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Impact Of 19th Century European Colonialism History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

This paper will examine the impact of 19th century European Colonialism on the Third World. Firstly I will provide a definition of the terms ‘colonialism’ and ‘Third Word’, secondly I will try to evaluate this term in historical context of 19th century affairs which led to colonisation of Third World countries. I will also define countries have been colonised and name the colonising countries to provide clear picture of the subject stated above. Further I will present the arguments which will help me examine the impact of colonisation and evaluate the outcomes of this process. In the final part I shall try to add my personal opinion about colonisation in 19th century and its impact in current world politics.

To understand the term ‘colonialism’ we need to go back in the history and perhaps start from the ancient Greeks, who set up colonies so did the Romans, the Rooms and the Ottomans. The fact is that we cannot give an exact date when this process has started, however we can definitely state that in the 16th century colonialism has changed its dimension due to development in navigation that lead to better understanding of remote parts of the world, which were until then inaccessible. Improvement in fast sailing ships enabled discovering unknown parts of world and discovering new continents, thus severing ties between colonies and centres. Eventually this has led to the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world, including both Americas, Australia, Africa and certain parts of Asia.

Fieldhouse in West and the Third World is referring to Oxford English Dictionary, in which we find that colonialism comes from the Roman ‘colonia’ which meant ‘farm’ or ‘settlement’, and referred to Romans who settled in the other lands but still retained their citizenship. Accordingly, the OED describes it as,

“A settlement in a new country…a body of people who settle in a new locality, forming a community subject to or connected with their parent state; the community so formed, consisting of the original settlers and their descendants and successors, as long as the connection with the parent state is kept up.” Fieldhouse (1999, p. )

There is another aspect of colonialism which needs to be mentioned here. This concept is imperialism, which very often is mistaken as synonym of the term colonialism. Both these concepts were forms of conquering new territories which were expected to bring benefits to Europe in areas such as strategies and economics. However when we talk about colonialism we often refer to inhabiting places such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria and South America, mainly Brazil, that were controlled by European empires. Whereas the term imperialism refers to foreign government representatives administers a territory without settlement, typical example may be the scramble for Africa in late nineteenth century.

In this essay, however I am going to be referring to colonialism in context of political domination between sixteenth and twentieth century, and nineteen century in particular.

The Third World is a more difficult concept to be precisely defined. According to D.K. Fieldhouse Third Word form has been established as “designating the non-capitalist and non-imperialist countries and colonies” Fieldhouse (1999, p. 2) at the Bandung Conference of non aligned states in 1955. Thereafter it has become valid to indicate those Latin American, African and Asian countries that were politically detached from economic powers such as United States and the USSR.

One of the propagators of colonialism in the early nineteenth century was Wakefield. In the book A View of the Art of Colonization, he claims:

“Colonies, therefore, are… naturally exporting communities; they have a large produce for exportation. Not only have they a large produce for exportation, but that produce is peculiarly suited for exchange with old countries. I consequence of the cheapness of land in colonies, the great majority of the people are owners or occupiers of land; and their industry is necessarily in great soil, food and the raw materials of manufacture. In old countries on the other hand…it may be said that manufactured goods are their natural production of export. These are what the colonists do not produce. The colony produces what the colony wants. The old country and the colony, therefore, are, naturally, each other’s best customers. “Wakefield (1849, p. 83)

While this argument of complementarity was well suited to the early history of settlements societies from early Spanish America to nineteenth century Australia, New Zealand and Canada, it was also applicable, in modified form, to other parts of the world, notably tropical Africa and South-east Asia, which came under greatly increased European commercial influence during the later nineteenth century. Many parts of Africa, however well developed their internal and regional trades might be, lacked markets for greatly expanded production, particularly of bulk commodities. The establishment of overseas markets for existing products, such as palm oil or groundnuts, or innovations such as cocoa, rubber and coffee, provided a stimulus to expand land and labour utilization. This type of development, which was found also in the expanded rice production of parts of South-east Asia, did not normally require radical change in modes of production or costly new equipments. It was, therefore, potentially cost-free to these societies, unless concentration on an export crop resulted in dependence on imports of foodstuffs that had been replaced by cash crops for export.

