Before embarking on the specifics of the study it is of essence to define the word imperialism. According to the presidio.gov definition, imperialism originated from a Latin term imperium which means ‘rule’. An empire therefore, is a vast territory aggregated by several states and which are put under the emperor’s authority. Imperialism is defined as the arbitrary or despotic rule and colonies’ acquisition or even the state’s dominance extension by way of coerced trade, military conquest, or alien control of politically. (Presidio.gov)
Both nationalism and the urge for dominion going with it are fundamentally considered as the major sources of imperialism. It may lead to unhappiness or happiness depending upon the impact on the people’s nationhood. Where settlement takes place in the unpopulated territories, reinvigoration or organization as well as the development of people considered as primitive and also the development of established traditional societies, it might be viewed as benefiting the people and thus leaving them happy. (Muir, 2006, pp4, 5)
This study is set out to explain the effect of technology, on the 19th century’s European Imperialism and to this, the questions, “How did technology determine the course of the nineteenth century imperialisms?” and “Would the Western expansion have been a success without specific major inventions?” will be answered.
Prior to the technological transformations, the pace at which Western nations expanded was moderate. This is according to the book written by Jeremy Black. Most of the global inhabitants had not had a chance to see Europe and Europeans were not part of major conflicts in the world. Nevertheless, transformations in technology were evident in the mid 19th century and this was in various fronts like firepower, communications and medicine. With these, Europe was now in a vantage position to take over control of a big percentage of the world.
This expansion of Europe was especially important in both the 18th and 19th centuries, to create a platform for Western Imperialism. More importantly, the Western powers needed a sense of superiority and it was highly called for. For instance, ‘the invasion of Egypt in the year 1798 by Napoleon was artistically accounted for. This laid the cornerstone for the current French empire’ (Black, 135). Artists, Patrons and the cynics alike came up with ways of painting, sponsoring as well as receiving the accounts in detail, which made rational and even celebrated the intervention in the East courtesy of the French.
The role played by imperial armies was made clearer due to the conquest for territory. The success enjoyed by Europe can be attributed to various factors like the major role of Europe we as an innovator of weapons as well as the methods. The urge by most Europeans states in this pursuit of power by way of weapons was led by the less sophisticated South and East of Asian nations’ development of naval power in the sea. (Black, 2002 p135)
During the period of the nineteenth century, according to Berard, science and technology aided Europe in the imperialism age. Exploration started as early as the fifteenth century and helped to spread the culture of the West to the Americas, Africa and Asia. Emanating from this, Europe had gained a lot of supremacy in the entire globe and thus influenced the whole world. However, it was the high levels of competition among the colonizing states and the resistance from the colonized that would see the domination by imperialists tumble down. (Berard, 2002)
On the other hand, Curtin, in his book, argues that the expansion of imperialism was highly or directly related to the industrial age. Capitalism is viewed as the major fuel to imperialism and industrial revolution. According to the author, the principle causes of imperialism are thus seen as either industrial technology or capitalism. He says that many historians think industrial revolution as the major cause of this occurrence in the 19th century. Technology is also believed to have been borrowed from societies other than Western according to the historians.
Inventions that have led to the improvements of industrial technology have been cited to have resisted to the imperialism. These may include inventions like steam power or machine textiles and further steel and iron. The revolution of technology was even broader in the earlier times. For example, in the times of the empires of trading post, the biggest provider of non-animal or non-human power was sailing ships and water power. Sea sail was a major competitor of steam up to the mid-19th century.
The era of sea sail was characterized by many changes, technically, in the sailing ships and further more to the entire technology of distance trade. Changes occurred in credit and banking, accounting and insurance (Generally these were termed as transaction costs). Their decline from the 1500s through 1900s is largely associated with the growth of economies than the sailing ships.
Curtin further argues that some other historians who were not European explained the revolution of industries as having originated from societies of plantation and the empires of European trading-post. The author writes that the economic long-distance organization technology as well as transportation as they developed during the time of Western states’ activities overseas contributes a big deal. They enhanced the organizing ability of Europeans and more so the ability to come up with armies to administer besides conquering the territorial empires of Europe. (Curtin, 2002 pp 19-21)
As an element of technological development and its influence in defining the course of western imperialism, railway development played a major role in imperialism. In Africa, one of the attractions to European imperialism, the development of railway was the major fueling factor to the success of western penetration. Quinine and gun-boat were the basic factors to enabling Europeans in the African continental interior penetration, but railway development also aided their conquest. Hodge further says that the conflict in the French and English visions to gain empire in Africa led to the 1898s race to Fashoda.
