Europe against the world

The word “colony” comes from the Latin colonia—”a place for agriculture”. The British imperialism often used the concept of Terra nullius (Latin from Roman law meaning ’empty land’). British settlement and colonial rule of Australia was premised on terra nullius, as its settlers considered it unused by its Aboriginal inhabitants. Colonialism implies geographic separation between the colony and the imperial power. Hence, the Russian, Ottoman and Austrian Empires, which did not expand over oceans but through the conquest of neighbouring territories, are excluded from colonialism.

The Ottomans had taken over the eastern Mediterranean and closed the overland trade routes by the 14th century. Therefore the Europeans had to find new trade routes. The first foothold outside of Europe was gained by the Portuguese in 1415 with the conquest of Ceuta on the Moroccoan coast.

In 1453, the Turks ended the Byzantine Empire, which resulted in the migration of Byzantine Greek scholars to Europe and the rediscovery and revival of Greek and Roman art, literature, philosophy, and science – known as the Renaissance “rebirth” or “reawakening” in Europe – and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) became models of the Renaissance man.

Martin Luther started the Reformation on 31 October 1517 when he published his Ninety-Five Theses. His friend, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), the painter, illustrated it for a popular audience. The use of metal movable type in the printing press in 1439 provided the means of rapid dissemination. The clergy was made subject to the civil law, and the ” Word of God” was preached in the churches and taught in the schools in the mother tongue. The separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII, began in 1529 and was completed in 1537.

Copernicus (1473-1543) came out with the thesis that earth was not flat but round, and revolved round the Sun. This was supported by the planetary observations of Galileo Galilee (1564-1642).

In 1492, the last Muslim kingdom of Granada in Spain surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, who financed Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) from Genoa to explore a western route to Asia. He made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain in 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus’s first two voyages (1492–93) reached the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. He visited the coast of Venezuela and Central America over the course of two more voyages,

As the sponsor of Christopher Columbus’s voyages, Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from North to South America. By mining gold and silver in the New World, the European trading companies began to change the terms of trade that were then used to barter and other types of exchange. Further, the diets of people in the Old World were transformed. Dietary staples such as maize and the potato were previously unknown in Europe. New vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and pumpkin appeared. Nuts. Fruits from avocados and pineapples to guavas and papayas. Sugar-rich plants such as sugar maple and protein-rich legumes such as beans. Peanuts provided oil and fat. Cocoa, consequently chocolate. And tobacco was also cultivated in Europe for the first time in the early modern period.

In 1496 King Henry VII of England, commissioned John Cabot to lead a voyage to discover a route to Asia via the North Atlantic. Cabot sailed in 1497, and landed on the coast of Newfoundland, mistakenly believing, like Christopher Columbus, that he had reached Asia.

In 1488, a Portugese nobleman, Bartolomeu Diaz (1450-1500), sailed around Africa by rounding the Cape of Good Hope, which he named the Cape of Storms, and where he died on 29 May 1500 in a storm. Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) reached Calicut in India on 20 May 1498. To force the Arabs out of the spice trade and defeat the Ottoman Navy in the Indian Ocean, Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) established forts at strategic sites which would dominate the trade routes, and also protect Portuguese interests on land.

The first direct demonstration of Earth’s sphericity came when the Spanish government financed an expedition captained by the Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). On August 10, 1519, the five ships under Magellan’s command departed from Seville. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean, passed through what is now called the Strait of Magellan under South America, crossed the Pacific, and arrived in the Philippines, where Magellan was killed; but his second in command, the Spaniard Juan Sebastian Elcano, continued the expedition and, on September 6, 1522, arrived at Seville, completing the circumnavigation of the world.

In comparison to the Muslim and Chinese civilizations, Europe in the 16th century appeared an unlikely candidate for the leadership of the world. Yet changes took place that propelled Europe into the forefront.

Agriculture played a central role. The improved climate from 700 to 1200 in Western Europe led to an agricultural revolution and an impressive growth in population, whereby towns and trade grew and created money economy. The warrior nobility established a european feudalism that ensured the loyalty of vassals and introduced technological changes. There were new farming devices, like the use of the heavy plough, widespread use of iron and horses, and crop rotation, and the use of mills for processing cloth, brewing beer, crushing pulp for paper manufacture.

