter strong native resistance
• South Africa in particular will see conflict between natives and European settlers.
• As early as the 1600’s, Dutch settlers (Boers) had relocated to the coastal areas of South Africa.
- The South African climate was conducive to European crops and livestock.
- The Netherlands was tiny and many left looking for open land.
• The Dutch will enslave the native people (naturally) and begin to move inland with little resistance.
• The British will seize South Africa during the Napoleonic Wars and transform it into a major British
• The Boers will be forced inland as the British expand their control- this becomes known as the Great Trek.
• The Zulu tribe which controlled the inland areas will respond violently to the Boer incursion and numerous
wars will break out between them.
• As the British expand northward in (response to the discovery of diamonds after 1867), they become
involved in wars with the Boers (and Zulus as well).
• When gold is discovered in 1885, a new wave of British immigrants will flood South Africa and increase
tensions in the region.
• In 1899, the Boers, now fully under British rule, will rebel and the British will spend two years bringing
them back under control (Boer War).
• New Zealand will see a similar pattern of European settlement and native resistance.