Imperialism Similarities: Old vs. New

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Old and new imperialism’ by Ron Short

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Old imperialism involved European trading posts, while new imperialism colonized and subjugated regions in the New World, Africa, and Asia, leading to European control of 84% of the world’s territory by 1914.

Key Insights

  • Old imperialism occurred from the 1500s to the 1700s, where European powers set up trading posts instead of acquiring territory.
  • Examples of old imperialism include Portugal setting up trading posts in Africa and Asia, and the Netherlands setting up posts in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
  • The New World (including Central and South America) experienced colonization and subjugation of Native Americans, similar to new imperialism.
  • New imperialism started in the 1880s in Africa and slightly earlier in Asia.
  • By 1914, Europeans controlled 84% of the world's territory, compared to 7% in the 1800s.
  • Motives for old imperialism included gold, glory, and God, while new imperialism added motives like commerce, civilization, and Christianity.
  • Europeans sought new markets and raw materials, but faced challenges with relevance and affordability of their goods in colonies.
  • Military bases were established to protect trade interests and prevent other countries' land grabs.
  • European countries vied for power, increasing tensions that eventually led to World War I.
  • Social Darwinism and nationalism ideologies fueled the belief in conquering others.
  • Christian missionaries accompanied companies, spreading their faith in Africa and Asia.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa was more receptive to missionary activities compared to Northern Africa, which was influenced by the Ottoman Empire and had a Muslim population.
  • Henry Morton Stanley played a significant role in exploring and mapping Africa, especially the Congo region, for European colonization.
  • Leopold II, the King of Belgium, worked with Stanley to sign treaties acquiring land rights from tribal leaders in the Congo.

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About the difference between old imperialism and the new imperialism that’s gonna develop from 1880 to 1914. So the dates that are on the screen are for new imperialism, range from 1880 to 1914, and it essentially stops with the start of World War I.

So old imperialism, let’s take a step back for a second. Old imperialism, as I’m going to call it, occurred from the 1500s to the 1700s. And during old imperialism, European powers did not usually acquire territory. They actually instead set up trading posts. An example, the most obvious examples are places like in Africa and Asia. In these areas, there was a relationship created between the people, the inhabitants of the continent and the European countries so that trading could occur. But there was not a wholesale movement for the most part of individuals from the European country to the new areas in Africa and Asia.

Portugal, for example, is going to set up trading posts on the West Coast of Africa, India, and Indonesia, and they would be responsible for starting the spice trade. They would also be responsible for the slave trade that would begin to the New World and would be taken over later by Great Britain. The Netherlands will also set up trading posts in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Again, Europeans usually respected and cooperated with local rulers in India, China, and Japan.

Here’s a map of Africa in 1880 prior to new imperialism beginning. And for the most part, you can see where Portugal and Britain have set up trading posts. And you can also see that for the most part, they haven’t gone into, at this point, into the center of places like Africa. The exception is Egypt up near the Suez Canal because of its importance in trade, and we will talk about that as an exception.

Old imperialism does have an exception, and it’s a pretty big exception, but it’s in relation to the New World. So the New World is really much more like new imperialism than old imperialism. The New World is where Spain is going to create an enormous empire that spans from Central and South America, and they’re going to claim large portions of the western part of North America. Native Americans are gonna be severely subjugated and sometimes even enslaved.

So old imperialism is mainly about setting up trade networks. The exception is the New World. So the New World, again, is more like what we’re going to see happening in Africa and Asia, but what happens in Africa and Asia doesn’t change until the 19th century, whereas the New World had been taken over much sooner. The New World actually in the 18th century and into the early 19th century, they’re all getting their freedom. So that means then that Europe is going to have to look elsewhere.

European migration is a big reason for this new form of colonialism that’s going to occur or this new form of imperialism, I guess is another term for it. From 1815 to 1932, more than 60 million people are going to leave Europe. This has a lot to do with economic crises of the time, a lot to do with the movements towards liberalism. So migrants usually went to European inhabited areas, areas where Europeans already were. So that would essentially keep them away from Africa and Asia and have them going over to the New World where they already had colonies set up. This is another reason for more expansion. Most immigrants are going to be during this time, poor and from rural areas who are in need of jobs.

The new imperialism. New imperialism is going to begin in 1880s in Africa. It’s actually a little earlier in Asia. In the 1800s, Europeans controlled 7% of the world’s territory, but by 1914, they’re going to control 84%, so huge change. British alone is going to control 25% of the world’s population and 20% of the actual world’s territory or land. Queen Victoria, when she is ruling during this time period is related to saying that the sun never set on the British Empire because there was always a colony where the sun was up. Europeans used force to control their local governments and then exploited the local economies for whatever raw materials they might have. Britain’s control over Egypt in the 1880s is going to be the model for new imperialism and it’s going to be that first inroad into setting up a true protectorate or colony in Africa and then it will spread to a lot of other European countries scrambling to get their piece of territory.

Britain in Egypt, as our first example, was originally controlled by Turkey and the Ottoman Empire and in 1849, they controlled this area. They are going to attempt to get a canal built that will increase trade and get trade over into Asia. The canal is going to open in 1869 and the way that they got this built is foreign investors in Britain and France wanted to get this canal built so that they could trade with the Far East. So they’re not satisfied with the management that is occurring in this new canal. So they are going to buy up, specifically Britain’s gonna buy up significant portions of shares in the company that runs the canal in 1875 and as a result, they’re going to feel like they’re in charge of this whole area. So by 1883, Britain is going to declare Egypt a protectorate, meaning I’m gonna protect you. It’s a very paternalistic way of looking at imperialism or taking over another country. So this protectorate was supposed to be temporary. The Suez Canal and its ability to allow trade to move much faster is the main motivation but Egypt during this time period is still technically part of the Ottoman Empire but Britain somehow just swept in and took it over. So Britain will control this area from 1883 all the way until 1956 after World War II.

So what are the motives for new imperialism versus old imperialism? Some of them are pretty similar but old imperialism is noted for the motives of gold, going over to get those gold and silver you can put on there, glory just for the idea of exploring the great humanistic idea of exploration and then for God for this Christianizing missionary impulse. So you’ve got gold, glory and God, the three Gs for old imperialism.

New imperialism on the other hand has some new motivations. So commerce, trade, natural resources. So not just gold but other natural resources plus new markets in order to trade the things that have been made from this industrial revolution. So commerce is one. Civilization, this idea that one nation is greater than another and that there is a responsibility by these great European nations that are industrialized to civilize the rest of the world. Again, a social Darwinistic kind of attitude. And then the last one is Christianity. So God’s there both times. Some people are going over there for really very noble reasons, going places like Africa and Asia. Others are there primarily as economic motivation.

So commerce, I think really one of the main reasons that the Europeans went. New markets and raw materials. They’ve got surplus goods from the industrial revolution and they believe that they can sell them in these new areas. They actually find this to not be necessarily the case as they go to places like Africa. No one wants to dress like a Victorian subject from England. The new markets for the most part are too poor to buy the goods or the goods are not relevant to the climate and where they live. Germany’s trade with colonies is actually only 1% of its total trade to just give you an idea. France imports more goods than it sells to its colonies

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Old and new imperialism’ by Ron Short