European colonization of India: contrast with America?

European colonization of India: contrast with America?

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The European colonization of Americas was a bloody conquest leading to significant destruction of the native population (and their cultures). Aside from the fact that a lot of natives inadvertently died of disease, some historians (David E. Stannard etc) have argued that European prejudice towards natives resulted in a deliberate/state-sponsored genocide.

Contrast this with India. Colonized around the same time frame, natives of a different race and religion. Yet the European conquest was considerably more "benign" (unless I am mistaken, there was no large scale extermination or state policy to expunge natives).

Why did Europeans from the same place and time behave differently upon landing in India versus entering America?

Purpose of Visiting

An important factor is that the Europeans went to America to find a new undiscovered land and settle there. So they fought with the natives to conquer the land. It was not a genocide but natives were killed by the colonists who occupied their lands.

But in contrast India was well known to Europeans since the time of Alexander. The Europeans came to India for trade. Later making use of the division among the Indian rulers they made pacts with them and gained political control over many kingdoms.


In case of American invasion, the native Americans were unknown to the rest of the world and were few in population. In comparison the population of India was large. The Mughal Kingdom of India contributed to around 19.9% of the world's population according to Wikipedia[1]. But the population of Native Americans were lower in comparission as stated in this article,

Most scholars writing at the end of the 19th century estimated that the pre-Columbian population was as low as 10 million

In comparison the Mughal empires population was around 115 million.

Military Strength

Also the military strength of India was greater than the native Americans but less technologically advanced than Europeans. India also had many strong kingdoms ruled by Shivaji, Mugals, Tipu Sultan, etc… The armies of Mughal kingdom infact even had artillery[3]. Both the Mughal and Shivaji empires had a weaker navy and had built forts alongside the coast. In comparison the Native Americans did not had any navy or strong castles and forts. The were completely unaware of artillery.

there was no large scale extermination or state policy to expunge natives

Such an act would have brought these kingdoms together(they were fighting among themselves) against the European invaders. Even with advanced technology they cannot win such a massive population.

The British followed similar policies with the "Indians" of North America as it did with those of India. It's just that the results weren't as well documented because they took place on a "piecemeal" basis.

  1. The "Indians" of North America were more susceptible to European diseases than the Indians of India. A far larger percentage of the first group died for this reason than the second.

  2. The "13 colonies" of North America represented only about 10% of what later became the "United States." 90% of the country was free from British depredations, versus a much smaller percentage of India in the 18th century.

  3. After the British left, the "Americans" pushed the Indians west through forced removals such as the "Trail of Tears". The southern "Indians" ended up in modern Oklahoma; the northern Indians in the badlands of South Dakota.

  4. The "Anglos" did "less damage" in North America because it was sparsely populated. But in percentage terms, perhaps only 10% of the original number of "American" indians made it to the 20th century, versus a larger number and percentage of Indians in India.

America, Australia, South Africa and the highlands of East Africa were 'settlement' colonies- i.e. European people planned to remain there as permanent settlers.India, because of its harsh climate, innumerable diseases, and alien culture was never a 'settlement' colony in that sense. In general, the small number of Europeans who settled there became Indian within a generation.

Thus, in India, Britain- having moved from a commercial role to one of established suzerainty- sent out officials on fixed term contracts to exercise administrative, judicial and military authority with a view to protecting and enlarging the interests of British commercial ventures which were themselves increasingly run by Managing Agents on fixed term private contracts. The goal was always to work for a fixed number of years and then retire home with an ample competence. There are some minor exceptions to this rule but in general there was a sharp division between these 'country bottled' Britisher who hadn't returned to England for his education and whose primary domicile was in India and the 'pukka Sahib' who had been educated in England and whose family owned property there. Most country-bottled Englishmen were expected to descend into the even lower 'Eurasian' class who were kept out of executive positions but entrusted with laborious jobs like being steam-engine drivers.

Some Europeans did behave badly in India- they became pirates or slavers. The Dutch in Sri Lanka were particularly cruel- the slaves they kidnapped were worked to death within a few months of capture and their womenfolk tortured slave-girls impregnated by their drunken husbands. This at any rate was the English justification for annexing Ceylon. Those Europeans who behaved in this way tended to get killed or die of disease because the capacity of the Indian natives to exercise a countervailing power was far greater than that of the American Indians- except in some more difficult terrains. The English had one great advantage- financial solvency and control over sea-routes- which made them dominant. However it was not military superiority so much as the ability to pay troops and reward allies, as well as superior esprit de corps, which gave them the edge.

In general, the vast majority of Indians remained subject to their own traditional laws and local elites and had little interaction with White people. Thus there was no occasion for racial friction except where a higher political purpose could be served. In the Americas, the Europeans took little trouble to preserve local languages and cultures whereas in India, the Colonial power invested heavily in a scientific study of the languages, ancient and modern, and law codes and philosophies and belief systems of the indigenous people. Moreover, Missionaries were curbed and encouraged to take a conciliatory approach. The British acknowledged that India could not be profitably ruled without the acquiescence- sullen or meretricious as it might be- of its own local elites and Religious authorities.


Everywhere in the American colonies, a crushing demand for labor existed to grow New World cash crops, especially sugar and tobacco. This need led Europeans to rely increasingly on Africans, and after 1600, the movement of Africans across the Atlantic accelerated. The English crown chartered the Royal African Company in 1672, giving the company a monopoly over the transport of African slaves to the English colonies. Over the next four decades, the company transported around 350,000 Africans from their homelands. By 1700, the tiny English sugar island of Barbados had a population of fifty thousand slaves, and the English had encoded the institution of chattel slavery into colonial law.

This new system of African slavery came slowly to the English colonists, who did not have slavery at home and preferred to use servant labor. Nevertheless, by the end of the seventeenth century, the English everywhere in America—and particularly in the Chesapeake Bay colonies—had come to rely on African slaves. While Africans had long practiced slavery among their own people, it had not been based on race. Africans enslaved other Africans as war captives, for crimes, and to settle debts they generally used their slaves for domestic and small-scale agricultural work, not for growing cash crops on large plantations. Additionally, African slavery was often a temporary condition rather than a lifelong sentence, and, unlike New World slavery, it was typically not heritable (passed from a slave mother to her children).

The growing slave trade with Europeans had a profound impact on the people of West Africa, giving prominence to local chieftains and merchants who traded slaves for European textiles, alcohol, guns, tobacco, and food. Africans also charged Europeans for the right to trade in slaves and imposed taxes on slave purchases. Different African groups and kingdoms even staged large-scale raids on each other to meet the demand for slaves.

Once sold to traders, all slaves sent to America endured the hellish Middle Passage , the transatlantic crossing, which took one to two months. By 1625, more than 325,800 Africans had been shipped to the New World, though many thousands perished during the voyage. An astonishing number, some four million, were transported to the Caribbean between 1501 and 1830. When they reached their destination in America, Africans found themselves trapped in shockingly brutal slave societies. In the Chesapeake colonies, they faced a lifetime of harvesting and processing tobacco.

