Motives of European Imperialism

Many civilizations in history grew into great empires through the policy of imperialism. Imperialism occurs when a powerful nation takes over or dominates a weaker nation or region. Sometimes they use political, economic, or military force to do this. The period between the 18th and 20th centuries is known as the Age of Imperialism. The largest European imperialist countries at this time were Britain, France, and Germany. In the late 1800’s, economic, political and religious motives prompted European nations to expand their rule over other regions with the goal to make the empire bigger.

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s created a need for natural resources to fuel the newly invented machinery and transportation. Resources like coal, iron, and rubber were in high demand. Some nations did not have an abundance of raw materials and looked to other countries and lands to find them. Expanding outside of its borders also allowed a country to enter foreign markets that they needed to sell their industrial goods. Traditional industries became displaced as the manufacturing and markets moved to foreign countries. One such company, the British East Indian Company, became highly profitable by taking natural resources in India and selling goods in markets throughout the world.

Imperialism was also influenced by nationalism, a sense of pride in one’s country. People were proud of their growing countries and their accomplishments. A famous saying from that time was “the sun never sets on the British Empire” meaning that the British empire was so vast that there was always a territory that had sun shining on it. This created a sense of competition among European countries to show off their power and prestige around the world. This competition ignited already heated tensions between European countries and conflicts began to spread.

Imperialism is not only political and economic, but also cultural. When European powers took over foreign lands they felt superior to the natives. They looked down on them and felt that they needed to bring western culture and “civilize” and educate the “savage” population. This was often called the “White Man’s Burden”. Religion was an important part of imperialism. Christian missionaries looked to convert the natives to Christianity and also called for an end to slave trade in hopes to liberate Africa so it could become a western civilization.


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