European colonization spread all over the globe, exceot for Antartica. Some of the European powers had some early experience with colonialism before close to home. The most important such experience was the Spanish colonization of the Canary Islands which set the foundation for their colonial effort in the Americas. The European maritime outreach began in Africa as the Portuguese began sailing south along the coast of Africa to find a sea route to the East (15th century). The other Europeans followed in their wake. They set up trading posts, but did not begin to colonize the area. This only began with the Scrable for Africa (19th century). The Spanish and Portugues led the maritime outreach to the America, beginning in the Caribbean and Brazil. They did begin to colonize the area. The encounter with Native American Empires brought great wealth and new crops to Europe. The gold and silver profoundlt affected the ecoinomy. The humble potato greatly increased the food production potential of European agriculture and significant population growth resulted. Other European powers followed, primarily in the Caribbean. Here the sugar trade made small islands enormously valuable. Norh Aerica colonization bean in Central America and Mexico by the Spanish. Further north it became a struggle primrily between the British and French. The Brutish after expelling the French lost most of North america as the result of the American Revolution (18th century). As aesult they employed new policies as they proceeded to build a new empire.
Asia was different than Africa and the Americas because there were well developed states in place that made colonizationmore difficult. Gradually the rising miltary power of Europe made possible the colonization of India (18th century) and then on a more limited basia, China (19th century). Spain began the colonization of Oceania with the Philippines (16th century). The Dutch began colonizing the East Indies (17th century) and the British Australia (18th century). The rest of Oceania was colonized (19th century).
European colonialism began with the Portuguese voyages of exploration along the coast of Africa in the 15th century. They were soon followed by the Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. These countries set up trading posts along the coast, but did not move inland to establish actual colonies. The one exception to this was in South Africa where Dutch settlers did establish farms. After the English took over Capetown in 1795 during the wars with Revolutionary France. The Dutch moved inland to avoid English domination. The French had moved to establish colonies in North Africa in the mid 19th century. It was not until the 1870s. however, that the Europeans began to carve out colonies in sun-Saharan Africa. It was then that the "Scranble for Africa" began. European imperialism has been blamed, with considerable justification, for many of the problems of modern Africa. Along with the rampant nationalism and desire for profit, however, there was a strong moral aspect to European colonialism in Africa. Those who read about child slavery, child soldiers, female circumcision, the AIDs epidenmic, and other problems experience some of the main motivations that prompted Victorian imperialists.
What we now call Latin America was the location of several Native American empires long before the arrival of the Europeans. The most famous wree the Aztecs in Meso-America and the Inca in the Andean region of South America. Ther were many other Native American civilizations that colonized neighboring tribes. After Colunbus' first voyage (1492), Spain and Portugal colonized almost all of South and Central America. The only exception was the Mapuche in Chile. (Historically referred to as the Araucanians.) Gradually the other Europen powers (British, Dutch, French, and Danish) carved out small enclaves, mostly in the Caribbean. The Spanish at first dominted the Caribbean, but found more lucrative conquests on the mainland. This and the expanding maritime ower of the other countrie, enabled them to carve out small colonial possessions, both islands and mainland colonies. While the Spanish lost interest because there was little gold and the Native American population sucumed to mistreatment and European diseases, the development of the sugar industry and African slavery made some of these islands enormously valuable. During the Napoleonc War, the Spanish colonirs launched Wars for Independence (1806-26). After the Napoleonic Wars, the British used their naval power to prevent Spain from supressing the revolutuons in their former colonies. The United States issued the Monroe Doctrine opposing further European colonization, built would be decades before America had the actual military or economic capability of enforcing its declaration. The first such action was resisting French colonization of Mexico (1860s).
It ws the Spanish that became the firt to reach North America in any numbers as they were the firt in Central merica and South America. They gave, however, little attention to North America as they found little gold and the Natives Americans privd more difficukt to overcome, especially as thgey began to aquire horse. A a result Spanish colonization was very north of what is now Mexico. Quit a number of countries founded colonies in North America. This included the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia, but the major powers which contended for control of the continent was Britain and France. The British founded colonies along the Atlantic seabord. Unlike the Spanish, these became agricultural colonies settled by British citizens seeking land. And contrary to what the Crown wanted, they included religuous desenters. The French founded NBew France (modern Canbada) to th north of he English colob=nie and further inland. The French focused more on he fyur trade than in settling farmers on the land. It was the British who would previl, the issue settle by the French and Indian War (1756-63). British naval power and larger settler population proved decisive. Although they defeated the French, British colonial policy soon alienated the Britih colonist that had considered themselve British. The British saw the colonie as created to benefit Britain and enforced policies to benefit Britain at the expense of the colonists. Restructive trade policies were enforced. This led to the Americn Revolution (1776-83). While the Amrican colonie were thge major colonial possesion, Britain wnt on to found a much larger empire, but with differnt colonial policies. In the new British Empire free trade policies were generally adopted.
