European Colonialism in 1880-1914 - Paper Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1136 Words
Date:  2021-05-25

The last five chapters of Robert Gildeas Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914 discusses the sequel of industrialization and urbanization in Europe. Some of the events recorded in the chapters are directly related to industrialization while others are more oriented to the political and social transformation happening in the continental Europe between 1880 and 1914. After European countries had become uniformly industrialized, some countries pursued influence in the content by seeking economic supremacy. The mass migration of populations became an important determinant of economic status. For instance, the migration of people from the villages to the urban centers in Eastern European countries contributed to the development of the third organ of commerce: trade, sales, and administration. For these reasons countries with high internal migration rates and well-established trade routes and administrative systems became more economically and politically stable. Consequently, the political and economic center of gravity shifted from Great Britain to Germany and Russia. The economic supremacy of nations was also influenced by the Great Depression in Europe between 1873 and 1895. In this period, the price of agricultural produce fell drastically and the business cycle with France recording a significant drop in the economy by 1878. Social movements happening in the last decades of the 19th century include Feminism and Chauvinism. Elite women drawn from industry and agricultural sector rallied their folk to fight for equal rights with their male counterparts. Josephine Butler, for instance, vehemently opposed the Contagious Diseases Act which sought to regulate female prostitution in Britain. Colonialism was perhaps the most profound international event of that time. The debate was taken in and out of Europe as countries established political and economic influence in oversea colonies. As Gildea (2013) notes, the struggle for colonies was a projection of, and a decisive factor in, the struggle for supremacy in Europe. Therefore, it is important to ask whether there was any correlation between the political and economic position of countries in Europe and the number of oversea territories that a country held.

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By 1880, the Great Britain had already established influence over South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Although other European countries were not receptive of goods manufactured in Britain, these oversea territories provided a ready market for goods. Since the territories had their own political systems, the colonies internal leadership wrangles prompted Britain to devolve colonial function to these territories. Under the many agreements that Britain made with the local leaders, the colonial power was only given the mandate to carry out various functions of their interest while the colonies were granted the right to self-rule. However, the British continued to expand their influence while the power of local system was diminished. In India, for example, the Viceroy and his council made important decisions on economics until when the Queen of England became the Empress of India. The scramble for colonies became apparent in South Africa and Canada as Dutch, and French settlers in these countries developed to conflict over interests. In Egypt, French and British colonists faced off for some time over the Suez Canal until in 1876 when they brokered a deal to bail out an insolvent Khedive government. On return, the Khedive government was to guarantee financial and political control over the country.

Algeria was the first African colony that France acquired for itself. It was an important gateway to the African and Mediterranean trade routes. However, unlike British colonists, the French were not willing to emigrate and occupy the oversea countries (Chamberlain, 2014). As a result, French colonies served as regional naval bases and trade centers. The construction and completion of the Suez Canal with the direct input of French capital opened the country to the Far East where it acquired more colonies in the Indo-China region. France severely failed in colonizing Mexico. In Tunisia, France competed with Italy in sinking mines and exploiting other natural resources. Frances triumph over Italy in Tunisia was facilitated by the immigration of missionaries to serve in the newly built community center at Carthage.

Germany launched its rush for colonies by establishing trade routes in Africa through German enterprises. In 1883, Luderitz, a German merchant, built a trading station in South-West African Coast and competed with Britain for the regional market. The battle for colonies intensified when Bernard Bismarck declared South Africa a German Protectorate. He also sent naval ships to Cameroon, Niger, and Togo to establish trade routes (Chamberlain, 2014). Disregarding the presence of French and France in these areas, Bismarck proceeded to declare them German protectorates. The heightened discord prompted for a convention to outline the rules guiding the influence and control of the African colonial empires. The Berlin Conference of 1844 to 1845 thus imposed free trade in the Congo and Niger Rivers, but also called for countries to establish a sphere of influence over the countries they effectively occupied. From this point, colonialism materialized as European powers devolved their government to actualize the rule and control of oversea empires which were majorly made of African Colonies.

One of the factors that prompted European nations to seek international influence was the search for a market for manufactured good as well as raw material for industries. After the protectionist policies had been implemented in many countries in Europe, foreign markets shrank as countries wanted to protect their domestic industries. For Britain, African colonies reserved a market for its exports. Britain was aware of the Gold deposits in the Transvaal region of South Africa, and although it did not overrule the existing authorities, it developed close association with the political rulers in a move to dethrone them at a later date. In West Africa, the British played a leading role in abolishing the slave trade in a bid to promote the trade for palm oil (Chamberlain, 2014). This commodity was an important raw material for industries in Britain. By 1890, all the imports to India came from the Great Britain, meaning that India had already become a ready market. European powers also invested millions of cash in the development of projects that would promote trade in Africa, France, for instance, invested heavily in the Suez Canal.

Therefore, as nationalism gained ground in Europe, African colonies provided a ready market and a valuable source of raw materials for European industries. Countries with many overseas colonies had a bigger market for their goods and in turn, their economies improved. Great Britain, due to its success in governing its colonies became an economic giant again, as the political and economic heart of Europe returned to the West. During the World War I, countries with many colonies had bigger armies as some of their subjects were recruited to fight for them in the military. In a nutshell, there was a direct contribution of oversea control and the political and economic supremacy of countries in Europe.


Chamberlain, M. E. (2014). The scramble for Africa. Routledge.

Gildea, R. (2003). Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914. OUP Oxford. Chicago

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