Categories World History




  • Imperialism is “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonisation, use of military force, or other means”.
  • Two major subtypes of imperialism; the first is the “regressive imperialism” identified with pure conquest, unequivocal exploitation, extermination or reductions of undesired peoples, and the settlement of desired peoples into such territories.The second type identified is “progressive imperialism” founded upon a cosmopolitan view of humanity, that promotes the spread of civilization to allegedly backward societies to elevate living standards and culture in conquered territories, with the allowance of a colonised people to assimilate into the imperial society, an example being the British Empire which claimed to give their subjects a number of advantages.
  • The term as such primarily has been applied to Western political and economic dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • From a Marxist perspective, imperialism is a natural feature of a developed capitalist nation state as it matures into monopoly capitalism. Imperialism is the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Competition between empires and the unfettered drive to maximize profit would lead to wars between the empires themselves, such as the World Wars, as well as continued future military interventions and occupations in the colonies to establish, expand, and exploit less developed markets for the monopolist corporations of the empires.
  • Both colonisation and imperialism have been described by some as early forms of globalization.

Justification of imperialism:

  • The justification of imperialism done on many grounds: “It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work best, i.e. by the races of highest ‘social efficiency‘”. Technology and economic efficiency were often improved in territories subjected to imperialism through the building of roads, other infrastructure, and introduction of new technologies.
  • British imperialism often used the concept of terra nullius (’empty land’). Australia was premised on terra nullius, and its settlers considered it unused by its sparse Aboriginal inhabitants.


  • Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colony in one territory by a political power from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population.
  • The European colonial period was the era from the 16th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers (particularly, Portugal, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and France) established colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
  • At first the countries followed mercantilist policies designed to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, so the colonies were usually allowed to trade only with the mother country. By the mid-19th century, however, the powerful British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and introduced the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs.
  • Socio-cultural evolution: As colonialism often played out in pre-populated areas, sociocultural evolution included the formation of various ethnically hybrid populations. Colonialism gave rise to culturally and ethnically mixed populations such as the mestizos of the Americas, as well as racially-divided populations such as those found in French Algeria or in Southern Rhodesia.

Colonialism vs. imperialism:

  • Colonialism and imperialism are often used interchangeably, but they have different meaning.
  • Though both the words underline suppression of the other, Colonialism is where one nation assumes control over the other and Imperialism refers to political or economic control, either formally or informally.
  • Colonialism can be thought to be a practice and imperialism as the idea driving the practice.
  • Colonialism is a term where a country conquers and rules over other regions. It means exploiting the resources of the conquered country for the benefit of the conqueror.
  • Colonialism is termed as building and maintaining colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism can altogether alter the social structure, physical structure and economics of a region. In the long run, the traits of the conqueror are inherited by the conquered.
  • Colonialism is a term used to describe the settlement of places like India, Australia, North America, Algeria, New Zealand and Brazil, which were all controlled by the Europeans. Imperialism, on the other hand is described where a foreign government governs a territory without significant settlement. The scramble for Africa in the late 19th century and the American domination of Puerto Rico and the Philippines can be cited as examples of Imperialism.
  • In Colonialism, one can see great movement of people to the new territory and living as permanent settlers. Though they lead the life as permanent settlers, they still maintain allegiance to their mother country. Imperialism is just exercising power over the conquered regions either through sovereignty or indirect mechanisms of control.
  • Imperialism has a longer history than Colonialism. While the history of colonialism dates back to 15th century, Imperialism has its origins dating back to the Romans.
  • Colonialism has its origins when Europeans started to look outside their country, pursuing trade with other nations.
  • Colony comes from the Latin word colonus, which means farmers. Imperialism also comes from Latin word imperium, which means to command.
  • Imperialism operates from the center, it is a state policy, and is developed for ideological as well as financial reasons, whereas colonialism is nothing more than development for settlement or commercial intentions.Thus it can be said that imperialism includes some form of colonialism, but colonialism itself does not automatically imply imperialism, as it lacks a political focus.

Impact of Colonisation and Imperialism:

  • (Collect Points from chapters like Scramble For Africa, Colonisation Of Latin America, India etc)

1. Political Impact:

  • In the political sphere, Imperialism proved to be a blessing in disguise for some countries. For example it provided political unity to India which had been torn by dissensions and strife before the arrival of the western powers. Thus the British provided political unity to India which she had not achieved at any stage in her past history. This was rendered possible due to development of railways, modern means of trans­port and communication, press, introduction of English language which served as lingua franca, and a uniform system of administration through­out the country. This unity paved the way for the growth of political consciousness amongst people and ultimately motivated them to over­throw the colonial and imperialist yoke.
  • Secondly, the western colonialism and imperialism was responsible for the introduction of western ideas like nationalism, democracy, constitu­tionalism etc. in Asia and Africa. The various imperialist powers tried to implant their ideas and institutions in their colonies and thus unconsciously let loose liberal forces in the countries of Asia and Africa.
  • Thirdly, the colonial powers introduced efficient system of administration in the country. It is true that the administrative machinery was evolved primarily to promote the interest of the imperialist powers and paid little attention to the well being and welfare of the natives. Further, the natives were not given adequate representation in the civil services and generally excluded from higher positions. Despite these shortcomings, the system of administration, provided by the imperialist powers, exposed the colonial people to the system of western administration.