The impetus for theEuropean maritime outreach and ensuing colonial era was a desire to trade directly with the East, including India, the Spice Islands, and ultimately China. This trade was controlled by the Ottoman Empire and the Arabs which blocked European access to the Silk Rad and Spice Route. Venice and other Italiabs sttes benefitted, but the Atlantic cost European countries wanted to benefit by direct access to the trade. The Portuguese began the voyages south needed to round the coast of Africa. Columbus though t=he could reach the Indiies by sailing west, but of course unexpectely discovered the Americas.
No assessment of colonialism of colonialism is complete without an assessment of the British Raj. India was of course known as the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire. Bitain acquired India just at the time that the Industial Revolution was changing the British economy. India provided an important market for the expanding output of cotton goods which were central to the early stage of the Industrial Revolution. This had a disatrous impact on the weaving industry in India. Along with the economic interest, by the 19th century, the moral imperitive to Chrtianize and uplift the heathen had become an important part of Britain's role in India. In sharp contrast with Victorian moralizing was the role of that the British played in opium exporting that led to the Opium Wars in China. Britain's tax policy had at times a terrible impact on India. The British role in India, however, had many possitive aspects. The colonionial regime in India never included very many Britons. The vast majority of colonial admiistrators even during the Rak were Indians. To make this possible Briton had to educate large number of Indians. Is is not accidented that men like Ghandi and Nehru who achieved independence were educated in British schools. Briton also created the infrastructure of a modern state, especially railroads. India after independence has to be seen in many ways as an economic failure. A case can be made that this failure was not a result of colonialism, but the choices made by Indian officials after independence. India's economic failure seems largely due to the attempt to create a socialist state with large state-owned industries and an economnmy managed by a large state bureaucracy.
The Middle East and North Africa today is largely Islamicized and culturally, but not ethically Arab. This began with the Islamic Caliphate set in motionm but founded after the death of Mohammed (8th century AD. The Middle East also includd Turkey and Persia (modrrn Iran) and sevaral smaller countries. The Turk and Persians have for the most part escaped colonization and Turkey was itself a major colonial power. The Caliphate was a huge empire, but streaching from Central Asia to the Atlantic (Morocco and Spain). It was, however, never really able to achieve a stbke system or colonies. The military commanders whi conqyuerred territory tended to operte autinomousky and ultimately achive independence. The aliphate was able to offer little resistnce to the Crusaders (11th century) the Calphate was finlly destroyed by the Mongols (13th century). For the next three centuries, the Arabs were unable to ither unite or form a powerful tate. The Ottoman Empire seized the Middle East (16th century) and at times exerted varying desgrees of control over North Africa. The Ottomons cpntrolled the Arab lands for several centuries. Even befor colonization by the Ottimans, the arab lands were as if time stood still. While Europe experuencd the Rnaissance, Reformation, abd Enligtenment as well as the birth of modern science and the Industrial Revolution. life in the Arab world was unchnged. Early photographs taken in Egypt and othr Arab areas show a life little changed since the ancient times. And even the clothing was akmost identical to that worn in the medival era. In North Africa, the Arabs were so backward that they srvived inly with piracy. Egypt achieved its independence fom the Ottoman during the Napoleonic Wars. This was a European opening to aland virtually unchanged for centuries. After this Europen powers began to take out coloniesin Arab lands. The first was the French which entered North Africa to restablish an empire and end Barbary piracy. The British followed suit in East Africa and Egyot as part of an effirt to end the slave trade and secure the Suez Canal. As part of World War I the British seized and aong with France colonuzed the core Arbl lands that had been part of the Ottoman Empire. For the most part, the European colonian enterprise in rge Middle East and North africa was brif nd lrfely superficial. Interestingly, in discussiins with Arabs today, there is decided tendency to blame their backwardness and poverty of the West and the Jews. And this dspite tha all the wonders of modern life, mechnization, electricity, appliances, cars, telecommunications, pharmesuticals, medical procedures, nd much more hhave come from the West. The ra world although now fully undoendent for decade has been a technological black whole, ading nothing to modrn life and living on the tcjnology and modern advances of the West.
Spain began the colonization of Oceania with the Philippines (16th century). The Dutch began colonizing the East Indies (17th century) and the British Australia (18th century). The rest of Oceania was colonized (19th century). France and Germany were also involved and finally America and Japan. The poitical situation of Oceania was finally settled by the Pacific War. Australia and New Zealand were already Dominions. This began with independence of the Philippines (1948).
Arctic conditions were not condusive for colonialization. There was one colony. The Russians founded Alaska. Concerned about their ability to defend Alaska, they sold it to the United States (1867). The United states treated it as a territory rather than a colony. and it entered the Union as the 49th stated (1959).
Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to the Main European colonialism page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]