Everywhere, Africans resisted slavery, and running away was common. In Jamaica and elsewhere, runaway slaves created maroon communities , groups that resisted recapture and eked a living from the land, rebuilding their communities as best they could. When possible, they adhered to traditional ways, following spiritual leaders such as Vodun priests.

European colonization of India: contrast with America? - History

1570: Western hemisphere (map #3: Ortelius, Americæ sive novi orbis)
1595: Western hemisphere (map #10: Mercator, America sive India nova)

  • HERNANDO DE SOTO explored the southeast region of North America for Spain, searching for gold, a suitable site for a colony, and an overland route from Mexico to the Atlantic. From 1539 to 1543, starting in Florida with over 600 men, 200 horses, 300 pigs, and a pack of attack dogs, the expedition meandered for thousands of miles through the interior. At every point the Spanish attacked Indian villages, pillaging, murdering, and commandeering food, supplies, and captives. They "discovered" the Mississippi River—a major challenge to cross—and continued west to Texas (without de Soto, who died from fever on the banks of the river). Finally the surviving 300 men reached Mexico with no gold and no colony, having amassed only the hardened antagonism of the Indians. In these selections from the account by a Portuguese member of the expedition, known only as the "Fidalgo (gentleman) of Elvas," we read brief excerpts from the chapters recounting the mainland expedition from Florida to Mexico.
    [A Gentleman of Elvas, Relação Verdadeira dos Trabalhos . . . (True Relation of the Vicissitudes That Attended the Governor Don Hernando de Soto. . . ), 1557]
  • FRANCISCO CORONADO trekked through the southwest for two years (1540-42) with over 300 soldiers and 1,000 Indians for "Glory, God, and Gold." While they did convert some Pueblo Indians to Christianity, they found no gold and no glory (although they did "discover" the Grand Canyon along the way). Failing to subdue the Indians, Coronado responded brutally, laying a winter-long siege to a town, burning resisters at the stake, enslaving hundreds, and driving many Indians to suicide (as did de Soto). In his report to King Charles I from Tiguex (near present-day Albuquerque), Coronado admits his dismay at learning the famed Cibola is just "villages of straw houses," but he describes the region near Tiguex as offering productive land for settlement.
    [Letter from Francisco Vazquez de Coronado to His Majesty . . . , 20 October 1541]
  • PHELIPE DE ESCALANTE and HERNANDO BARRADO, soldiers who accompanied the 1581-82 expedition from Mexico to explore New Mexico, submitted this report to King Philip II to encourage Spanish settlement in the region. The nine men, led by Francisco Chamuscado, visited over sixty pueblos of the native inhabitants, estimating their population as over 130,000. They reported vast herds of "humpbacked cows," lucrative deposits of silver and salt, and "much more wherein God our Lord may be served and the royal crown increased." They warn the king, in fact, that the promise and wealth of this region could be lost if the area is not settled quickly.
    [Escalante & Barrado, Brief and True Account of the Exploration of New Mexico, 1583]
  • GASPAR PÉREZ DE VILLAGRÁ was the official historian of the first Spanish expedition to attempt a settlement in New Mexico. Sixteen years after the small Chamuscado expedition, four hundred soldiers departed from Mexico City to head north across the Rio Norte (Rio Grande), led by the ambitious and single-minded Don Juan de Oñate. More conquistador than colonial official, he was eventually called back to Mexico City in disgrace, having neglected the isolated settlers, alienated the Indians with his cruelty, and squandered imperial resources by searching in vain for gold, silver, and the "western sea." In 1610 Pérez de Villagrá published a thirty-four-canto epic poem to chronicle the expedition—its goals, hardships, courageous soldiers, and, most notably, the warfare and brutality led by Oñate. Considered the first epic poem created by Europeans in North America, The History of New Mexico is a political device as well as a literary account, for Villagra's intended audience-of-one is the king of Spain with his control of the empire's purse. (In this translation, the cantos are rendered into prose. Permission was not granted to exerpt the 1992 translation in verse.)
    [Villagrá, Historia de la Nueva México, 1610]

1556: New France (map #1, La Nuova Francia)
1664: Canada (map #9, Le Canada faict par le Sr. de Champlain)
1673: Map of Marquette's expedition (Carte de la découverte faite l'an 1673)

    JACQUES CARTIER explored the northeast part of the continent intending to find the elusive passage to the Orient. Sailing west of Newfoundland he "discovered" the St. Lawrence River and explored the region in three voyages between 1535 and 1541. He met several Iroquoian tribal groups, establishing friendly relationships, though cautious on both sides. He did not find a route to China indeed the large sea described to him by the Indians—"there was never man heard of that found out the end thereof"—was probably Lake Ontario.

  • MICHAEL LOK, as a member of one of London's leading merchant families and an underwriter of Martin Frobisher's voyages, had a deep interest in expanding England's international trade. In this excerpt from his account of their project, he offers a concise summary of the reasons why he and his countrymen sought the Northwest Passage. (This text is included with the Settle account below.)
    [Michael Lok, manuscript, 28 October 1577]
  • DIONYSE SETTLE, a gentleman who, in 1577, accompanied Frobisher on his second voyage to Arctic waters, gives us a "true report" of what it was like to search for the Passage. In his account we get a sense of both the optimism and the greed that propelled the early explorers, and we see how heavily they relied upon the skill of their navigators and the courage of their leaders. We also see how desperate Frobisher was to bring back gold, a desire that may have distracted him from his original mission. He had returned from his 1576 voyage with ore samples that yielded uncertain results when assayed for gold. To entice investors in another voyage, perhaps suggesting returns akin to those realized by the Spanish to the south, he embraced the most optimistic assay findings. Now he had to back them up. Thus in 1577 he was under considerable pressure to show his supporters that "the bowels of those Septentrionall [northern] Paralels" will yield "much more large benefite." (This text is included with the Lok text above.)
    [Dionyse Settle, A True Reporte of the Last Voyage into the West and Northwest Regions, &c. 1577. worthily achieved by Captain Frobisher of the said voyage the first finder and general, 1577]
  • AUTOPSY REPORT. Ore samples were not the only things Frobisher brought back to England. In 1576 he returned with an Inuit (Eskimo), whose somewhat Asiatic features helped to persuade the English that Frobisher was on the right track to the Orient. A year later he aroused great interest with three Inuit—a man, a woman, and an infant. (Settle refers to them in his report.) Frobisher thought the man and women were husband and wife, but they were not. All three died shortly after their arrival in England, with Calichoughe, the man, dying first. A physician named Edward Dodding performed an autopsy and concluded that he died when two broken ribs punctured a lung causing an "incurable ulcer." In the post mortem Calichoughe becomes something of a metaphor for the English experience thus far in the New World. Dodding likens the economic resources England sought through the Northwest Passage to "nerves and life-blood," the very things that England lost, quite literally, with the death of Calichoughe. Lamenting the man's death, Dodding vents frustration over England's failure to realize any gain from the "Herculean labour" of Frobisher and other explorers, and he expresses his disgust over the superstitions of the New World inhabitants.
    [Dr. Edward Dodding, Postmortem report on the Thule Inuit brought by Frobisher, 8 November 1577]