To help me analyse the question of impact of 19th century colonialism I would like to look at Britain conquering of India. During the 19thcentury a succession of Governors General continued the British conquest in India. It has started from East India Company, which was founded by British trades initially to trade with India. Eventually British succeeded in capturing great part of India. Some Indian kingdoms were forcibly taken with military might and ruled directly as part of Indian government. By 1830 almost all of India was under direct or indirect control of Britain. More than half of the Indian provinces were directly governed by the Indian Civil Service, the remaining parts of the country called “princely states” were ruled by Rajahs, who were controlled by British “Residents”, who lived in the capital of the state and kept tabs on them. In mid 19th century India was governed by London through a Viceroy in Calcutta. The Indians were traded as slaves to other British colonies.

According to D.K Fieldhouse Britain has led India to becoming a poor country;

“First, free trade had largely destroyed much of Indian industry, particularly that in cotton textiles, resulting in the ‘de-industrialisation’ of the country for the benefit of British manufacturers and traders” Fieldhouse (1999, p.35)

Fieldhouse continues emphasising that development of India was stopped by rigorous free trade, which did not provide any form of protection for small industries. Real resources were ‘drained’ from India to Britain, as a cause of obligatory payments for British military expenses and salaries of British officials. The combined effect was to condemn India to perpetual poverty as a nation forced to be a producing country for benefit of Britain.

“The British introduced modern technology with the intention to sell manufactured goods like textiles and machines for profit. In the process of trying to make a profit and exploiting India, the British did of course benefit India. They built railways throughout India in order to make everything readily accessible. They established Law Courts, civil services and transport systems. They also established factories, schools and universities to introduce western ideas and to incorporate the idea of democracy. Missionaries came to India and spread Christianity. This was all done in the name of Britain’s economy. “(

The European colonialism of the world brought great things but the price colonized countries paid for it was also enormous. When analysing the final product of colonialism we can see two parallels, one is the lost of national identity or strictly speaking cultural identity, and the second is the changing of social structure and hierarchy.

However colonialism, in as much as it was a vehicle for the export of Western technologies, also spelt the export of these ideas. Marxism views colonialism as a form of capitalism, enforcing exploitation and social change. Working within the global capitalist system, colonialism is closely associated with uneven development, he thought. Hence Marx himself regarded colonialism as brutal precondition for the liberation of these societies:

“England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hinduistan was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution” Marx (1973, p.306)

One of the Enlightenment thinkers – Diderot was very critical of the barbarity of colonialism. Diderot was one of the most forceful critics of European colonization. He argued that it was not genuine intention of Europe to “civilize” the rest of the world. In his book Histoire des deux Indes, he counter argued the view that indigenous people benefit from European civilization and opposed that the European colonists are the uncivilized ones. He claimed that culture – “national character”- helps to inculcate morality and reinforces norms of respect, but these norms tend to dissipate when the individual is far from his country of origin. He believed that colonial empires frequently become the sites of extreme brutality because when the colonists were far away from legal institutions and informal sanctions, the habits of restraint fell away, exposing natural man’s full instinct for violence. (

In the book of Water Rodney How Europe underdeveloped Africa, author emphasises that European colonialism destroyed the native viability of African societies and their capacity for sustained development, leaving them marginalized helots on the periphery of the western capitalist world. He summed this up by saying “…Africans went into colonialism with a hoe and came out with a hoe” Rodney (1973, p.239)

To aid understanding about his point of view Fieldhouse is using another author, Jean Suret- Canale. Fieldhouse emphasises that particularly in West Africa, mainly French trading companies, which were dominating these territories had no genuine interest in economic development.

“…they merely wanted to export commodities and sell imported consumer goods”. Fieldhouse (1999, p. 165)

To conclude the legitimacy of colonialism is still visible today through examining the causes of poverty and underdevelopment in Third World countries. In many of the Third World countries commodities production for export, was in no sense an optional, and certainly not a sufficient condition for sustained economic growth. Its success or failure seems to have been in direct proportions to the extent to which this forcible linking of peripheral countries with the West injected and nurtured the virus of capitalism, or modernisation. In the British settlers colonies colonization did this very effectively, in most tropical dependencies the effects were limited. The relative poverty of many Third World countries reflects this particular failure. Yet the modern experience of a number of one-time colonies in South-east and East Asia also suggest that colonial rule and foreign trade may lay the foundations for much more dramatic economic development as part of international division of labour.

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