Unit 5: Nations, Empires, Imperialism, and Peoples in an Industrializing Age
So far, we have focused on political revolution. While political upheaval and the reorganization of political boundaries have greatly impacted the development of society as we know it, social, scientific, and industrial revolutions have also shaped our modern world. Before the so-called "modern age" featured mass European exploration and colonization, Europe had existed on the sidelines of global history. Innovation, intellectualism, and trade were centered in the Middle East and Asia. After the Roman Empire fell in the 4th century, Europe plunged into a 1,000-year period known as the Dark Ages. Most Europeans forgot about the advances the Romans had made in philosophy, science, and technology, while innovation continued elsewhere around the globe.
In the Middle East, the Islamic Caliphates created great libraries and universities to maintain the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They also studied the advances in philosophy, science, and engineering in ancient China and Korea. Around 1000, the Sung Dynasty invented gunpowder and produced the first gun. Choe Yun-ui, a Korean inventor, created the first movable type metal printing press in Korea in 1234, 200 years before Gutenburg's printing press. During the 11th century, China's Sung Dynasty began using paper currency, and the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty created a system of banking in the 14th century. The Islamic Caliphates created the first hospitals, physician training, and medical texts, while Abu Ali Sina (980–1037) (also called Avicenna) penned the Canon of Medicine. Many Europeans consider Avicenna the father of early modern medicine and pharmacology.
Since Europe had lived in intellectual darkness for so long, their reawakening in the scientific, philosophical, and medical fields probably seemed even more remarkable and exciting during Europe's scientific (1500–1600) and industrial revolutions (1800's). Europe began to reassert itself on the world stage in the 1400s. Their explorers and traders pushed into Africa, Asia, and the Americas, where they absorbed but frequently annihilated the knowledge, culture, and populations of the places they conquered.
European imperialism also revolutionized slavery. Although slavery had existed since the dawn of human civilization, European slavery centered on capturing and forcing all levels of African societies into enslavement without an ability to escape or earn their freedom from their new lives of forced labor. Europeans popularized the idea of skin-based racism, a new social construct that continues to stratify and divide communities to this day.
In this unit, we examine how European imperialism, slavery, and the scientific and industrial revolutions impacted culture, social class, and the rights of people. As you read, investigate, and explore, remember how the Enlightenment philosophers inspired the political revolutions we have studied so far. Consider how these political revolutions resulted from European imperialism and the other social events and ideas we will discuss in Unit 5.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 12 hours.
5.1: Historical Background to European Imperialism
Most historians trace the beginning of civilization to around 4500 BCE, when people began living in urban centers (cities) with an organized government, religion, and class structure. The first settlements were in Sumar, the southern region of Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Contemporary civilizations or kingdoms, such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Kush (in northern Sudan), and Caral Supe (in Peru), advanced religions and built pyramids. In Eurasia, complex civilizations developed in the Indus Valley (in Pakistan and Northern India) and in China around 2500 B.C. Thousands of tribes evolved in the Americas, while advanced empires, such as the Olematl and Mayan empires, had developed in Central America by the 15th century. The advanced empires of the Aztec and Tawantinsuyu (Inca) had also consolidated power in Central and South America.
In Eurasia, advanced civilizations developed in Babylon, Persia, India, China, and Greece. By the 8th century B.C., Rome was founded as a small city heavily influenced by Greece and an older Italian civilization known as the Etruscans. The Roman Empire spread from its original city to cover the entire Mediterranean, from modern-day Turkey and North Africa to most of Europe and the British Isles. Tribal cultures – collectively known as Celtic and Germanic tribes – populated pre-Roman Europe. Rome conquered most Celtic tribes but could not overcome the Germans or the tribes in northern England and Scotland.
5.2: Early and New European Imperialism
The Reconquista prompted Portugal and then Spain to look beyond the European continent for commercial opportunities. Portuguese sailors began exploring Africa and pushed south into the Indian Ocean to search for new trade routes. Western Africa had developed a series of trading empires, starting with Ghana (300–1100), Mali (1235–1600), and the Songhai Empire (1464–1591). These empires controlled the flow of trade between sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and were famous for their enormous stores of gold. Abraham Cresques, a Jewish cartographer, even featured Mansa Musa I (c. 1280–c. 1337), the "lion king" from Mali (who gave all of his gold away during a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324), in the Catalan Atlas in 1375.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach and begin to imperialize western Africa. The Songhai Empire had controlled this area, but the Portuguese were able to cut the Songhai kings and traders off from their vast stores of gold. The Portuguese also took over and revolutionized the slave trade, which had existed under Islamic control for so long.
What is the difference between imperialism and colonialism? A country is imperialistic when it extends its political and military dominance over another territory. Colonization involves taking an additional step – where the colonizer sends settlers to establish permanent settlements in the area once they have achieved political and military control. The colonial powers not only exploited the territory economically, but they changed the customs and culture of the colony. When the Europeans imperialized and colonized most of the world, they spread their culture, values, diseases, and political systems to the places they conquered.
By 1498, the Portuguese had also sailed into the Indian Ocean and overtook many key trading hubs and ports. In response, the Spanish sailed west, with the initial voyages of Christopher Columbus, to imperialize the American continent. They obliterated the Aztec and Tawantinsuyu (Inca) empires and eliminated entire populations, such as the Taíno people of the Caribbean. By the end of the 16th century, the Netherlands, France, and England had joined this imperial game, pushing into Africa, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and the Americas. By 1780, the British began colonizing Australia.
These European empires were based on commercial gain and political aggrandizement. They were not the first people to conquer other countries, which had occurred since ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, but they were highly commercial and reduced the countries they conquered to mere tools to benefit the commercial, political, and cultural interests of the mother country".
5.3: The Scramble for Africa, Transatlantic Slavery, and Decolonization
Since the European powers had carved up most countries in the Americas, they turned their attention to Africa, parts of Asia, and the Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia. Many historians call this period the Scramble for Africa, when the European powers, including Germany and Italy, lay their claims throughout the African continent.
5.4: Scientific and Industrial Revolutions of Europe
Scientific and industrial developments in Europe gave Europeans a technological advantage, allowing modern Europe and its systems of colonialism and imperialism to prosper.
The European Scientific Revolution dated from 1543–1687. Other civilizations in Eurasia, the Middle East, India, Asia, and Africa did not experience the same gap in learning and technological evolution as Europe had during the Dark Ages. The Catholic Church filled the administrative void the Roman Empire had left, and progress in education, science, hygiene, and technology halted. Support for public projects, such as running water, public sewage projects, and even shopping malls, ceased when Rome fell in Europe in 395 (although the empire continued in Byzantium).
A Renaissance (1300–1600) followed the Crusades (1095–1291), when European military forces invaded the Middle East and Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, at the behest of the Catholic Church. The crusaders brought the treasures they looted from Byzantium and the Middle East, home to Europe. Historians suggest these acquisitions helped ignite the Renaissance with new ideas in art, literature, and philosophy. The Mongolian Empire also reconnected Europe with Asia and the Middle East, prompting advancements in philosophy, education, and technology.
Unit 5 Assessment
- Receive a grade