Roanoke, 1590, by de Bry after White (map #1, America pars, Nunc Virginia dicta)
Florida, 1591, by de Bry after Le Moyne (map #1, Floridae Americae Provinciae)

  • THOMAS HARRIOT served as the historian, natural scientist, and surveyor/cartographer on the 1585 British expedition to Roanoke Island (North Carolina). His account of the region and the Algonquian Indians was reprinted in 1590 by Theodore de Bry, with de Bry's engravings based on the watercolors by John White, a leader of the 1585 and 1587 Roanoke voyages. 14 engravings and accompanying text.
    [Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590]
  • JACQUES LE MOYNE DE MORGUES was the official artist on two French voyages to Florida in the 1560s, and he documented the Timucuan Indians of the region as well as the construction and fate of the French settlement at Fort Caroline. His account is less well known for its text than for the forty-four engravings produced by Theodore de Bry from his drawings (all but one have disappeared). 11 engravings plus the one extant watercolor, and accompanying text.
    [Le Moyne, Brief Narration of Those Things Which Befell the French in the Province of Florida in America, 1591]
  • You can also return to las Casas's A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in Topic I: CONTACT to view four engravings of Spanish atrocities in the 1598 de Bry edition.

- Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, et al., Dedicatory poems urging an English colony in North America, 1583
- Richard Hakluyt, Reasons for an English colony in North America, 1584

By the 1580s, English financiers and navigators became anxious that their chances for North American wealth and claims were fading. Spain dominated the Caribbean and southern regions of the continent, and France had established missionary and trading posts deep into the northern woodlands. Mexico City was a metropolitan center of trade, politics, and culture. Tadoussac was a small but vital French post on the St. Lawrence River. And both nations had fledgling settlements on the Atlantic coast—San Agustín and Fort Caroline. The continent was being divided up, and England wasn't there.

  • FRANCIS DRAKE, MARTIN FROBISHER, and other well-known navigators contributed dedicatory poems for George Peckham's 1583 account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to Newfoundland. It was more than a history for, as Peckham promised in his subtitle, he would also "briefly set down her highness's lawful title thereunto, and the great and manifold commodities, that is likely to grow thereby, to the whole realm in general, and to the adventurers in particular. Together with the easiness and shortness of the voyage." Six of the dedicatory poems are presented here, in addition to the book's table of contents.
    [George Peckham, A True Report of the Late Discoveries and Possession, Taken in the Right of the Crown of England, of the Newfound Lands: by that Valiant and Worthy Gentleman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert Knight, 1583]
  • RICHARD HAKLUYT (hak-loot) was an English scholar and writer who compiled numerous accounts of European voyages into the mega-volumes known as Divers Voyages and Principal Navigations. In 1584 he wrote the promotional piece known as Discourse of Western Planting to urge a reluctant Queen Elizabeth I to support English colonies and to convince rich businessmen to invest in them. Usually one finds only its chapter headings in anthologies and online collections, but a closer look is necessary to reveal Hakluyt's careful reasoning . . . and earnest naïveté, as historian David Quinn points out in his edition of Discourse. Also included is Hakluyt's final chapter in which he lists necessary personnel and supplies for a colony, again with astounding naïveté.
    [Hakluyt, A Particular Discourse Concerning the Great Necessity and Manifold Commodities that are Like to Grow to this Realm of England by the Western Discoveries Lately Attempted, Written in the Year 1584, known as Discourse of Western Planting, 1584]

- French/Spanish: Accounts of the Spanish attack on Fort Caroline, 1565
- Spanish: Letter requesting food for Ajacan, 1570
- English: Account of the rescue attempt at Roanoke, 1590

If you were to recount the earliest European presence in North America as a history of the "proto-United States," you might start with Columbus in 1492, jump to Jamestown in 1607, and treat the intervening 115 years as a few decades. It is true there was little European presence in the midregion in the 1500s, due primarily to the disappointing forays into Parte Incognita that revealed no golden cities or Edenic sanctuaries, not even a water passage through the continent to Asia.

In addition, many of the first attempts at settlement north of the Caribbean failed. Roanoke, Ajacan, Fort Caroline, Sable Island, Charlesfort, Pensacola, San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesbourg-Royal, France-Roy—all were short-lived settlements in the 1500s. A hurricane destroyed the first Pensacola settlement. Frigid winters and scurvy claimed several settlements starving settlers abandoned others. Indians laid siege to settlements or attacked them outright. Rebellion by brutalized soldiers or starved African slaves ended two colonies. Settlers were left to their own resources when the founders left for provisions (or for good). In most cases a few surviving settlers made it back to Europe, but in one famous case—the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke in what is now North Carolina—the settlers disappeared with little trace, their fate still undetermined. Most share the dooming factors of poor planning and unrealistic appraisals of the North American environment. Simply put, settling this continent was not going to be easy.

Especially with the added obstacle of rival Europeans. By the late 1580s the Spanish and French found themselves closer to each other's claims on the southeast Atlantic coast, and word had it that the English would soon join the competition. Attack-by-rival became another cause of failed colonies. The Spanish massacred the French Huguenots near Florida in 1565 and sent spies to Jamestown in 1613 to determine if eradicating the fledgling colony was its best move. The English destroyed the French trading post of Port Royal on Nova Scotia in 1612 and defeated the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1664. The imperial rivalries that would coalesce in the 1700s were taking shape.

The Similarities in America and African’s history

American’s do not typically associate their own history with Africa’s, but once presented with the similarities between the two are impossible to overlook. Slavery is an longstanding human practice, that stretches far back into our world’s history. It has played an enormous role in determining countries economic and cultural past and future. America and Africa have both felt the fire of slavery, and

During the construction of the new world, America used slavery as a means to advance economically. Europeans used slavery long before traveling to the New World, therefore its influence was felt in the early colonial days of America. When the United States did officially break free from Brittan, the relationship between slavery and African American descent was strong. The divide between Caucasian and African American races was obvious in both physical differences and hierarchal standing. After the Revolutionary war, abolitionist laws spread as well as the cotton industry. Slavery was an intimate part of America, being seen as a feasible method in order to advance economically.

Slave trade in Africa had its share of similarities with the Slave Trade resonating in America. A common misconception is that slave trade only existed with European countries and America- but in reality, slave trade was prominent within the boundaries of Africa as well. Africans were known to sell other Africans. For example, tribes could be geographical neighbors but enemies and of different descent. West African kings were known to dominate their neighbors. An illustration of this lies in King Nzinga Mvemba of Congo – who was known as having a strong alliance with Europeans, therefore posessing more power over his neighbors. This cycle of supremacy lead to a vicious cycle of enslavement of neighbors in order to protect their own people.

Slavery generally did not have a positive effect on Africa’s well being. Slavery made societies militaristic and hierarchical, centralized power, and devastated the economy. The practice of slavery was so lucrative that Kings would hold the majority of the wealth, leaving the working class to live in poverty. Slavery also stifles innovation- for with the presence of slaves comes the lack of motivation to come up with innovative solutions to problems.