Further, Northwestern Europe was the origin and heartland of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. German Sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) suggested that Roman Catholicism and Eastern religions were essentially otherworldly religions. Protestantism, on the other hand, was predominantly a this-worldly religion. Protestantism nurtured the rationalist culture and the scientific habits of mind, and applied the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and verification not only to nature but also to society.

The geopolitics of an imperialist power determined the colonial practices of either settler colonialism or of exploitative colonialism. The exploitative type of colonialism conquered a country to exploit its natural resources and its native population for the immediate financial gain by a colonial government, which followed mercantilism designed to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, and trade only with the mother country.

England was engaged during the 16th century in two kind of settlement of Ireland. the first was the “exemplary plantation”, in which small colonies of English would provide model farming communities that the Irish could emulate. The second was punitive in nature, as it provided for the plantation of English settlers on lands confiscated following the suppression of rebellions.

England’s first permanent settlement in the Americas was founded in 1607 in Jamestown by the Virginia Company. Bermuda was settled and claimed by England in 1609. Fleeing from religious persecution was the motive of many English would-be colonists: Plymouth, for example was founded as a haven for Puritan religious separatists in 1620. Maryland was founded as a haven for Roman Catholics in 1634. Rhode Island was founded in 1636 as a colony tolerant of all religions, and Connecticut in 1639 for Congregationalists. The Province of Carolina was founded in 1663.

The Caribbean provided England with lucrative colonies, where it adopted the sugar plantations system used by the Portuguese in Brazil, based on on slave labour. In 1655, England annexed the island of Jamaica from the Spanish, and in 1666 succeeded in colonising the Bahamas.

With the surrender of Fort Amsterdam, England gained control of the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1664, renaming it New York. In 1681, the colony of Pennsylvania was founded by the Oxford educated Quaker missionary and writer, William Penn of No Cross NO Crown. The American colonies were less financially successful than those of the Caribbean, but had large areas of good agricultural land which attracted far larger numbers of English emigrants, who preferred their temperate climates.

The Royal African Company was founded in 1660 in London, receiving from King Charles a monopoly of the trade to supply slaves to the British colonies. Britain was responsible for the transportation of 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas – a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic. In the British Caribbean, the percentage of the population of African descent rose from 25% in 1650 to around 80% in 1780, and in the Thirteen Colonies from 10% to 40% over the same period (the majority in the southern colonies), The slave trade was extremely profitable, and became a major economic mainstay for such western British cities as Bristol and Liverpool, which formed the third corner of the triangular trade with Africa and the Americas.

The English East India Company was founded on 31 December 1600, which competed with Portugal and the Netherlands for trade and as a colonial power. It acquired Madras in 1639 and quickly surpassed Portuguese Goa as the principal European trading centre on the Indian Subcontinent. The hostilities with the Netherlands ceased after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Dutch William of Orange ascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England. A deal between the two nations left the spice trade of the East Indies to the Netherlands and the textiles industry of India to England, but textiles soon overtook spices in terms of profitability, and by 1720, in terms of sales, the British company had overtaken the Dutch.

The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain and the other major European powers, ended in the Treaty of Paris (1763). France accepted British claims to Rupert’s Land, and ceded New France to Britain and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. The Seven Years’ War therefore left Britain as the world’s most powerful maritime power. It also marked the end of the French stake in India.

The great Mughal empire crumbled after the death of Aurangzeb (1618-1707), though the Mughals kept the imperial title until 1858. Robert Clive of the English East India Company in India, defeated the Indian ruler of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey (1757). And the Company acquired the administration in Bengal from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II after the Battle of Buxar in 1764.

During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the thirteen British colonies in America and Britain became strained. They declared independence for the United States of America in 1776. The entry of France into the war in 1778 tipped the military balance in the favour of Americans and American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Paris in 1783.

The classical liberals found the colonial enterprise, particularly mercantilism, opposed to the principles of free trade and liberal policies. The Scottish economist, philosopher and author, Adam Smith (1723-1790) published Wealth of Nations in 1776, which argued that Britain should grant independence to its colonies as it would be economically beneficial for British people, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith’s view that political control was not necessary for economic success. The Puritan from England had moved to America in 1620, to establish Puritanism and engage in commerce with England. About 350,000 people had emigrated from England across the Atlantic by the end of the 17th century. And by 1798, North America and the West Indies received 57 per cent of British exports, and supplied 32 per cent of imports.

