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20th century, a new and distinctive global system had developed out of the interaction and mutual reinforcement of technological innovations, nationalist motivations, and new imperialism. Nationalist motivations to acquire land and glory for the good of one's nation likely played an important part in driving the new imperialism that characterized the beginning of the 19th century. In turn, technology provided a means for countries like Britain and France to expand their overseas territories, and thus bring many of their nationalist dreams to fruition. Overall, the interplay between nationalist motivations, new imperialism and technological innovation was a complex and profoundly important factor in the history of the early 20th century and late 19th century.
Nationalist motivations focus on loyalty and an almost complete and blind devotion to a country. To the nationalist, a country is seen as superior to all others, and the promotion of its culture and interests above all others is seen as paramount. Many European countries had known nationalist motivations in the 19th century and earlier. As a leader in innovation, commerce and politics, England developed a nationalistic pride that motivated the country to commit a number of acts for "for King and Country." In addition, England and France had long-standing beliefs that each was superior to the other. Is was this belief in the supremacy of one's individual country justified the spread of that country's culture, and political ends that led to imperialism. Out of deep-seated nationalist motivations came the country's motivation to conquer other lands. These nationalist motivations also justified any number of actions that were aimed at increasing the glory of the home country.
The imperialist actions and beliefs of European countries were clearly present far before the 20th century arrived. Countries like England, France, Spain, and Portugal had long laid claim to lands that were far beyond their borders, and European imperialism was alive and flourishing as early as the 1600s. America itself was a subject to the imperialist actions of countries like France, England and Spain before became an independent country, and embarked upon a number of imperialist goals itself.
New imperialism can be seen, in part, as simply an outgrowth of the old imperialist tendencies of European powers. New imperialism refers largely to the European colonial expansion that occurred from roughly the 1870s to the outbreak of WWII in 1914. This new period of colonial expansion was perhaps driven by the most fervent of nationalist motivations, and the desire to expand the empire simply for the glory of colonization. European powers aggressively focused on acquiring overseas territories during this time. These European powers often saw themselves as liberators of great uncivilized nations, and felt clear racial superiority to their subjugated colonies.
As Britain and other countries surged forward in their desire to conquer new lands during the age of new imperialism, they often found themselves in direct competition. Britain had lost its stranglehold as the world's foremost industrialized nation, and felt a great deal of pressure from German, American, and French interests. The massive surge of British imperialism during the age of new imperialism may have simply reflected Britain's desire to maintain itself as a leading world power. Thus, nationalistic motivations may have led Britain, declining in world power, to push ever harder for Britain's superiority, thus leading to the massive surge of new imperialism.
Headrick argues that both the motivation for imperialist expansion and the means to bring about such expansion changed in the 19th century, thus bringing about the dramatic increase in colonialism in the 19th century. An important component in the overwhelming successes of the new imperialism was the development of new technologies that fueled the success of colonialism.
Technological innovations were a profound component of life in the 19th century and early 20th century. The 19th century saw innovations as diverse as the telephone, telegraph, automobile, phonograph, photography, electric light, the railroad locomotive, and the repetition rifle. These technological changes had their roots in the transition from the First to the Second Industrial Revolution (Headrick). Innovation brought about massive changes in social structures, economic structure, and even in political spheres. In addition, technology played an important role in the colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In his book The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century, Daniel R. Headrick notes the "technological changes that made imperialism happen, both as they enabled motives to produce events, and as they enhanced the motives themselves." In simpler terms, Headrick argues that technology itself helped to create many of the motivations that led to the new imperialism, and that technology also enabled other motivations to contribute to the rise of new imperialism. To Headrick, technology is seen as an enabler of new imperialism, rather than the root cause.
Technology's role in the new imperialism was to largely enable the expansion of Europe's colonial powers. Notes Headrick, "What the breechloader, the machine gun, the steamboat and steamship, and quinine and other innovations did was to lower the cost, in both financial and human terms, of penetrating, conquering, and exploiting new territories." In effect, technology made it possible for Europe's powers to take over lands that had previously been to expensive if not impossible to conquer, both in terms of human life and effort, and in terms of financial outlay.
The common conception of colonialism is that technologies like guns and transportation played a crucial war in imperialism.
While these technologies were clearly important, another component of the success of colonialism in the 19th century may often be far less glamorous, as numerous less high-profile technologies often paved the way for the success of imperialism around the globe.
Interestingly, the appearance of quinine as a prophylactic treatment for malaria played a crucial part in England's colonization of Africa. For years, Africa had been largely inaccessible to colonialist advances due to the great danger of contracting malaria in the region or the risk of certain death from yellow fever. The presence of malaria meant that soldiers and explorers interested in exploring the African continent likely risked an almost certain exposure to malaria, and meant that countries could not easily enter Africa en masse. There was a large desire on the part of European powers to colonize Africa prior to the discovery that quinine could prevent malaria if taken prior to exposure. However, the dangers of malaria had always prevented Europeans from entering the great continent (Headrick).
Here, it becomes clear that technology, in the form of quinine, enabled imperialists to enter Africa. In this case, a relatively benign technology like quinine paved the way for countries intent on expanding their dominion to do so with relative ease. It is almost ironic to think that the great imperialist machine of England had been stopped by a threat carried by a mere mosquito.
Similarly, Headrick notes that medicines played an important part in the white European colonization of Asia. He argues that survival in the harsh conditions that Europeans found in Asia was largely dependent on modern medicine that allowed white men to enter Asian territory in large numbers.
Technologies like weapons also played an important role in the new imperialism. Headrick notes that modern weaponry allowed European powers to easily defeat indigenous people in Africa, China, and India. The spears, swords and arrows of conquered people were ultimately no match for the European technology in terms of guns like breech-loading rifles. These weapons had a rapid firing capability that allowed small numbers of Europeans to subdue larger numbers of indigenous people. While indigenous populations eventually gained control of modern European technologies, they had largely been defeated before they obtained such technology. Here again is an example of how technology enabled colonialists to overcome obstacles to expansion. In addition, steel-hulled gunboats also provided an important technological advantage to European powers, especially in the European ability to quash the Chinese objections to the opium trade.
Transportation technologies also enabled white European powers in their quest to colonize previously inaccessible regions like China, Africa, and India. Before the development of steamships and railroads, it was difficult to move the large numbers of men needed to conquer enormous areas of land. Often, the only way to move such numbers of men was either by foot or on horseback, both representing enormous logistical challenges. However, the advent of steamships allowed for the easy dispersal of both men and supplies to even the remotest corners of the globe. Similarly, the creation of railroads in many areas of the world allowed European powers to easily transport men, weapons, supplies, and the spoils of their conquests. Steam power also made the development of the Suez Canal a possibility, allowing Europeans the ability to travel to the Mediterranean through the Red Sea.
Modern communications technologies were also important to the new imperialism. The telegraph allowed for relatively easy communications between imperialist powers and their colonialist outposts. This was especially important in India, where the telegraph played an important role in linking London to Calcutta. In addition, the advent…[continue]
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