To contrast with this, America’s slave trade was the backbone of the economy. Most colonial economies in the America’s from the 16 th -19 th century were dependent on enslaved African labor for survival. According to European colonial officials, the abundant land they had discovered in the Americas was useless without sufficient labor to explore it. The practice of slavery blew up so much so that they became the majority of the colonial populations in the Americas. Of the 6.5 million immigrants who survived the crossing of the Atlantic, only 1 million were Europeans.

I feel as if the idea of slavery and imperialism definitely carry through into current events. Slavery gave African American’s a horrible economic foundation when they became working class people in America, which carries over to the majority of their economic standing today. Once slavery as abolished, it was difficult for African American’s to find a place in the workforce. They were not particularly wanted, because the discrimination against African American’s in society was still a heated issue. Because of this, they were forced to accept low paying jobs that did not provide adequate pay to support themselves or their families. Looking at this from a psychological standpoint, the most accurate predictor of how a child will turn out is dependent on their same sex parent. So it is likely that the son of a father working a low paying job will end up with a low paying job. Unfortunately this has carried through the years, and affected African American’s general economic standing.

In Africa, Slavery demolished cultural standing. For example, the slave trade affected Africa’s culture in a negative fashion. When slaves were sold within neighboring colonies, the culture of those slaves was lost. They were not able to practice previous religions in their new situation. This created new cultural mixes, such as the creation of voo doo, and created new races. It is difficult to deny that slavery in Africa changed the culture, because without it the current culture wouldn’t exist.

Regions and periods

Colonial regions and their limits as well as periods and their caesuras offer two possibilities of approaching European colonialism. For example, the independence of the North American colonies in 1776 [] marks one of the most important turning points – from the Atlantic to the Asian aspect of the British empire – and, also, the first experience of decolonization of global significance in the history of European imperialism. The second only began in the 1950s, here especially on the African continent and, offset in time from the freedom movements of Central and South America as well as Asia . In the 18th century, the foremost European colonial powers, led by England , solidified their global hegemonic position. If they did not create overseas empires, they conquered territories in the form of a continental colonialism as the Russian monarchy did in Siberia and the Habsburgs in South-eastern Europe . This continental variant was equivalent in nature to the later westward shift of the American Frontier and the north migration of the South African boundary as well as the subimperialism, e.g. of Egypt and the Sudan . While the direct penetration of North and South America was almost entirely completed, that of the Asian and African sphere only began on a larger scale after 1800 – in Africa, for example, after 1830 with the French conquest of Algeria, from which Morocco and Tunis were also to be brought under French influence. The Russian conquest of Siberia, which followed the course of the rivers similar to the American expansion, aimed to acquire the lucrative fur trade. Concurrent with the mining of gold and precious stones in Brazil, silver mines were also found in the Siberian highland and the financial as well as the informational value of a caravan route between Russia and China was recognized. The coastal fort colonies that the Dutch operated in Indonesia and the English on the coasts of India initially were reserved for commercial interests in spices, tea, coffee and cotton. As long as they did not expand inland and develop larger areas, they lacked military value.

In 1772, when governor Warren Hastings (1732�)[] strove not only for economic but also for the political and administrative development of the hinterland in Bengal and his administration was overshadowed by numerous scandals, his famous critic Edmund Burke (1729�) vented his anger on the methods of colonial rule. In this way, he also directed attention to the newly formed field of tension of the competing powers of the administrative centre in London and the "men on the spot", those increasingly more powerful servants of European colonialism who at the same time also pursued their own interests in the periphery. In the 19th century, this would become a fixed topos of mutual accusations when businesses based on shares and founded on the model of the East India Company (chartered in 1559, monopoly to 1858), and comparable to the Dutch Vereenigden Oost-Indischen Compagnie (1602�), were raised by Sweden , Denmark , Scotland , Austria , Brandenburg-Prussia and Poland and were partly equipped with sovereign rights. Financially, they were based on the exchanges, which were becoming ever more central to European economic life, and a modern banking system that coordinated the international trade in luxury goods, such as silk, with that in foods novel to Europe, such as potatoes, maize and rice. Only the English company flourished in the long run. Within limits, the Dutch company, which focused on the spice trade and participated in expanding the colonial empire in Southeast Asia, also succeeded. The British created a cotton monopoly. With the trade in goods, for example, coffee from Java and tea from China, Europeans continuously developed new areas, especially Asia, that could be "opened" almost without violence (China since 1685). The formal use of colonial violence was symbolized in its most illustrative form in the slave trade with the establishment of slave ports on the coasts of West and East Africa as the starting points of slave shipments to the plantations of Middle and South America.

South Africa, since the 17th century developed by the Dutch as a settlement colony and since 1815 of importance to the British because of its gold and diamond mines, is exempted from this. Similar to Egypt, it played a special role, including with regard to its perception by Europeans. The shipping routes around the Cape and through the Suez Canal were of elementary significance from the perspective of military and commercial politics. Furthermore, a presence in Egypt held great symbolic significance, as manifested in attempts at its conquest from Napoleon Bonaparte (1769�) to Adolf Hitler (1889�). Remarkable in this parallel is the belief that focussed power in Europe and on the Nile – as the access to Asia – was a condition of concentrated power in the world. A British colonial administrator such as Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer (1841�), who was stationed in Calcutta and Cairo , knew like none other that the survival of the empire depended as much on India, the Jewel in the Crown, as on the Suez Canal. His book Ancient and Modern Imperialism (1910) is a testimonial of intimate knowledge of the manner in which colonial rule functioned, as they were handed down at various administrative posts. What the British were willing to spend on the defence of their interests some 6,000 miles from London is evident from the, on the whole devastating, South African War (also Second Boer War, 1899�). Volunteers from numerous European countries fought on the side of the Boers against the British, who in turn recruited large military contingents in Australia and Canada . The legend of imperial rule irretrievably lost its legitimacy when in 1956 the British and the French armies had to leave the Suez Canal Zone under pressure from the USA and the Soviet Union . Therefore, the Canal as well as the Cape were areas of first rank in the encounters of Europeans and non-Europeans as well as areas of encounter in the sequence of various European colonialisms.

Precisely defined dividing lines between periods are impossible in this panorama as a matter of course. For this, the enterprises in which all European colonial powers were more or less involved (voyages of discovery, scientific projects such as cartography, construction of mercantilist colonial economies etc.) were too different in their time spans and too fluid, while the interactions between Europe and the rest of the world, which were subjected to continuous change, were too divergent. However, there were phases in the overall development of European colonialism that can be separated in analogy to the development of the great power system of the European states:

1. In the beginning, Portugal and Spain (in personal union 1580�) were primarily interested in overseas trade to Brazil and the Philippines and inspired by Christian missionary zeal. With few exceptions, they managed to avoid colonial overlap.

2. By contrast, competition heated up in the 17th century, when the English, French and Dutch pressed forward, initially not in the territories of the Spaniards and the Portuguese, but in neighbouring regions. This is demonstrated in exemplary manner by the North American Atlantic coast between the French possessions in modern Canada and the Spanish claims in the South.

