IMPACTS OF THE AGE OF IMPERIALISM
The Age of Imperialism was one of the most significant events in world history. It occurred from the middle of the 18th century until the early years of the 20th century and saw the major powers of the time (Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal Belgium, Japan and the United States) expand their empires throughout the world. More specifically, these nations conquered and exerted their control over vast regions of the world including Africa and Asia. For instance, major events from this time include: Scramble for Africa, British Imperialism in India and Imperialism in China. Historians have identified several major impacts from the Age of Imperialism, which include both positive and negative outcomes.
POSITIVE IMPACTS OF THE AGE OF IMPERIALISM
As stated above, historians have identified both positive and negative impacts from time of the Age of Imperialism. In fact, there were several main positive outcomes from the period. While different regions (Africa, Asia, etc.) experienced different outcomes, the main impacts were fairly similar. First, the main powers (Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal Belgium, Japan and the United States) that imperialized the world during the Age of Imperialism gained the most from the time. For instance, they established colonies across the world to benefit their own economies. These colonies were used to harvest and mine resources from across Africa and Asia to help fuel the economic growth in Europe, the United States and Japan. As such, imperialism was beneficial for the powerful nations of the time in that it helped grow their national economies. This was done by extracting important natural resources out of Africa and Asia, and using them to benefit their own companies and governments. With that said, the extraction of these resources obviously had devastating impacts on the societies that were being colonized. These negative impacts are discussed in the section below.
For instance, Leopold II of Belgium famously exploited the people of the Congo in order to gather and sell as much rubber from the region as possible. This made Leopold II an incredibly wealthy person and benefited Belgium, but had terrible impacts for the people of the Congo. As well, British imperialism in India led to surge of economic growth for the Britain, but consequently also hurt the local economies in India. This is because India served two important functions for Industrial England. First, Britain viewed India as a source of raw materials that could be used to fuel the factories in England. At the time, India economy was largely centered around agriculture, which would then be exported to England. The most common of these agricultural resources included: jute, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and wheat. Second, India proved to be an important market for the goods that were developed in British factories. As a result, the British benefitted from selling goods to the people of India.
While the powerful western nations benefitted from imperialism, some historians have argued that the Age of Imperialism also created benefits for the imperialized regions in Africa and Asia. As such, another positive impact of the Age of Imperialism was the construction of major infrastructure projects in Africa and Asia. For instance, in order to extract the resources out of Africa, the European nations built vast transportation networks throughout Africa that included railroads, bridges, roads, and harbors. While, this transportation system was used to exploit the African people it also benefitted Africa economically because it created a network of routes that were useful to the continent well into the 20th century. As well, many of the European powers developed their colonies by building sanitation systems and improving medical and education systems. The medical and educational advances led to the construction of hospitals and schools across the different regions of Africa, which benefitted the people.
Some historians have also argued that the British helped to develop the country of India, which benefitted it by the end of the British Raj. For example, some historians have argued that Britain helped India transform to a more modern economy, following the stagnant policies of the Mughal Empire. Specifically, Britain developed many canals, roads and railways across India. In fact, during the time of the British Raj, India developed the fourth largest rail network on the planet with the help of British engineering. This infrastructure benefitted India in that it allowed the country better transportation networks that ultimately helped it transport goods and people across the country.
Next, some historians have pointed out that European colonial governments also helped to introduce new crops and farming methods to parts of Africa. This helped lead to a higher production of food for the continent and gave some Africans new skills that were beneficial. As such, it could be argued that European imperialism in Africa in the 19th century led to major developments that helped improve life for some African people. Again, it should be noted that these positives came along with plenty of negatives that also brutalized the African people.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF THE AGE OF IMPERIALISM
Just as there are several positive impacts of imperialism, there are also several main negative impacts. In fact, the negative impacts of the Age of Imperialism were incredibly significant, especially on the people that were being controlled by the major western powers.
One of the most important impacts of the Age of Imperialism was the way it affected the lives of people throughout Africa and Asia. This was especially true in relation to the way that imperialism impacted their traditions, cultures and languages. For instance, the European and North American people of the 18th and 19th centuries were ethnocentric and did not value the customs or traditions of the other groups of people that they encountered during the Age of Imperialism. For example, European colonists and settlers expressed a view of racial superiority over other groups. As such, European beliefs about their own supposed racial superiority helped inform their interactions with the people they encountered, including native Africans and Asian. The term that best relates to this concept is ‘ethnocentrism’, which is the concept of judging other cultures based upon the views of your own. Further to this idea is the concept of ‘eurocentrism’. Eurocentrism is similar to ethnocentrism but focuses specifically on Europeans and the views of superiority expressed in relation to the timeframe of imperialism. These Eurocentric beliefs were justified by European governments due to a concept called Social Darwinism. In short, Social Darwinism is the idea that some ethnic groups or races are superior to others and therefore more ‘fit’ to rule over those that are less ‘fit’.
Together, these ethnocentric views by the major western powers of the time meant that western colonizers generally suppressed the native traditions, customs and languages of the people that they colonized. For instance, while the European nations sometimes established schools and hospitals in their African colonies, these schools emphasized European culture over African culture. As such, this put immense pressure on African societies as they struggled to conform to European standards. An example of this can be seen in the spread of Christianity during the Age of Imperialism. European Christian missionaries were a common feature throughout the Age of Imperialism. For instance, famous British missionary David Livingstone carried out early missions to Africa in the hopes of converting African leaders. The spread of Christianity in Africa undermined African religions at the time, and caused many African people to begin to look to the European colonial governments as the authority instead of their own traditional leaders.
Another negative impact of the Age of Imperialism, was the economic consequences that the regions of Africa and Asia faced due to western imperialism. For example, the western nations that carried out campaigns of imperialism during the Age of Imperialism were most often motivated by economic concerns. More specifically, the western powers were seeking new lands from which they could gather vast amounts of resources. For instance, the main European powers were primarily focused on finding and extracting resources from Africa, such as: gold, diamonds, cotton and rubber. This focus on taking valuable resources out of Africa benefitted the European home countries greatly, but stalled or harmed the economies of the African societies. As such, this robbed the African people of developing the resources for themselves.
Further to this idea, the western powers also wanted to gain access to foreign lands such that they could sell their resources or manufactured goods. For instance, in the time period of imperialism in China, the western powers (primarily Britain) was driven by the desire to sell opium to Chinese merchants. As such, this led to Britain waging the two Opium Wars with China. As a result, a negative impact from the Age of Imperialism was the wars and conflicts that resulted from imperialism. These conflicts devastated the lives of indigenous people throughout Africa and Asia, as they were often overwhelmed by the superior military power of the western nations.
Finally, the Age of Imperialism negatively affected societies across Africa and Asia in other terrible and devastating ways. For instance, Leopold II of Belgium famously brutalized the people of the Congo throughout his command over the Congo Free State. Leopold II served as the King of Belgium from 1865 until 1909 and oversaw the Belgian role in the Age of Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. One of the most significant events of this period was that of King Leopold II of Belgium and his role in the Congo, which was a region in West and Central Africa. In fact, Leopold II ruled over the Congo as his personal empire and was responsible for the death of millions Congolese people. Furthermore, his brutal treatment of the local people came to symbolize the worst aspects of European imperialism in Africa.
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