Nationalism and Imperialism

The Industrial Revolution changed the ways that the world engaged with itself, but it was not the only significant change during the 19th century. The Enlightenment helped to create a sense of superiority within western European intellectuals and governments that stimulated a humanitarian need for them to go abroad and spread their culture. The Industrial Revolution provided an economic incentive to do so—all of these inventions required raw materials and for some countries, these raw materials could only be acquired overseas. The map below shows the industrial areas of Europe by 1850. Beyond the economic and moral reasons for creating colonies, there were also significant domestic political reasons. Nationalism, or the idea that your country is better than all others grew in the 19th century as governments tried to distinguish themselves. These three trends stimulated governments to go abroad, but they were not always successful. Origins of Imperialism
Despite nationalism growing as a European ideology, it was not inherently European to view yourself as superior to your neighbors or rivals. As people began to think about what made them German or French or English, it led to assertion of superiority. One of the reasons that one wanted to be part of one nationality or another was because it was viewed as better. Along with these ideas came the need to spread one’s own culture in order to ensure the world becomes a more developed place. The easiest way to do this was via imperialism.

Nineteenth century imperialism differed from the 16th and 17th century variety because more European governments established direct colonies throughout the world and because they tried to institute some aspects of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolutionary thought.

Imperialism was an economic and intellectual undertaking. Through their colonies, European governments attempted to integrate the areas where resources could be acquired and then re-sold after manufacturing in the country itself. For instance, cotton could be purchased by English merchants from India during the mid-19th century, then manufactured into thread and cloth and then exported to Indian markets for profit. This is a different model from earlier economic ventures where in most European governments or private companies extracted the manufactured goods from Asia or the Americas and simply transported them into Europe—for instance, spices were picked, cured, and then sent on European ships to Europe. Similarly, silver was mined, refined, and then used by the Spanish to buy manufactured goods from China such as porcelain or silk.