3. When it became impossible to avert the crisis of the Ancien Régime in Europe any longer, the colonial empires also lost their cohesion. The British won against their French rival in North America and India, against the Dutch in Southeast Asia and against the Spanish in South America. The independence of the United States was substituted with supremacy in India, in South Africa and especially on the seas with the almost peerless Royal Navy and modern free trade.

4. The colonial incorporation of Africa on a large scale began with France 's conquest of Algeria in 1830, which at the same time more than before released Europe's internal economic and industrial tensions as colonialist forces and peaked in High Imperialism between 1870 and World War I. 12

5. Since the origins of a pluralistic colonial system during the course of the 19th century, not only the Europeans were involved in dividing the world but also Japan and Russia . The USA is the prototype for a successful linkage of continental internal colonisation in the form of the westward shift of the Frontier and maritime colonial policy in the Asian sphere, while paradoxically being the most successful model of anti-colonialism. At the latest around 1900, the European system of great powers stood before the challenge of global competition. In the controversial interpretation of Niall Ferguson, it was logical that the USA would assume Britain's role as the "global hegemon" in the 20th century and marginalize the formal and informal colonialism of Europe but also continue globalization as "anglobalisation". 13

The Story of India

India's colonization supplied Europe with raw materials and a market for its exports for centuries, a commercial exchange that would closely entwine the economies, cultures, and people of India and Britain.

Vasco da Gama's 1498 arrival in India established a sea route from Europe, and during the following centuries, the Dutch, British, Portuguese, and French would build settlements in port cities throughout the region. The collapse of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth century after the reign of Aurangzeb left a power vacuum that the British East India Company and the French East India Company were eager to fill.

By the late 18th century, the French had lost power in the region, and the British dominated trade through protectionist measures that required Indian exports to be transported on British ships. The British focused on consolidating their sovereignty, acquiring lands by military conquest and by exploiting divisions among Indian states and religious groups. British territory included the Punjab province and lower Burma (which would come under their complete control in 1886), and the British spread new technologies such as the telegraph, railroad, and steam transportation throughout the region. This transportation network continues to flourish and grow to this day, as evidenced by the Chennai Central Railway Station.

After the violence of the Great Rebellion of 1857, Parliament transferred the administration of the region from the British East India Company to the Crown, initiating the era of the British Raj, which would end in 1947 with India's independence.

Vasco da Gama

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, on the southwest coast of India, and became the first person to navigate a sea route from Europe to India, forever changing the world economy. Neither da Gama's proffered gifts nor his behavior (the Portuguese mistook the Hindus for Christians) impressed Calicut's leader, Saamoothirippadu (or Zamorin), and he refused to sign a trade treaty with the explorer. However, da Gama's successful voyage established Lisbon as the center of Europe's spice trade, a position Portugal would dominate for almost a century. In 1510, the Portuguese gained control of Goa, 400 miles north of Cochin on India’s west coast, and made it the hub of their maritime activities in the region.

Da Gama would return to India two more times&mdashin 1502 to violently avenge the deaths of Portuguese traders by bombarding Calicut, and as viceroy in 1524 to correct corruption among Portuguese authorities. On his last trip, da Gama died in Goa, where a town, Vasco, was named for him in 1543. In 1600, the British East India Company was chartered, and throughout the 17th century English, Dutch, and French traders traveled this sea route and established posts in India's port cities.

Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire was founded in 1526 CE, peaked around 1700 and steadily declined into the 19th century, severely weakened by conflicts over succession. Mughal rule began with Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who invaded northern India from his post in Kabul, and overthrew Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Delhi sultans. At its height, the Mughal Empire included most of the Indian subcontinent and an estimated population of 100 million people.

The empire's primary activities of war and expansion were supported by a strong central administrative and political system fully developed under Akbar, the third Mughal emperor. Under Akbar's rule (1556-1605), the empire expanded north to Kabul and Kashmir, east to Bengal and Orissa, south to Gujarat and southwest to Rajasthan. Establishing himself as a spiritual as well as military and strategic leader, Akbar promoted a policy of tolerance for all religions. His son, Jahangir (1605-27), and Jahangir's wife, Nur Jahan, who was highly influential in court politics, carried on Akbar's policies of centralized government and religious tolerance.

India's economy grew under the Mughals as a result of the empire's strong infrastructure, expansion and trade with Europeans, who established bases in various Indian ports. Shah Jahan (1627&ndash58), Jahangir's son, diverted wealth away from the military toward magnificent building projects including the Taj Mahal and a new capital city, Shajahanabad, site of a royal fortress and the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. Shah Jahan's reign marked a turn toward a more Muslim-centered government, which his son Aurangzeb favored in contrast with his other son Dara Shikoh, who favored a more diverse court.

After a two-year fight for succession that resulted in Shah Jahan's imprisonment and Dara's death, Aurangzeb (1658&ndash1707) assumed the throne. He reversed many of Akbar's policies supporting religious tolerance, and Islamic religious law (sharia) became the foundation of Mughal government. By the late 17th century, the empire was in decline, weakened by succession conflicts, an entrenched war waged by Aurangzeb in the south, growing inequality between rich and poor and loss of support from nobles and gentry. By the mid-18th century, the once great Mughal Empire was confined to a small area around Delhi.


Aurangzeb (1618-1707) was the third son of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. After a false report spread through the empire that Shah Jahan had died, Aurangzeb embarked on a brutal power struggle with his three brothers, including Dara Shikoh, which he won in 1659 to become the sixth ruler of the Mughal Empire. He imprisoned his father Shah Jahan for eight years the old emperor died in captivity.

A deeply pious man, Aurangzeb practiced a much more orthodox form of Islam than his father, and was fundamentally intolerant of the Hindu religions. He ushered in a number of anti-Hindu policies, such as the jizya, a tax on non-Muslims, and imposed higher customs duties for Hindus than for Muslims. Worse still, he reversed the policies of Akbar the Great, demolishing many Hindu temples he also persecuted the Sikhs, executing their ninth guru, prompting the Sikhs to form an "Army of the Pure" (Khalsa) to protect themselves. The transformation of the Sikhs into a militant order dates above all from his time.

Aurangzeb expanded the Mughal Empire, conquering additional territories in southern India, but his policies created great unrest within his empire. He was continually forced to put down rebellions from a group of Hindu warrior clans called the Marathas, led by the charismatic Hindu leader Shivaji Bhosle, who practiced guerrilla tactics and eventually formed a new Hindu kingdom. After Aurangzeb's death in 1707 CE, the Marathan Kingdom continued to grow, ultimately forming the Marathan Empire. Aurangzeb meanwhile had left four sons, who battled among themselves for power the wars that he had fought left the treasury empty, which contributed to the Mughal Empire's slow decline, and eventually to its feeble capitulation to the British.

British East India Company

On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to a group of 25 adventurers, giving them a monopoly on trade between England and the countries in the East Indies. The Company established settlements in Bombay, on India's west coast, and on India's east coast, in Calcutta and Madras. They became centers for Indian textiles that were in high demand in Europe, including cotton cloth, chintz, and calico.

