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Foreign Policy Analysis
The Age of Imperialism:  Some Real Quick Remarks

The Age of Imperialism: Some Real Quick Remarks


Hi, this is Professor Charlie Evans, and this
morning I’m going to be talking a little bit about Age of Imperialism. That’s the period
roughly from about 1850 to 1914 that we cover in both History 102 — History of the Western
World and History 112 — History of World Civilization. The first thing I want to say
is that imperialism has been with world history since very very early on. Um–when we study Western
and World history, we study about the age of the Roman Empire. We study about Chinese Empire.
We study about Empire India. We study about Charlemagne’s Empire. We study about the early Colonial Empire,
set up in the 16th century; the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, started empires in
the 18th century. I mean all of Western and World History involves the age of empire. And
that’s what really imperialism is, is as an age of empire, when the countries of northwestern
Europe and including the United States set up worldwide empires. Um–so let me first give
a–a really quick definition of what Imperialism is. Uh–imperial–imperialism has been defined as the rule
or control political, economic, or cultural, direct or indirect of one state, nation or
people over other similar groups. So, in some cases imperialism involves the actual physical
control of a society by another society. In other cases imperialism can take far more
indirect means. So why the age of imperialism? Why suddenly in the 1850s did the countries
of Europe and, also to a lesser extent, the United States become involved in a race to
colonize the world, to control the world? Reason number one usually is given as economic reasons.
Uh–because of a worldwide depression in the late 19th century, the countries of Europe sought
both raw materials abroad and markets abroad. And that meant that they wanted to control
areas. And that gave them a reason to create an empire. Now, once countries embarked on
an empire, another consideration that often got involved with–uh the imperial motive was
strategy or military necessity. Once you created colonies or controlled colonies somewhere, you
wanted to able to protect those colonies. And to protect those colonies you often needed
other colonies or other places around the world to protect those colonies. So it became
kind of a catch 22 situation. Once you set up colonies because of economic reasons, you
needed more colonies for military reasons, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth. Um–another
impulse you find in the imperialist agenda of the late 19th century was the spread of
Christianity. That had been a driving motive in imperial ambitions really since the early
16th century. Uh–but in the 19th century again there’s this renewed interest in the Christian
churches, spreading Christianity, and supposedly improving the lifestyles and of the society
the cultures that westerners came in contact with. Uh–so we’ve got economic reasons, we’ve
got strategic considerations, we have uh– Christianity and the urge to Christianize people around
the world. Uh–you’ve got a really important factor that has always been a driving force in human
motivation and that is gold. The desire to find gold, the desire to find wealth, the
desire to find riches and this was uh– another motive of the Age of Imperialism. Uh–there’s
a whole bunch of other things we could talk about. Um–the–the perceived overpopulation in Europe,
and the need to– for the people–for excess populations if you want to put it in those terms–of
Europeans to move out–move out of Europe. Um–you had of course the technology and military advances
in Europe which allowed Europe to begin to control the world. I mean once you have steam–steam ship–steam ships and rifles you had the kind of technology and military advantages
that allowed you to control some societies and the rest of the world. Um–another key motivation
for the Age of Imperialism was what we could call, irrational factors. Um–with the age of newspapers
and publicity, the exploits of explorers, the exploits of the–the–the Europeans on the front lines,
uh–creating an empire became part of newspaper coverage and everything. People followed their
exploits. People were interested in it and it became kind of this emotional–you know–we’re gonna create this great empire and we’re gonna be proud of our great empire and
so it became–the empire building became kind of thrown in there with national status
— national power and a sign of national power. And so uh–because of the Age of Nationalism, which
had come up–been developing through the 19th century and everything, the creation of empire became caught up in
this idea of the nation as a powerful entity. Um–the last factor I mentioned with the Age of
Imperialism is this uh–motivation to bring civilization to the other peoples of the world who did
not have the benefits of western civilization. Um– this was often associated with the whole bunch
of different intellectuals in Europe, in the late 19th century. The civilizing mission
of the European. Um–Rudyard Kipling, the English poet and writer uh–put it best in one of his
poems where he wrote “take up the white man’s burden. Send forth the best ye breed. Go bind
your sons to exile. To serve your captives’ needs.” In other words it was this–this duty of
the white man and everything to bring the white man’s civilization to the rest of the
world. And that was like– that was a really powerful– motivi–
motiviza–motive–oh God–if I can say this right — mo-tive for 19th century individuals
— this idea they were bringing the benefits of civilization to the rest of the world.
So just to sum up here there’s you know the Age of Imperialism. I mean– history has always been an age of imperial
ambitions and the creation of empires. The period from 1850 to 1914 was the period in
which the countries of northwestern Europe; France,
United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, etc., all kind of embarked on a race
to colonize and imperialize the world. We’re looking at a map here of the world in 1914
and you can see that Africa has been carved up; has been divided up amongst the imperial
powers of Europe with one exception and that would have been Ethiopia. Uh–South America
is not completely under imperial control although you might argue for indirect imperial control.
And most of Asia and everything also has significant control by European powers and everything.
So that’s what the situation was in 1914. Motivation is economic, strategic/political,
Christianity, gold, irrational…

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