has never been more connected than before. We’re a global village; as many
people proudly say. It almost feels like a shame when you remind them that this
global village is a product – or consequence depending on which part of the
world you live in – of European colonialism. It’s hard to believe that once
there was a time when huge parts of the world were oblivious to other parts of
the world; a time when mothers would tell their children bedtime stories about
the great unknown. It was probably
one of these children that grew up and decided to satisfy his curiosity as to
what actually was so great about the
unknown. Before the period the world knows as “The Age of Discovery”, the
Western nations did not know much about the East that they did not hear in
traveller’s stories and fairy-tales. There was hesitance to travel towards the
East due to stigma that surrounded it. There was large expanse of water and no
one had ever sailed around it. But what were the reasons the West eventually
had to start their exploration?
of European and Western exploration – which eventually led to colonisation –
began with Portuguese exploration. The reasons behind this can be split into
financial, religious, and intellectual. The Portuguese wanted to spread
Christianity around the world. The monarchy was under the church which is why
most expeditions that took place were authorised by the Church. The financial
reasons were mainly to find different trade routes for spices. Spices were one
of the most important trade items of that time due to their usage to preserve
meat. Most of the existing trade routes were captured by the Byzantine Empire
hence the Portuguese had to pay heavy taxes to use those routes. The explorers
set out to find new trade routes and different lands to trade with. There was
also demand for more exotic spices and luxury items; the Europeans wanted to
diversify their resources.
exploration was driven by multiple factors, including economic, political, and
religious incentives. The growing desire to fulfil European demand for luxury
goods, and the desire to unearth precious materials such as gold and silver,
acted as a particularly crucial motivation.”1
intellectual reasons were the curiosity of European explorers who wanted to
find more about the world and had a thirst for voyage.
to the Europeans being more technologically and scientifically developed, they
were easily able to conquer the lands they found and overpower natives. In many
cases it took them a couple of decades but eventually they exerted their
superiority over these nations and ‘colonized’ them. In this essay we shall
look at a brief history of European colonial enterprises.
we have discussed, colonialism had its roots in Portuguese exploration. Their
first conquest was that of Ceuta in 1415. Then throughout the 15th
century, explorers discovered the Atlantic Islands, and went along the West
African coast until they found that they could sail around Africa. This route
was adopted by Vasco Da Gama when he travelled to India in 1498.
the end of the 15th century, Spain joined the quest of exploration
when Christopher Columbus set out on a voyage to find a different route to
India but instead discovered the American continent. Another important voyage
was the circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan.
the time the era of discovery ended the West had started making its presence
felt in the world. Until this time, Spain and Portugal were the only main
after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World (1492),
Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty
of Tordesillas, which divided the world with a longitudinal line.
Jurisdiction over exploration and colonization west
of the line was given to Spain; east of the line, to Portugal (including the
exclusive right to pursue trade routes around Africa). A similar agreement
(the Treaty of Saragossa) was later reached for a line dividing the other side
of the world, such that Spain and Portugal each claimed authority over half
the planet. (These boundaries were only roughly observed.)”2
and Spain went on to colonize most of Latin America and what is known today as
Brazil. Spain also colonized the Philippines, on the other side of the world.
though Portugal and Spain had initiated this process, soon after they were
joined by the British, France and Netherlands and “the world’s oceans subsequently experienced a five-way balance
of power during the Early Modern age”.(Essential Humanities) They
were all naval superpowers with new technological advancements in navigation
and ship design. They dominated trade, exploration and warfare worldwide.
These five nations conquered different parts of
the world and often fought over many territories.
“The French settled
the eastern part of Canada and the US; French territory in North America was
called “New France”. The English competed
with the French for eastern North America, while also seizing eastern Australia
and New Zealand. The Dutch controlled parts of
Indonesia. All five of the great naval powers conquered various Caribbean
islands, and trading posts were established
along the coasts of Africa and India. Trade with India gradually came to be
monopolized by Britain.”3
This period is mostly known as the Early Modern
period which lasted from about 1500 to 1800.
From 1800 onwards the modern period began. By
then these nations had achieved a lot of economic progress due to their
enterprises. There were three main changes that happened to the European
Kingdom in this era.
Firstly, the Latin American wars led to the
decline of the Spanish kingdom in South America which greatly decreased their
influence on a global scale. Secondly, there was a large expansion of European
territories in Asia.
“Meanwhile, four of the European empires
(Britain, France, Russia, and the Netherlands) greatly expanded their Asian
territory during the nineteenth century. Britain conquered
South Asia, Myanmar, and Malaysia, while France conquered
eastern Indochina. Russia expanded eastward and
southward, and Dutch control was extended across
most of Indonesia. Thailand was the only Southeast
Asian nation to evade conquest.”4
Lastly, most of Africa was colonized in the
“Scramble for Africa” in which European countries conquered most African
territories. The main competitors were Britain and France. This final step gave
complete dominance to Europe as a super-power of the world.
Colonialism is one of the most monumental
phenomenon we have seen affect the world in its history to date. It changed the
face of the planet, economically, socially and culturally. To this day it
affects the lives of the inhabitants of ex-colonies. It was gruesome to say the
least. The lives of billions of natives in the colonized lands were wasted to
fuel the developmental progress of European nations. The Europeans spread
Christianity and their culture to almost every part of the world and shoved it
down their throats. Their thirst for world domination is perhaps the most significant
immaterial reason for all for their exploits. It explains their blood-thirsty
nature and their greed to engulf the entire world in their grasp. One is led to
believe the emergence of colonialism was perhaps nothing more the West
realizing its potential for conquering the world. The material gain facilitated
their immaterial goals. By the end of the early Modern era “the economic growth propelled by colonialism
fostered a large middle class in Europe, which was
vital to the rise of humanism and the birth of the modern world.” (Essential
Humanities) We now live in this so called “global village” – built on the
graves of billions of innocent people – which is due to a “global culture” (of
European design) being imposed on all of us. Although, these enterprises brought
the world closer in their aftermath; the colonial era is perhaps one of the
worst periods of history ever known to mankind.
Foundation, (n.d.). The European Voyages
of Exploration: Introduction Retrieved from
https://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/HIST201-3.1.1-EuropeanExplorationIntro-FINAL.pdf on 2018-01-29
Humanities (n.d.). European Colonialism. Retrieved from http://www.essential-humanities.net/history-supplementary/european-colonialism/ on 2018-01-29
3 Encarta (2004). Colonialism and colonies.
4 Encyclopedia Britannica
(n.d.). Southeast Asia.