2. Economic Impact

  • In the economic sphere impact also the western imperialism had a mixed impact.
  • On the positive side it led to development of industries in Asia and Africa. The various imperialist powers set up industries in their colonies to make profits and thus paved the way for the industrialization of the colonies. The colonial powers established long lines of railways, built banking houses etc. in the colonies to fully exploit their resources. They also set up certain industries in these colonies to make quick profits and fully exploited the resources available there.All this proved to be a boon for the colonies and led to their industrialization.
  • On the negative side, the imperialist powers exploited the colonies by importing raw materials at the cheapest possible rates and exported the finished products at very high rates.
  • They also tried to cripple local industries, trade and commerce by enacting necessary industrial and taxation laws. This policy of systematic exploitation resulted in the draining of wealth and greatly contributed to poverty, starvation and backwardness of the colonies.

3. Social and Cultural Impact:

  • In the social and cultural spheres the colonial and imperialist rule produced many consequences. In the first place it adversely affected the religions of the local people because the local people were encouraged by the Western Missionaries to embrace Christianity by offering them certain material benefits. As a result soon Christianity became a thriving religion in many Asian and African countries.
  • Secondly, the Christian Missionaries played an important role in providing certain social services to the local people in the form of hospitals, dispensaries, schools, colleges etc. and thus greatly contributed to the enlightening of the people of Asia and Africa.
  • Thirdly, colonial and imperialist rule led to racial segregation. The European rulers treated their culture as superior to the Asian and African cultures and tried to impose the same on them. Further, they believed that white races are superior to the black races and tried to keep aloof. They often enacted discriminatory laws against the local people. For example, in India the Indians could not travel in the railway compartment in which the Europeans were travelling. This policy of racial segregation greatly undermined the moral tone of the local population.
  • Fourthly, the imperialist rule led to the rise of slavery. The slaves began to be sold and purchased as part of personal belongings. The practice commenced when Portuguese in the 15th century raided the African villages and enslaved the people.These persons were then transported to America. In fact there existed a regular market of slaves in Lisbon. Even the English engaged themselves in the slave trade. This slave trade resulted in the uprooting of millions of Africans from their homes. What is still worse that they were made to work under the most inhuman conditions and were treated with great cruelty.
  • Fifthly, the imperialist rule undermined the moral principles. They foreshook all norms of morality to keep their hold on the colonial people. They tried to divide the local people and made them fight among themselves to retain power. The policy of ‘divide and rule’ followed by the British in India best exemplifies this policy of the imperialist powers. It is well known that this policy of ‘divide and rule’ ultimately led to the partition of India.
  • Finally, the policy of colonialism and imperialism caused untold misery and suffering to the people. The various imperialist powers were involved in a number of wars with the local people as well as amongst themselves which resulted in loss of millions lives. Thus colonialism and imperialism resulted in untold misery to humanity.

We can say that colonialism and imperialism left a deep impact on colonies in the political, eco­nomic as well as social field.

Decline of old colonial movements

  • The American Revolution and the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the early 19th century ended the first era of European imperialism. Most of the colonies were suffering losses and so colonial master were loosing interest in colonies. Empire building was hardly worth the trouble and money expended on it
  • In the United Kingdom, these revolutions helped show the deficiencies of mercantilism, the doctrine of economic competition for finite wealth which had supported earlier imperial expansion. In 1846, The Corn Laws, which were the regulations governing the import and export of grain, were repealed after a great deal of protesting from the middle class. Because of the repeal, manufacturers were faced with a tremendous benefit, as the regulations enforced by the Corn Laws had slowed their businesses. With the repeal in place, the manufacturers were then able to trade more freely. Thus, the UK began to adopt the concept of free trade. Free trade movement was also reason of less interest in colonies.

(Note: Free Trade is covered in other topics of world history)

Rise of New Imperialism (Neo-Imperialism):

  • The New Imperialism (Neo-imperialism) was a period of colonial expansion—and its accompanying ideologies—by the European powers, the United States of America and the Empire of Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The 1870s and 1880s witnessed a retreat from the free market and a return to state intervention in economic affairs. The foreign counterpart to this phenomenon was the New Imperialism. The Great Powers of Europe suddenly shook off almost a century of apathy toward overseas colonies and, in the space of 20 years, partitioned almost the entire uncolonized portion of the globe.
  • This period is distinguished by an unprecedented pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions. At the time, countries focused on building their empire with new technological advances and developments, making their country bigger through conquest, and exploiting their resources.
  • The qualifier “new” is to contrast with the earlier wave of European colonization from the 15th to early 19th centuries or Imperialism in general.
  • It gave rise to Social Darwinism , a modern name given to various theories of society that emerged in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Western Europe in the 1870s, and which sought to apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. Social Darwinists generally argue that the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease

Why New Imperialism?