Britain acquired economic momentum from the pursuit of science and industry. The share of men employed in agriculture fell from 60 percent to about 25 percent, while the share of those employed in industry rose from less than 20 percent to nearly 50 percent. Between 1700 and 1850, England’s population surged from between 6 and 7 million to nearly 21 million. Industrial output, which had increased by less than 1 percent per year in the first half of the 18th century, was rising by nearly 3 percent per year by the early part of the 19th century. By 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death, the census recorded three quarters of the population as urban (two thirds in cities of 10,000 or more and half in cities of 20,000 or more). In the span of a century a rural society had become an urban one.

The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history. In the two centuries following 1800, the world’s average per capita income increased over tenfold, while the world’s population increased over sixfold. In the words of Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas, Jr., “For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth … Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before”.

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain established the economic pattern of the modern world, whereby work is increasingly done by machines rather than by hand; human and animal power are replaced by inanimate sources of energy, such as coal and oil; the creation of a free market in labour by the freeing of the labourer from feudal and customary ties and obligations, and the concentration of workers in single, comprehensive enterprises, the factory; and a pivotal role for a specific social type, the entrepreneur.

Protestant individualism and the scientific revolution were preconditions of industrialism. Individualism and secularism also provoked political revolutions in America and France. The colonial empires received a setback because of independence movements in North and South America. However, many new colonies were established, including the German and Belgian colonial empires. And in the late 19th century, the European powers scrambled for control of Africa, beginning with the French occupation of Algeria. By the beginning of the 20th century, France had created an empire in Indochina nearly 50 percent larger than the mother country.

The Europeans had discovered African slavery by Arabs as a means of creating an inexpensive labour force for the colonies. In the early modern period, 10 to 12 million Africans were taken in this way to the New World, from where colonial produce was transported to Europe. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, goods produced by slavery became less important to the British economy. The British Parliament enacted the Slave Trade Act in 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the empire. The Slavery Abolition Act, abolished slavery in the British Empire on 1 August 1834.

The labour shortage that resulted inspired European colonizers to develop a new source of labour. Indentured servants consented to a contract with the European colonizers. Under their contract, the servant would work for an employer for a term of at least a year on a wage, while the employer agreed to pay for the servant’s voyage to the colony and for the return to the country of origin. India and China were the largest source of indentured servants during the colonial era. Between 1830 and 1930, around 30 million indentured servants were taken from India to the colonies, and 24 million returned to India. China sent more indentured servants and around the same proportion returned to China.

By 1914, millions of Europeans also migrated to the colonies. British people were the most numerous migrating to the colonies: 2.5 million settled in Canada; 1.5 million in Australia; 750,000 in New Zealand; 450,000 in the Union of South Africa; and 200,000 in India. French citizens also migrated in large numbers, mainly to the colonies in the north African Maghreb region: 1.3 million settled in Algeria; 200,000 in Morocco; 100,000 in Tunisia; while only 20,000 migrated to French Indochina. Dutch and German colonies saw relatively scarce European migration, since Dutch and German colonial expansion focused on commercial goals rather than settlement. Portugal sent 150,000 settlers to Angola, 80,000 to Mozambique, and 20,000 to Goa. During the time of the Spanish Empire, approximately 550,000 Spanish settlers migrated to Latin America.

The period between 1815 and 1914 is referred to as Britain’s “imperial century”, as Victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival, other than Russia in Central Asia. Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman, known as the Pax Britannica. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain’s dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam, which has been described by some historians as an “Informal Empire“.

British imperial strength was underpinned by the steamship and the telegraph, new technologies invented in the second half of the 19th century, allowing it to control and defend the empire. By 1902, the British Empire was linked together by a network of telegraph cables, called the All Red Line.

The East India Company’s army had first joined forces with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War. The two continued to co-operate in the eviction of the French from Egypt (1799), the capture of Java from the Netherlands (1811), the acquisition of Singapore (1819) and Malacca (1824) and in the defeat of Burma (1826).

The East India Company had also been engaged in an increasingly profitable opium export trade to China since the 1730s. This helped reverse the trade imbalances resulting from the British imports of tea, which saw large outflows of silver from Britain to China. In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Canton of 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and to seize Hong Kong Island.

During the 19th century, Britain and the Russian Empire vied to fill the power vacuums that had been left by the declining Ottoman, Persian and Chinese Empire. This rivalry in Central Asia came to be known as the “Great Game” and stoked fears in Britain of an overland invasion of India. When Russia invaded the Turkish Balkans in 1853, fears of Russian dominance in the Mediterranean and Middle East led Britain and France to invade the Crimea to destroy Russian naval capabilities.