The company's two primary competitors in the region were the Dutch East India Company and the French Compagnie des Indes Orientales. Armies of Indians hired as soldiers and supplied with European weaponry increased the Company's might against its western competitors and were even used to control the courts of Indian princes.

The decline and fall of the Mughal Empire in the mid-18th century contributed to the East India Company's accumulation of power in the region. In 1757, the Company defeated and killed the Mughal governor of Bengal, Sirajud-Dawla, after he captured Calcutta in an attempt to hinder the Company from depriving merchants and the government of revenue. By 1765, the Company had acquired control of the revenue systems of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar, on India's east coast, and became the largest territorial power in India. The India Act of 1784 gave Parliament control of the company's affairs in London, but the heads of the Company oversaw the governance of India. Parliament transferred the Company's power over administration of the Indian territories to the Crown in 1858 after the Great Rebellion of 1857, an uprising of Indian soldiers (sepoys) that was largely blamed on the Company's mismanagement of the territory.

French East India Company

In 1604, a charter granted by King Henry IV established France's first trading company in India, but the venture never gained traction for lack of funding. In 1664, King Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, revived the company with money from the royal treasury and by granting trade monopolies to investors. Between 1664 and 1789, the company would be restructured and renamed repeatedly, known variously as the French Company of the East Indies, Company of the Indies, French Company of the Indies, and the Perpetual Company of the Indies.

Weak rulers of the Mughal Empire and the empire's gradual dissolution created conditions conducive to France's rise to power. (Although remnants of the great Mughal Empire would continue into the nineteenth century, the empire effectively fell in 1707 with the death of its last emperor, Aurangzeb.) The French established a capital at Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in south India, where silk and textiles were collected from surrounding regions, and founded trading posts at Surat, on India's central west coast, and Chandannagar (or Chandernagore), in the northeast. Mauritius became a French colony in 1721 and Mahé followed in 1724.

By the 1730s, the French Company had been granted nawab, or local governor, status that gave them authority to collect land revenue, maintain an army, and mint rupees. The British East India Company and the French Company both tried to consolidate power through control of the local princes. Vying to gain dominance in trade and place their own candidates in positions of power in the key posts of Hyderabad and Arcot, England and France fought the Carnatic Wars (named for the region in southern India) intermittently between 1746 and 1763. England's victory over France in the final Carnatic War and the Seven Years' War led to the end of France's power in the region, though they retained Pondicherry until 1954 and French is still an official language in the local legislature.

Chennai Central Railway Station

The Chennai Central Railway Station, commissioned in 1873 and opened around the turn of the 20th century, is South India's central railway hub. Chennai (formerly called Madras), known as the "Gateway of the South," was founded as a British trading post in 1639, and became an administrative and commercial capital of the British East India Company.

The station initially had four platforms subsequent additions in the 1930s and 1950s increased the number of platforms and amenities for the growing numbers of passengers. The red brick structure with a white roof and landmark clock tower reflects Gothic and Indo-Saracenic elements. The Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, pioneered in Madras, was developed by British architects in India during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Buildings built in this style combine Muslim designs and Indian materials and may feature pavilions, vaulted roofs, towers, and minarets.

Great Rebellion of 1857

The Great Rebellion of 1857 (also called the Indian Mutiny, Sepoy Rebellion, and First War of Independence) began as a mutiny by Bengal army soldiers, or sepoys, against their commanders in the army of the British East India Company. The rebellion came out of the sepoy's long-held grievances about unfair assignments, low pay, limited opportunities for advancement, and the reorganization of Awadh, a region from which a third of them had been recruited. A more immediate cause of insult to the sepoys was the new Lee Enfield rifle that required soldiers to reload by biting off the ends of cartridges greased with pig and cow fat, substances offensive to both Muslim and Hindu religions.

On May 10, 1857, the sepoys posted in Meerut attacked officers and marched on Delhi after their colleagues had been punished for refusing to use the new cartridges. Once in Delhi, the uprising gained legitimacy when the sepoys made the 82-year-old Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II the leader of their rebellion. Other soldiers, primarily those stationed in northern India, joined the revolt, and popular uprisings also broke out in the countryside. Central India and the cities of Delhi, Lucknow, and Cownpore (Kanpur) became the primary areas of unrest while areas further south, where the Bombay and Madras armies and many princes and elites remained loyal, were largely untouched by the rebellion.

By September, the British had regained control of Delhi, exiled Bahadur Shah, and killed both of his sons. After the siege of Gwalior in the summer of 1858, the British regained military control, and those sepoys who had revolted were severely punished&mdasha number of captured sepoys were fired from cannons. The army was reorganized to include a higher ratio of British to Indian soldiers, recruitment focused on regions that had not revolted, and units were composed of soldiers representing many Indian ethnicities, so as to prevent social cohesion among sepoys.

Loss of British revenue as a result of the rebellion was severe, and in 1858, an act of the British Parliament transferred the East India Company's rights in India to the Crown. The new administration of India included a British secretary of state, viceroy, and 15-member advisory council. In 1876, Queen Victoria declared herself Empress of India.

British Raj

The British Raj (Hindi for rule) under England's Queen Victoria began in 1858 after the Great Rebellion of 1857 and subsequent transfer, through an act of Parliament, of administrative power from the British East India Company to the Crown. British rule extended over present-day India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan together about a fifth of the world's population. Under the new administration, a governor-general with a five-member council governed in India, while a secretary of state and 15-member council oversaw Indian affairs in Britain. Provincial governments included executive and legislative councils and were divided into districts, each overseen by a commissioner. The Indian Civil Service, composed of magistrates, revenue officials, commissioners, and other bureaucratic positions, formed a fundamental segment of the new government. After 1923, examinations required for entry into the civil service were held in India, not only Britain, and by 1947, most Civil Service officials were Indian.

Policies of nonintervention in religion and recognition of regional princes&mdashnumbering approximately 675&mdashwere among the first issued under the British administration, perhaps reflecting the religious causes of the Great Rebellion of 1857. A newly restructured army that included more British officers had the foreign policy responsibility of keeping Russia out of Central Asia, leading to the Anglo-Afghan Wars during much of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

By 1910, India had the fourth largest railway system in the world, one that unified the country geographically and economically. However, under British rule, the generally positive advances of social reforms, public works, and unification of the India's disparate regions were coupled with racism and economic exploitation. Lack of Indian representation in government and an economic system that was perceived as a drain on India's wealth were the primary causes of agitation against British rule in India.

In 1885, the first meeting of the Indian National Congress, composed of 73 self-appointed delegates, was held in Bombay. Nationalist opposition increased following World War I and World War II, and in 1946/7, the Congress, guided by its leader Mahatma Gandhi, negotiated Indian independence from Britain.

