Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population.
The European colonial period was the era from the 16th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers (particularly, but not exclusively, Portugal, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and France) established colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. At first, the countries followed mercantilist policies designed to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, so the colonies were usually allowed to trade only with the mother country. By the mid-19th century, however, the powerful British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and introduced the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs.
Types of colonialism
- Settler colonialism involves large-scale immigration, often motivated by religious, political, or economic reasons.
- Exploitation colonialism involves fewer colonists and focuses on access to resources for export, typically to the metropole. This category includes trading posts as well as larger colonies where colonists would constitute much of the political and economic administration, but would rely on indigenous resources for labour and material. Prior to the end of the slave trade and widespread abolition, when indigenous labour was unavailable, slaves were often imported to the Americas, first by the Portuguese Empire, and later by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British.
Plantation colonies would be considered exploitation colonialism: but colonizing powers would utilize either type for different territories depending on various social and economic factors as well as climate and geographic conditions.
Surrogate colonialism involves a settlement project supported by colonial power, in which most of the settlers do not come from the mainstream of the ruling power.
Internal colonialism is a notion of uneven structural power between areas of a nation state. The source of exploitation comes from within the state.
The 17th century saw the creation of the French colonial empire and the Dutch Empire, as well as the English overseas possessions, which later became the British Empire. It also saw the establishment of a Danish colonial empire and some Swedish overseas colonies.
The spread of colonial empires was reduced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by the American Revolutionary War and the Latin American wars of independence. However, many new colonies were established after this time, including the German colonial empire and Belgian colonial empire. In the late 19th century, many European powers were involved in the Scramble for Africa.
The Russian Empire, Ottoman Empire and Austrian Empire existed at the same time as the above empires but did not expand over oceans. Rather, these empires expanded through the more traditional route of the conquest of neighbouring territories. There was, though, some Russian colonization of the Americas across the Bering Strait. The Empire of Japan modelled itself on European colonial empires. The United States of America gained overseas territories after the Spanish-American War for which the term “American Empire” was coined.
After the First World War, the victorious allies divided up the German colonial empire and much of the Ottoman Empire between them as League of Nations mandates. These territories were divided into three classes according to how quickly it was deemed that they would be ready for independence.
The colonial system was the major cause of the Second World War. The war in the Pacific was caused by Japan’s efforts to create a colonial empire that conflicted with the existing empires held by the British, French, Dutch and the United States.
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The Partition of India, a 1947 civil war that came in the aftermath of India’s independence from Britain, became a conflict with 500,000 killed. Fighting erupted between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities as they fought for territorial dominance. Muslims fought for an independent country to be partitioned where they would not be a religious minority, resulting in the creation of Pakistan.
The impacts of colonization are immense and pervasive. Various effects, both immediate and protracted, include the spread of virulent diseases, unequal social relations, exploitation,enslavement, medical advances, the creation of new institutions, abolitionism, improved infrastructure, and technological progress. Colonial practices also spur the spread of colonist languages, literature, and cultural institutions, while endangering or obliterating those of native peoples. The native cultures of the colonized peoples can also have a powerful influence on the imperial country.
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