City University of New York
Department of History
History 10--The History of the Modern World
Topic V --Imperialism
The creation of global empires is a fundamental fact of modern history. In the late nineteenth century, between the 1870s and 1900, industrializing societies in Europe carved enormous territorial empires out of Asian and African lands. In the Caribbean and the Pacific, the United States--then in the midst of its own industrial revolution--created its own version of empire. Everywhere the motives for imperial expansion were very similar. Powers such as Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany in Europe, as well as the United States, acted to expand their territorial power in order to secure export markets and, more importantly, to insure access to the raw materials needed by industrializing economies. These included both industrial commodities (such as rubber, oil, and cotton) and foods (such as coffee, tea, and sugar). All were imports needed for industrial production and an industrial society. In addition to these economic reasons, nationalism, a nineteenth-century ideology that expressed the long-standing rivalries between European powers, also contributed to motivating imperial conquest. Another powerful influence on imperial expansion was the cultural arrogance, born of economic and technological domination and strongly influenced by the set of ideas called "Social Darwinism," that convinced Europeans and North Americans of their racial superiority. (See, for example, J.A. Gobineau's "On the Inequality of the Races" and Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden," in Documenting the Modern World.) Taken together, these economic, political, and cultural motives created the historical context for modern imperialism.
Topic 5 is divided into the four sections listed below. Each section considers one geographical region affected by the expansion of empires in the nineteenth century.
Imperialism in India
The Sepoy Rebellion
Imperialism in China
Roots of Chinese Nationalism
The Scramble for Africa
Visual Sources: Trade and Culture in Colonial Africa
The U.S. in the Caribbean
The U.S. in the Pacific
Imperialism in India
The British dominated the Indian subcontinent from the late eighteenth century until India gained its independence in 1947. During the nineteenth century the British established policies designed to insure stable colonial rule. This included an elaborate system of schools intended to produce Indians educated in the English language, familiar with European culture, and accustomed to British ways of life. The intent was to train a class of anglicized helpers who would assist in the daily work of governing an empire. The chief architect of the policy was Thomas Babington Macaulay, a Member of Parliament and a well-known historian who spent several years in India as a colonial official. Macaulay's Speech on Indian Education (Document 5-1), delivered in the House of Commons in 1833, expresses the intentions, and the underlying cultural attitudes, that defined British rule in India. What is Macaulay's view of Indian culture and Indian civilization? How does he compare it with European civilization? What do you think Macaulay would have said about this statue, a product of India's Gupta Empire. At the time it was created, in the fifth century, India was a rich and sophisticated civilization (see Timeline of Indian History, Document 5-2), while Britain was a remote and primitive outpost of the Roman Empire.
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The Sepoy Rebellion (1857)
Until 1857, the East India Company, a private corporation, was authorized by the British government to do the actual ruling over British India. That year, Hindu and Muslim soldiers working for the company launched a military revolt against British rule. It was a bloody, atrocity-filled struggle that spread across India and went on for fourteen months before the rebels were put down and authority in India passed from the East India Company to the British government. This account of the Rebellion (Sepoy Narrative (Document 5-3) was written for The Atlantic, a well-known and prestigious American magazine, and published in the midst of the event in December 1857. Describe the author's point of view. Is he sympathetic to the rebels? To Indians in general? How does he view the British? Fourteen years later, in 1871, an Indian writer attempted to draw up a balance sheet evaluating The Benefits of British Rule (Document 5-4). Describe this author's point of view. Do you think it offers an accurate picture of imperialism? You can usefully compare it with the reading assignment by Romesh Dutt ("The Economic History of India Under British Rule") in Documenting the Modern World, pp. 74-75.
Though the East India Company no longer exists, another company today has assumed its name and maintains a web site that contains an interesting "History" section. It contains much useful information, but there is no mention of the Rebellion. You can visit the site at www.theeastindiacompany.com.
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Like India, China is home to an ancient civilization.
of Chinese History, Document 5-5). For centuries, the Chinese were
the dominant East Asian state and culture. Their view of Europe had always
been much like their view of all non-Chinese cultures: condescending, superior,
utterly convinced that "barbarian" foreigners had nothing to offer a people
who had everything. The Chinese only realized how wide the technological
gap between themselves and the West had become after they were victimized
by it. The key event in this history was the First Opium War (1839-1842),
in which British naval destroyers easily defeated the Chinese. The British
(and the East India Company) were defending their trade in opium exported
from India to China in return for tea, ceramics, silks, and other Chinese
goods. To get a good picture of the Chinese perspective on this conflict,
read this excerpt from a Letter
of Advice to Queen Victoria (Document 5-6) by the Chinese imperial
official who had been ordered by the Emperor to stop the opium trade. Compare
this source with the letter written by Emperor Ch'ien Lung to the British
King George III in 1793 (Documenting the Modern World, pp.
76-77). What changed between 1793 and 1842?
Cixi--The Last Empress Dowager of China. Long fingernails denoted her high status.
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Roots of Chinese Nationalism
Unlike India, China was never formally colonized. With some exceptions (most notably Hong Kong, ceded to the British in 1842), Chinese territory was never made into a foreign possession, as large parts of India and virtually all of Africa were. China remained technically independent through the final collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The last imperial years saw the once-mighty Empire reduced to humiliating powerlessness. Political and military authority rested with foreigners and local Chinese nobility-- "warlords" who commanded private armies. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925, pictured at right) was China's first nationalist leader in the Republican period. His ideas combined Western and Chinese political philosophies. Read Sun's Fundamentals of National Reconstruction (Document 5-7). What does he want to "borrow" from the West? What specifically Chinese ideas and experiences does he value most? In what ways do Sun's ideas seem to reflect a reaction against imperialism?