Colonization and Conflict in the South, 1600-1750 Essay

becoming havens for the English poor and unemployed, or models of interracial harmony, the southern colonies of seventeenth-century North America were weakened by disease, wracked by recurring conflicts with Native Americans, and disrupted by profit-hungry planters’ exploitation of poor whites and blacks alike. Many of the tragedies of Spanish colonization and England’s conquest of Ireland were repeated in the American South and the British Caribbean. Just as the English established their first outpost

The Impact of Colonization

As Europeans moved beyond exploration and into colonization of the Americas, they brought changes to virtually every aspect of the land and its people, from trade and hunting to warfare and personal property. European goods, ideas, and diseases shaped the changing continent.

As Europeans established their colonies, their societies also became segmented and divided along religious and racial lines. Most people in these societies were not free they labored as servants or slaves, doing the work required to produce wealth for others. By 1700, the American continent had become a place of stark contrasts between slavery and freedom, between the haves and the have-nots.


Everywhere in the American colonies, a crushing demand for labor existed to grow New World cash crops, especially sugar and tobacco. This need led Europeans to rely increasingly on Africans, and after 1600, the movement of Africans across the Atlantic accelerated. The English crown chartered the Royal African Company in 1672, giving the company a monopoly over the transport of African slaves to the English colonies. Over the next four decades, the company transported around 350,000 Africans from their homelands. By 1700, the tiny English sugar island of Barbados had a population of fifty thousand slaves, and the English had encoded the institution of chattel slavery into colonial law.

This new system of African slavery came slowly to the English colonists, who did not have slavery at home and preferred to use servant labor. Nevertheless, by the end of the seventeenth century, the English everywhere in America—and particularly in the Chesapeake Bay colonies—had come to rely on African slaves. While Africans had long practiced slavery among their own people, it had not been based on race. Africans enslaved other Africans as war captives, for crimes, and to settle debts they generally used their slaves for domestic and small-scale agricultural work, not for growing cash crops on large plantations. Additionally, African slavery was often a temporary condition rather than a lifelong sentence, and, unlike New World slavery, it was typically not heritable (passed from a slave mother to her children).

The growing slave trade with Europeans had a profound impact on the people of West Africa, giving prominence to local chieftains and merchants who traded slaves for European textiles, alcohol, guns, tobacco, and food. Africans also charged Europeans for the right to trade in slaves and imposed taxes on slave purchases. Different African groups and kingdoms even staged large-scale raids on each other to meet the demand for slaves.

Once sold to traders, all slaves sent to America endured the hellish Middle Passage, the transatlantic crossing, which took one to two months. By 1625, more than 325,800 Africans had been shipped to the New World, though many thousands perished during the voyage. An astonishing number, some four million, were transported to the Caribbean between 1501 and 1830. When they reached their destination in America, Africans found themselves trapped in shockingly brutal slave societies. In the Chesapeake colonies, they faced a lifetime of harvesting and processing tobacco.

Everywhere, Africans resisted slavery, and running away was common. In Jamaica and elsewhere, runaway slaves created maroon communities, groups that resisted recapture and eked out a living from the land, rebuilding their communities as best they could. When possible, they adhered to traditional ways, following spiritual leaders such as Vodun priests.


While the Americas remained firmly under the control of native peoples in the first decades of European settlement, conflict increased as colonization spread and Europeans placed greater demands upon the native populations, including expecting them to convert to Christianity (either Catholicism or Protestantism). Throughout the seventeenth century, the still-powerful native peoples and confederacies that retained control of the land waged war against the invading Europeans, achieving a degree of success in their effort to drive the newcomers from the continent.

At the same time, European goods had begun to change Indian life radically. In the 1500s, some of the earliest objects Europeans introduced to Indians were glass beads, copper kettles, and metal utensils. Native people often adapted these items for their own use. For example, some cut up copper kettles and refashioned the metal for other uses, including jewelry that conferred status on the wearer, who was seen as connected to the new European source of raw materials.

As European settlements grew throughout the 1600s, European goods flooded native communities. Soon native people were using these items for the same purposes as the Europeans. For example, many native inhabitants abandoned their animal-skin clothing in favor of European textiles. Similarly, clay cookware gave way to metal cooking implements, and Indians found that European flint and steel made starting fires much easier ([link]).

The abundance of European goods gave rise to new artistic objects. For example, iron awls made the creation of shell beads among the native people of the Eastern Woodlands much easier, and the result was an astonishing increase in the production of wampum, shell beads used in ceremonies and as jewelry and currency. Native peoples had always placed goods in the graves of their departed, and this practice escalated with the arrival of European goods. Archaeologists have found enormous caches of European trade goods in the graves of Indians on the East Coast.

Native weapons changed dramatically as well, creating an arms race among the peoples living in European colonization zones. Indians refashioned European brassware into arrow points and turned axes used for chopping wood into weapons. The most prized piece of European weaponry to obtain was a musket, or light, long-barreled European gun. In order to trade with Europeans for these, native peoples intensified their harvesting of beaver, commercializing their traditional practice.

The influx of European materials made warfare more lethal and changed traditional patterns of authority among tribes. Formerly weaker groups, if they had access to European metal and weapons, suddenly gained the upper hand against once-dominant groups. The Algonquian, for instance, traded with the French for muskets and gained power against their enemies, the Iroquois. Eventually, native peoples also used their new weapons against the European colonizers who had provided them.

Explore the complexity of Indian-European relationships in the series of primary source documents on the National Humanities Center site.


The European presence in America spurred countless changes in the environment, setting into motion chains of events that affected native animals as well as people. The popularity of beaver-trimmed hats in Europe, coupled with Indians’ desire for European weapons, led to the overhunting of beaver in the Northeast. Soon, beavers were extinct in New England, New York, and other areas. With their loss came the loss of beaver ponds, which had served as habitats for fish as well as water sources for deer, moose, and other animals. Furthermore, Europeans introduced pigs, which they allowed to forage in forests and other wildlands. Pigs consumed the foods on which deer and other indigenous species depended, resulting in scarcity of the game native peoples had traditionally hunted.

European ideas about owning land as private property clashed with natives’ understanding of land use. Native peoples did not believe in private ownership of land instead, they viewed land as a resource to be held in common for the benefit of the group. The European idea of usufruct—the right to common land use and enjoyment—comes close to the native understanding, but colonists did not practice usufruct widely in America. Colonizers established fields, fences, and other means of demarcating private property. Native peoples who moved seasonally to take advantage of natural resources now found areas off limits, claimed by colonizers because of their insistence on private-property rights.

The Introduction of Disease

Perhaps European colonization’s single greatest impact on the North American environment was the introduction of disease. Microbes to which native inhabitants had no immunity led to death everywhere Europeans settled. Along the New England coast between 1616 and 1618, epidemics claimed the lives of 75 percent of the native people. In the 1630s, half the Huron and Iroquois around the Great Lakes died of smallpox. As is often the case with disease, the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable and had the highest mortality rates. The loss of the older generation meant the loss of knowledge and tradition, while the death of children only compounded the trauma, creating devastating implications for future generations.

Some native peoples perceived disease as a weapon used by hostile spiritual forces, and they went to war to exorcise the disease from their midst. These “mourning wars” in eastern North America were designed to gain captives who would either be adopted (“requickened” as a replacement for a deceased loved one) or ritually tortured and executed to assuage the anger and grief caused by loss.