Entry of Germany and Italy and rising competition:

  • During this period, between the 1815 Congress of Vienna and the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, Britain reaped the benefits of being the world’s sole modern, industrial power.
  • The erosion of British hegemony after the Franco-Prussian War, was occasioned by changes in the European and world economies and in the continental balance of power following the breakdown of the Concert of Europe, established by the Congress of Vienna.
  • The establishment of nation-states in Germany and Italy resolved territorial issues that had kept potential rivals embroiled in internal affairs at the heart of Europe, to Britain’s advantage. The years from 1871 to 1914 would be marked by an extremely unstable peace and fierce competition for colonies among European powers including new united nations like Italy and Germany.

Economic motives of New Imperialism

  • There was a great demand for natural resources and products not found in Western countries, such as rubber, oil, and tin. Instead of trading for these products with these countries, they choose the direct control over the areas that raw materials were found. The growing of European industry, the increase in production capacity, and the surplus of capital created the necessity of finding new markets, new sources of raw materials, and new areas for capital investment in the  big countries. Furhermore, economic expansion demanded cheap labor, access to or control of markets to sell or buy product. Thus, people who lived in big countries started to support colonial  policies. In doing so, the capitalism was getting grow hand in hand with imperialism.
  • The existence of competition between new nation states was the major determinant in the growth of ‘’new imperialism’’. This competition was sharpened by the Long Depression of 1873–1896, which put pressure on governments to promote home industry, leading to the widespread abandonment of free trade among Europe’s powers (in Germany from 1879 and in France from 1881). Though The British remained free-trade throughout the era of the New Imperialism.
  • (Note: Theories postulating Europe’s need to export surplus capital (so need to find new colonies) do not fit the facts. Only Britain and France were capital-exporting countries in 1880, and in years to come their investors preferred to export capital to other European countries (especially Russia) or the Western Hemisphere rather than to their own colonies.)

Political motives of New Imperialism:

  • Military value of colonies: As the European competition of the economic interests grew, European states acquire to find new market and colonies abroad that provided ports, naval bases and coaling stations for their navies.
  • Strategic locations from military point of view were colonised.
  • Pressure of population on European countries (so needed colonies to migrate)

Colonies were source of pride:

  • For European states establishment colonies abroad was a source of international prestige. 

The Role of Social Darwinism and Racism

  • Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, and within a decade popularizers had applied—or misapplied—his theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest to contemporary politics and economics. This pseudoscientific social Darwinism appealed to educated Europeans.
  • Imperialism was tied to social Darwinism and racism, too. Social Darwinist theories were used to justify European imperialism and colonialism. Superior races must dominate the infeiror races by military force to show how strong and competent they are. European countries was willing to used this theory because it fits their interest all around the world. They believed they are the strongest race and would bring the civilization to the unenlightened. For example, Anglo-Saxons were believed superior because they enjoyed political, economic, and cultural hegemony over non-Anglo-Saxon people.

Religious and Cultural motives

  • Europeans believed that they have moral responsibilities for non-European peoples. According Europeans, they would bring civilization to the noncivilize “ignorant”  countries. Moreover, they are more humanitarian and humanism should be brought to the unenlightened countries. In the poem ‘’The White Man’s Burden’’ of Rudyard Kipling, we can see that imperialists countries try to justify their action with this manner. This peom became the symbol of Eurocentric racism. In this poem, white people have an obligation to rule all the ‘’ignorant’’ noncivilize people all over the world and encourage to cultural development of other people who came from a different  background until they reach the stage of the European countries economically, and socially.
  • Though the Catholic missiniories in the 16th century all over the Europe, in the 19th century, Protestant took over to share duty of converting Asian and African people to Christianity with Catholics. Many missionaries enagaged in medical work and education, setting up hospitals, schools in colonies. Thousands of Catholic and Protestant missionaries went abroad to seek converts to their faith with the belief that the superiority of their civilization obligated them to impose their cultures over the primitive “nonwhite” men.

Technological Advances

  • One  other necessary condition for the New Imperialism, often overlooked, is technological. Prior to the 1870s Europeans could overawe native peoples along the coasts of Africa and Asia but lacked the firepower, mobility, and communications that would have been needed to pacify the interior. (India was the exception, where the British East India Company exploited an anarchic situation and allied itself with selected native rulers against others.). The tsetse fly and the Anopheles mosquito—bearers of sleeping sickness and malaria—were the ultimate defenders of African and Asian jungles. The correlation of forces between Europe and the colonizable world shifted, however, with the invention of shallow-draft riverboats, the steamship and telegraph, the repeater rifle and Maxim gun, and the discovery (in India) that quinine is an effective prophylactic against malaria. By 1880 small groups of European regulars, armed with modern weapons and exercising fire discipline, could overwhelm many times their number of native troops.


Q. “Colonies are like fruits which cling to the tree only till they ripen.” Comment.

  • (See previous years solved paper for answer)

Q. “New imperialism was a nationalistic, not an economic phenomena.”  Critically examine.


  • (See the section of previous years solved paper for answer)

Q. “The simultaneous expansion of European powers overseas during the last quarter of the 19th century brought them into frequent collisions at a remote points all over Africa and Asia.” Comment.



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