Scramble for Africa
Until late in the nineteenth century, the interior of
Africa south of the Sahara Desert had been inaccessible to Europeans. Geography
and biology--infectious diseases to which whites had no immunities--prevented
any European settlement or colonization beyond the Atlantic coastal trade
missions which had been centers for the slave trade. In the decades after
the British outlawed slavery in their colonies in 1833, the trade in human
beings slowly ended. After 1870, advances in medical knowledge and military
technology combined with industrial growth (see the Introduction
to this page) to make sub-Saharan Africa a target for European nations
eager to explore, exploit, and conquer. Within a decade most of the continent
had been subdivided into colonies. The new situation was negotiated and
formalized at the Congress of Berlin in 1884, and the results can
be seen in the above map. The British and the French held the most territory,
though other nations also participated in "the scramble." This Statistical
Table (Document 5-8) indicates the demographic and geographical
extent of colonialism in Africa early in the twentieth century. Whether
British, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, or Belgian, Europeans held
common ideas about their desire for empire. The French politician Jules
Ferry expresses many of them in this 1884
Speech on Colonial Expansion (Document 5-9). What reasons does
Ferry give for the French to expand their empire?
Colonial economies in Africa varied widely. Some came to specialize in producing cash crops such as peanuts, cocoa, or coffee, from which African farmers were sometimes able to profit. Other colonies developed mining or plantation economies that pushed native peoples from their lands and exploited them with great cruelty and violence. The worst of these regimes was the Belgian colony in the Congo region of central Africa. The so-called "Congo Free State" was a personal possession of King Leopold II of Belgium, where private companies were given enormous amounts of land from which to extract rubber and ivory. In the Congo, torture, mutilation, and murder were commonly used to force Africans to work collecting rubber. Conditions were so horrible that a reform campaign attracted wide support in Europe and the United States. The African-American reformer Booker T. Washington was among those working to change conditions in the Congo. Read Washington's account of the Belgian regime, Cruelty in the Congo Country (Document 5-10). Imagine that you are an American reading Washington's account when it appeared in 1904. How would you respond? The campaign used photographic evidence to spread knowledge of Belgian atrocities. Some of these quite gruesome pictures can be seen in this on-line exhibition, The Kodak vs. the King (Document 5-11). The worst abuses ended when the Belgian government took direct control of the colony in 1908.
|Visual Sources: Trade
and Culture in Colonial Africa
Imperialism is one form of contact between civilizations. Such contacts almost always create new forms of culture. Between 1850 and 1900, after the slave trade had ended, Kongo craftsmen along the West African coastal region called Loango (ranging from present day Angola north to Cameroon) remained closely involved in trade with Europeans. Some of them began to adapt traditional craft techniques such as ivory carving to the export market. Intricately carved ivory was sold to eager buyers in Europe. Two details from one such carving are pictured above. To see more, go to this on-line exhibition on Loango Carved Ivory (Document 5-12) mounted by the National Museum of African Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. How does this art reflect colonial experience on the Loango Coast? Identify specific images, and describe their meaning for the history of the encounter between Europe and Africa in the nineteenth century.
U.S. in the Caribbean
In 1898, the United States went to war against Spain after an American naval vessel, the U.S.S. Maine, exploded while anchored in the harbor at Havana, Cuba. At the time, Cuban insurgents were fighting a war of independence against their Spanish colonial rulers. In the United States, sympathy for the Cuban rebels and anger about the Maine resulted in a declaration of war against Spain. The war ended in American victory and Spanish surrender of much of what remained of its empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Cuba (very briefly), Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines became American colonial possessions. The United States, whose territorial expansion had until then been mostly confined to the North American continent, entered the twentieth century by becoming a global power. The World of 1898 (Document 5-13), an online exhibition developed by the Library of Congress, contains much excellent material on the background and contexts of the Spanish-American War. To see how American power was used in the Caribbean, examine the map on p. 143 of The Modern World. As part of the settlement following the end of the war, Congress passed the Platt Amendment, a series of provisions which were attached to the Cuban Constitution in 1901. Read the text of the Platt Amendment (Document 5-14). Which sections of it seem to most strongly reflect American influence? How does the Amendment show the U.S. exercising its power in a newly independent Cuba? Compare the Amendment with Theodore Roosevelt's description of American interests in his 1904 address to Congress (an assignment for this topic in The World and the West). Throughout Latin America, reaction against the exercise of U.S. power was often very bitter. The Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario expressed these feelings very strongly in a 1916 poem called To Roosevelt (Document 5-15). Nicaragua was occupied by U.S. troops almost continuously from 1909 to 1933.
|U.S. Troops Covering the Advance of Filipino
Photograph courtesy of Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
|The Pacific Ocean was the other direction in which U.S.
power extended at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1893, after many
years of growing American economic and political pressure, a Marine invasion,
instigated by American sugar planters, overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and
turned the Hawaiian islands into an American territory. In 1898 the United
States annexed Hawaii. The same year, the U.S. assumed sovereignty over
the Philippines as part of the settlement ending war with Spain. A Filipino
resistance movement fought against the Americans for the next five years
before it was finally subdued in 1903. George Percival Scriven was an American
military officer who fought in the Philippine war. Examine this web site,
assembled from the papers of an American army officer who served in the
Philippines in 1900-1901. Examine Scriven
and the Philippines (Document 5-16) and find a document or a photograph
(like the one above) that adds to your understanding of American
imperialism in this era. Why did you choose the document or photograph?
Describe its historical significance for understanding the age of imperialism.
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