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The New Imperialism


From the second half of the 19th century to the start of World War I in 1914, there was a time of increased imperialistic growth known as the New Imperialism. Along with the former colonial powers of western Europe, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States, there was a renewed effort to increase territorial control.

The first period of European imperialism was brought to an end by the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) and the fall of the Spanish Empire in Latin America in the 1820s. These uprisings, particularly in Great Britain, contributed to exposing the fallacies of mercantilism, the theory of economic competition for limited resources that had underwritten earlier imperial growth. Between the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which followed Napoleonic France's defeat, and Imperial Germany's triumph in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, Great Britain benefited from its position as Europe's preeminent military and economic power.

Background and Characteristics

  • An international financial crisis struck a large portion of the industrialised world in 1873 after years of rapid expansion under free trade policy regimes. States started handling their economic affairs more actively as a result of the crisis's economic and social effects.

  • The great powers of Europe quickly overcame almost a century of lethargy about overseas colonies in the 1870s and 1880s, dividing nearly the whole uncolonized section of the world in less than 20 years. After the race for colonies was finished, pressure groups sprang up in various nations to promote imperialism's economic potential, but governments frequently had to support colonial growth.

  • Europeans could overwhelm native populations along the shores of Africa and Asia before the 1870s, but they lacked the weaponry, mobility, and communications necessary to subdue the interior. By 1880, tiny units of European regulars could easily defeat native soldiers who were several times their number when armed with modern weapons and practising fire discipline.

  • Technology advancements from the concurrent second Industrial Revolution allowed entrants to the imperialist drive to compete with the established powers in addition to enabling expansion into previously uncolonized areas.

  • Mass-produced steel, energy sources like oil and electricity, industrial chemistry, and internal combustion engines made it possible for more states to join the colonial race on fairly equal terms, notably Germany, the United States, and later Japan.

  • The second Industrial Revolution's new industries needed significant capital investment in large-scale units in order to function effectively. As a result, they promoted the growth of capital markets and banking organisations that were substantial and adaptable enough to finance the new businesses.

  • The larger capital markets and industrial enterprises, in turn, contributed to the expansion of the industrialised countries' geographic scope of operations. More capital could now be raised for loans and investments abroad, and larger corporations had the means to invest globally in the exploration and development of the raw materials vital to the profitability and security of their ventures.

  • The South African War (the Boer War), the First Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish-American War, and the Russo-Japanese War among many that ushered in this new period of colonial rivalry that ended the comparatively quiet conditions of the mid-19th century.

  • The annexations that took place during this new stage of imperial development were very different from those that occurred earlier in the 19th century. While the latter was of considerable size, it was mostly focused on consolidating claimed territory (by invading continental regions and exerting more effective control over native inhabitants) and only incidentally on making fresh conquests.

  • Contrarily, the New Imperialism was characterized by a flurry of activity in dividing up previously sovereign regions, annexing a sizable portion of Asia, many Pacific islands, and nearly all of Africa. In 1914, the colonial powers, their colonies, and their former colonies expanded over around 85% of the surface of the Earth as a result of this fresh expansion and conquest on top of that of previous centuries. Due to the use of zones of influence, exclusive commercial agreements, and the frequent subordination imposed on debtor countries by lenders, leading powers were able to exert economic and political dominance over nearly the whole planet.

  • The period from 1871 to 1914 would be characterised by a very shaky peace. Germany's growing imperialist ambitions and France's determination to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine, which Germany had conquered as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, would keep the two countries perpetually on edge.

  • The Long Depression of 1873–1896, a protracted period of price deflation and severe business downturns that put pressure on governments to promote domestic industry and resulted in the general rejection of free trade among Europe's powers, heightened this competition.

  • The concept that one's own nation is superior to other nations and has the right to govern over them was warped into nationalism. Additionally, it might promote a spirit of competition among nations. The governments of Britain, France, Germany, and other European powers were forced to compete during this time period, first within Europe and subsequently globally. Imperialists were driven by nationalism to seize new colonies before their rivals could.


Each of these elements contributed to the New Imperialism. Each time a new colony was founded, the combination of these forces determined the major, worldwide trend that had industrial powers scrambling to seize them. For instance, a typical "man-on-the-spot" would probably employ modern weaponry (technology) to subjugate those he perceived as inferior (racist), to grow his business (industrialism/capitalism), and to be rewarded politically at home for upholding the honour of his nation (nationalism).


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