Imperialism, colonialism and decolonisation

Definitions of colonisation

  • Colonisation is the forming of a settlement or colony by a group of people who seek to take control of territories or countries.

  • It usually involves large-scale immigration of people to a ‘new’ location and the expansion of their civilisation and culture into this area.

  • A colony is a settlement that has been established by people from a different place and it is under the immediate political control of the country where the colonisers came from.

  • This control is usually geographically distant, and is sometimes called the parent country or the mother country.

  • People who migrated to settle permanently in colonies controlled by the mother country were called colonists or settlers.

Colonisation in Ancient times

  • In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans often established colonies in other territories.

  • The Romans, however, often conquered civilised peoples in north Africa and west Asia and then colonised the area.

Colonisation in Middle times

  • In this age there was a large scale movement of people establishing new colonies all over western Europe.

  • The Vikings of Scandinavia also colonised many new territories including Iceland and Greenland.

  • Some modern day nations of Europe were established at this time including Hungary, colonised by the Huns; France, colonised by the Franks; and England, colonised by the Anglo Saxons.

Colonisation in Modern times

  • Between 1500 and 1800, many voyages were undertaken to explore this round world.

  • One explorer was Christopher Columbus who arrived in America in 1492.

  • It was not until 1607, however, that the British set up a colony at Jamestown in Virginia, North America.

  • The Dutch took control of Indonesia in 1619 and called it the Dutch East Indies.

  • The French and English set up colonies in India and North America; and Captain James Cook mapped New Zealand.

Different forms of colonisation

1. Settler colonies

  • Settled by people from another country and displaced the Indigenous people.

  • Ex: – Australia

2. Dependency colonies

  • Created when the colonisers took control of the government and administration of a territory and exercised control by threat of force.

  • Ex: – British in India

3. Plantations colonies

  • A colony where African slaves were imported by the white colonisers to do the work on the banana, sugar cane, coffee or pineapple plantations.

  • Ex: – British in Jamaica.

4. Trading posts

  • To engage in trade rather than colonising further parts of the territory

  • Ex: – Singapore

Four Major Colonisers

Portuguese Empire

  • From Brazil, Portugal gathered resources such as gold, precious stones, sugar cane and coffee. The population in Brazil grew quickly as settlers moved from Europe to Brazil and slaves were imported from Africa.
  • Today Brazil is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world.

  • Portugal also established trading ports at locations such as Goa, Malacca, the Maluku Islands, Macau, and Nagasaki; and colonised parts of Africa.

  • After World War II, Portugal began abandoning its colonies, and its overseas empire ended in 1999, when it handed Macau over to China.

Spanish Empire

  • The Spanish Empire was the fourth largest empire in world history between 1740 – 1790 when it controlled about half of South America, a third of North America and countries in the Pacific.

  • Trading routes were opened across the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and the Americas, and across the Pacific between East Asia and Mexico via the Philippines.

  • By colonising new lands, Spain had access to gold, silver, sugar, porcelain, spices and silk from South America and Asia.

  • It also undermined the power of France and created new Catholic countries as well as defending Europe against Islam, mainly from the Ottoman Empire.

French Empire

  • France has had colonies around the world since the beginning of the 17th century.

  • In the 19th and 20th centuries, France’s global colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire.

  • France’s colonial empire really began in 1605 when a colony was established in North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada.

  • France also had colonies around the world in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.

British Empire

  • The British Empire was the most extensive empire in world history and for a time it was the strongest power in the world.

  • By 1921, the British Empire consisted of approximately one-quarter of the world’s population and one quarter of Earth’s total land area.

  • Britain wanted colonies so that it could grow in wealth and power.

  • The British colonies in India, Africa, the Pacific, America, Asia and so on were used to provide land and resources and to set up trading routes and partners.

colonisationDecolonisation in 20th century
  • By the end of the 20th century, most of the former European colonies around the world had won their independence.

  • Most of the process of decolonization took place in the 3 decades immediately after the end of the Second World War.

  • During the 1950s and 1960s, most former colonies gained their independence.

  • By the 1980s only a few overseas territories remained under the control the former European colonial powers.

  • Almost all of the African continent (with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia) had been divided up among European powers by the first decade of the 20th century.

  • Britain and France controlled the largest portion of the continent. Belgium controlled the large colony of Congo.

  • In Asia Britain controlled the Indian Subcontinent, including what are now Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). Malaysia and Singapore were also under British control.

  • France ruled most of the rest of Southeast Asia, with the exception of Thailand.

  • In addition to outright colonies, there were four dominion nations within the British commonwealth: Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

  • In the British dominions, governments became to demand more autonomy from Britain and more control over their own affairs in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

  • Dominions like Canada, South Africa and Australia began to take responsibility for their own foreign policy and military defense.

  • The major catalyst for decolonization was the Second World War.

  • After the end of the war many former colonial powers were economically and physically shattered.

  • India was one of the first former British colonies to gain its independence in 1947.

  • The former colony was partitioned at independence, between mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India.

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