The aim of the French was to build the empire in North Africa and this would be made possible by the railway starching to East from West. To counter the move the British went on to Fashoda so that they could block entry of the French to the Nile headwaters. Cecil Rhodes, a sub-imperialist wanted the British to control the whole stretch from Cape Town to Cairo. This was, however, not to be realized as a dream. Despite the failure of the Rhodes’ dream, some other rail lines like the Kenya-Uganda helped open up East Africa for settle in the highlands of Kenya which they found temperate.
Aside from Africa, the development of railway served a crucial part in the Americas’ opening up. There was heavy involvement of the British back in their capital in the funding of the development of railway in the Latin America and the U.S (Hodge, 2007 p 586)
Industrial advancement changes not only increased the urge for the western countries to increase colonies but also made their acquiring easier as well. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, technological innovations and scientific discoveries made Europeans surge ahead of all other nations in the capacity to win battles. These western countries could access and obtain mineral resources that remained a mystery to many. European chemists came up with more lethal explosives as time passed.
Development in metallurgy aided the European in the mass production of mobile as well as light artillery pieces. This led to the infantry charges of the African and Asian armies being rendered suicidal. The advancement witnessed in the artillery was even made more of a success by the hard arms’ improvement. In the first stage of building the European empire, the rise in the accuracy and more quick firing, rifles of breach-loading did away with the muskets that were rather clumsy in the loading of muzzles.
According to Schwartz, following many years of experimentation machine guns had now become more effective weapons in the battle fields. To match this, railways helped the mobility of Europeans as easier understanding in Africa and Asia and they also counter the swiftness of Asian or African horsemen. The railways eased the supply of big armies in the battle fields for long periods of time.
In the context of the sea, the industrial discoveries and transformation also made it an easier task. They led to the Suez Canal’s opening in the year 1869 where steam power was used in sailing. Wood was replaced by iron hulls and big guns. The massive guns gad the capability of hitting vessels of enemies approaching from many miles away.
The Europeans had new weaponry to approach their expeditions to the African and Indian wars. (Schwartz, 2004) Also, another factor that made easier the Western imperialism was the technological medical advances. This eased the process of Americans and Europeans to penetrate the tropical regions. Therefore, medicine was an agency of the 19th century western imperialism and to this; the British had organized medical services. (Merson, et al 2006 p 519)
Thus, while concluding, the western imperialism is seen to have originated from their urge for dominion and imperialism. Technology is also seen as a major fueling of the nineteenth century imperialism, which according to the findings was mainly a battle between the French and English especially in Africa. While answering the question, “How did technology determine the course of the nineteenth century imperialism?” certain factors have been considered with likes of railway development, weaponry advancement and medicinal advancements. Generally it’s seen as an issue of industrial technology advent.
The second question could the western expansion have been a success without major inventions?” these mentioned technological advancements have been looked at and the impact of competition for colonies has been factored in to the technological advancement to show its essence.
Black, Jeremy. Europe and the world, 1650-1830. Routledge, 2002.
Curtin, Philip D. The World and the West: The European Challenge and the Overseas Response in the Age of Empire. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Hodge, Carl C. Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800-1914. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.
Merson, Michael H. et al. International public health: diseases, programs, systems, and policies. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2006.
Muir, Ramsay. The Expansion of Europe: The Culmination of Modern History. READ BOOKS, 2006.
Berard, Gerry. The Age of Western Imperialism. 2002. Retrieved April 29, 2009 http://www.essortment.com/all/imperialismwest_ridb.htm
Internet Sources: Schwartz, Stuart B. Industrialization and Western Global Hegemony Industrial Rivalries and the Partition of the World. 2004. Retrieved April 29, 2009 http://history-world.org/Industrialization 20And 20Imperialism2.htm
Presidio.gov. What is Imperialism? 2009. Retrieved April 29, 2009 http://www.presidio.gov/NR/rdonlyres/4AF4CC48-C6EF-41A0-932C- 8F635EA3CEF5/0/WD_Resources.pdf