The Dutch East India Company had founded the Cape Colony on the southern tip of Africa in 1652 as a way station for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in the East Indies. Britain formally acquired the colony, and its large Afrikaner (or Boer) population in 1795 to prevent its falling into French hands. British immigration pushed thousands of Boers, resentful of British rule, northwards to found their own independent republics.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened under Napoleon III, linking the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. In 1875, the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli bought the indebted Egyptian ruler Isma’il Pasha’s 44% shareholding in the Suez Canal for £4 million (£340 million in 2013). The Joint Anglo-French financial control over Egypt ended in outright British occupation in 1882.

The 1839 Durham Report, proposed unification and self-government for Upper and Lower Canada. Australia and New Zealand achieved self-government after 1900. The term “dominion status” was introduced at the Colonial Conference of 1907. The last decades of the 19th century saw political campaigns for Irish home rule. Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, initially loyal yo the Empire but committed from 1905 to increased self-government, and to outright independence by 1930.

At the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918), Britain occupied most of Germany’s overseas colonies in Africa. Australia and New Zealand occupied German New Guinea and Samoa in the Pacific.                                                                                                                                                                                                     The colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire were distributed to the Allied powers as League of Nations mandates. Whilst the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula became the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. French mandates included Syria and Lebanon, Britain gained control of Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq, parts of Cameroon and Togoland, and Tanganyika. The Union of South Africa gained South West Africa (modern-day Namibia), Australia gained New Guinea, and New Zealand, Western Samoa. Nauru was made a combined mandate of Britain and the two Pacific Dominion.

The British Empire also emerged victorious from the Second World War, but Europe that had dominated the world for several centuries, was in ruins, and overrun over by the armies of the United States and the Soviet Union, who now held the balance of global power. Britain was left bankrupt, with insolvency only averted in 1946 after the negotiation of a $US 4.33 billion loan from the United States, the last instalment of which was repaid in 2006.

The image of the European was shattered by the Japanese occupation of British, French and Dutch territories in the East during the Second World War. It led to the growth of independence movements in the colonies. Britain adopted a policy of peaceful disengagement from its colonies in contrast to other European powers such as France and Portugal, who waged costly and ultimately unsuccessful wars to keep their empires intact

However, the discovery of the world’s largest easily accessible crude oil deposits led to an influx of western oil companies, making leaders of the oil states immensely rich, enabling them to consolidate their hold on power and giving them a stake in preserving Western hegemony over the region.

The industrialization changed western society. In preindustrial or nonindustrial society the family is the basic unit of production. In a typical example from early 18th-century England, the man might be a weaver and his wife a spinner, with the younger children acting as assistants in the joint domestic enterprise. Industrialization moved production away from the household to the factory, and the family was reduced to a unit of consumption. The small nuclear family faced the impersonal, large-scale, bureaucratic world of work, adolescent alienation and teenage rebellion. Divorce rates soared. And one-parent families, headed by a woman, came into existence.

Tocqueville had warned that individuals lacking strong intermediate institutions might look to the protection of strong men and strong governments. The rise and success of totalitarian movements in some industrial societies showed that the tendencies were real and were present in some degree in all modern societies.

The American and French revolutions had brought about a constitutional and democratic society, whereby no political system could claim legitimacy that was not in some sense based on the will of the people, constitutionally expressed. Unfortunately the new democratic legitimation was also claimed by popular or constitutional dictatorships such as those of Napoleon III in France or Adolf Hitler in Germany.

Karl Marx was convinced that capitalism would throw up two main economic classes, the propertyless workers, or proletariat, and the capitalist or bourgeoisie owners, which would result in victory for the proletariat, who would establish a conflict free, classless society. Marx’s prediction has not come about because ethnic, religious, and regional ties have submerged those based on economic interest.

The USA assumed Britain’s role as the “global hegemon” in the 20th century, and continue globalization as “anglobalisation”.  Advances in transportation (such as the jet engine and container ships) and in telecommunications (including the Internet and mobile phones) have been major factors in globalization, generating interdependence of economic and cultural activities.

It is interesting that those countries which emulated and adopted the British economic and social pattern in its entirety, became independent and powerful economically like Europe, USA and Japan, but those Asian, African and South American countries, which only borrowed technology have remained backward and dependent on the west.






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