The Cultivation of Plants

European expansion in the Americas led to an unprecedented movement of plants across the Atlantic. A prime example is tobacco, which became a valuable export as the habit of smoking, previously unknown in Europe, took hold ([link]). Another example is sugar. Columbus brought sugarcane to the Caribbean on his second voyage in 1494, and thereafter a wide variety of other herbs, flowers, seeds, and roots made the transatlantic voyage.

Just as pharmaceutical companies today scour the natural world for new drugs, Europeans traveled to America to discover new medicines. The task of cataloging the new plants found there helped give birth to the science of botany. Early botanists included the English naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, who traveled to Jamaica in 1687 and there recorded hundreds of new plants ([link]). Sloane also helped popularize the drinking of chocolate, made from the cacao bean, in England.

Indians, who possessed a vast understanding of local New World plants and their properties, would have been a rich source of information for those European botanists seeking to find and catalog potentially useful plants. Enslaved Africans, who had a tradition of the use of medicinal plants in their native land, adapted to their new surroundings by learning the use of New World plants through experimentation or from the native inhabitants. Native peoples and Africans employed their knowledge effectively within their own communities. One notable example was the use of the peacock flower to induce abortions: Indian and enslaved African women living in oppressive colonial regimes are said to have used this herb to prevent the birth of children into slavery. Europeans distrusted medical knowledge that came from African or native sources, however, and thus lost the benefit of this source of information.

Section Summary

The development of the Atlantic slave trade forever changed the course of European settlement in the Americas. Other transatlantic travelers, including diseases, goods, plants, animals, and even ideas like the concept of private land ownership, further influenced life in America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The exchange of pelts for European goods including copper kettles, knives, and guns played a significant role in changing the material cultures of native peoples. During the seventeenth century, native peoples grew increasingly dependent on European trade items. At the same time, many native inhabitants died of European diseases, while survivors adopted new ways of living with their new neighbors.


The impact of indigenous American crops had an equally profound effect on production and consumption patterns in Europe and the rest of the world. Attention focused initially on exotic crops, such cacao and dyes, which were produced in the Americas and exported. However, the transfer of staple food crops to the Old World brought more far-reaching effects, totally transforming basic diets in many parts of the world.

In the early colonial period the slow speed of transport and small size of ships meant that only those products that had a high value to weight ratio could be exported. One such commodity was cacao, from which the Aztec elite had made drinking chocolate, taking its name from the Nahuatl term chocolatl. Hernán Cortés took it to Spain in 1528, and it soon became a much-desired beverage in Europe. Meanwhile, dyestuffs, such as cochineal and indigo, produced in southern Mexico and Central America, were much sought after by textile workshops in Europe. Of more dubious value was tobacco. Columbus observed tobacco smoking in Hispaniola in 1492, and its commercial production began there on a small scale in the 1530s and in Brazil in the 1540s. Initially it was used for medicinal purposes as much as for pleasure. It did not develop into a major export crop in Latin America until the eighteenth century, though by then the British had successfully established tobacco cultivation in Virginia.

American food crops, such as potatoes, maize, and manioc, had a more extensive and persistent impact. More than two hundred varieties of potatoes were grown in the Andes in pre-Columbian times. Because the potato prefers cool, wet climates its impact in the Mediterranean was limited, but it spread to Ireland, parts of northern Europe, and Russia, where in the eighteenth century it became a major food crop that provided the basis for population growth and industrialization. Maize and manioc spread more rapidly at an earlier date. Columbus himself introduced maize to Spain and by the mid-sixteenth century it was also being cultivated in China, though there it faced competition from rice. Maize along with manioc also spread widely in West and Central Africa, encouraged by the need for provisions to support the African slave trade. Maize was more productive than African cereals, while manioc was well adapted to poor soils and drought conditions, so that they soon replaced indigenous sorghum, millet, and yams.

Diets were not only transformed by new staple foods, but also came to include a number of vegetables and fruits. Most important was the tomato. This was originally domesticated in the Andes, but its English name derives from the Aztec term tomatl. The early history of the tomato in Europe is obscure but it appeared in Italy in the sixteenth century where it was given the name "golden apple" or pomi d'oro. Other arrivals from the Americas included beans, peppers, pumpkins, pineapples, guava, papaya, avocados, and peanuts.

European exploration of the Mississippi River began with the travels of Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673.

In 1682 René-Robert Cavelier de la Salle reached the river’s delta and took possession of the regions he had crossed in the name of the French King: Illinois and Louisiana.

European Colonialism

From the perspective of ancient and medieval Western civilization, the known world extended from northern Europe to the Sahara Desert, from the Atlantic Ocean to India (and, in the hazy distance, China). 33 The ancient Greeks and (especially) Romans traded with distant Asian cultures via intermediate states goods were shipped overland or by combined land/sea routes. 32 In the medieval period, the Byzantine Empire maintained these trade links Western European trade collapsed (with the fall of the Western Roman Empire), then recovered in the later Middle Ages.

The Mongol Empire (ca. 1200-1300), which came to encompass virtually the full width of Asia, simplified Eurasian trade by cutting out middleman states. But while the Mongols were happy to trade with the West, the Ottomans were not. With the decline of the Mongols and the rise of the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1300-WWI), conventional trade with Asia was blocked, forcing Europe to seek ocean routes. 32

Age of Discovery

The Early Modern period was, for good and ill, the age of European exploration, conquest, and colonization. Initially, the foremost motivation for these efforts was the search for overseas trade routes with India and China.

The opening phase of European exploration and colonization, known as the Age of Discovery , can be divided into two parts. During the early Age of Discovery (ca. 1420-92), Portugal initiated the global naval era by exploring the coast of Africa (in hopes of finding a way round to India), colonizing several Atlantic islands, and establishing African trading posts (which fostered a booming trade with West Africa in gold, ivory, and slaves). The leading patron of these voyages was Henry the Navigator , a Portuguese prince. 33,46

The turning point in Portugal's quest for a sea route to India was the rounding of the southern tip of Africa, achieved by Bartholomew Diaz. Although Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope (a close neighbour) is much more famous. The Cape of Good Hope marks the point at which the African coastline begins to trend eastward instead of southward, making it the critical turning-point of Diaz' voyage. 89

European Naval Exploration
main participants milestone voyages
leader achievement surviving ships
early Age of Discovery (ca. 1420-92) Portugal Diaz rounding of the tip of Africa 2 of 2
late Age of Discovery (ca. 1492-1520) Portugal and Spain Columbus journey to the Americas 2 of 3
da Gama circum-Africa journey to India 2 of 4
Magellan circumnavigation of the globe 1 of 5
exploration after 1520 Portugal, Spain, England, France, Netherlands

During the late Age of Discovery (ca. 1492-1520), Spain joined Portugal as a nation of global exploration and conquest. This period began with the arrival of Columbus in the Americas and concluded with the circumnavigation of the globe by the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan. 33

Soon 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). 30 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.)

Consequently, Spain settled most of Latin America (as it is now called) while Portugal settled Brazil. 30 Both nations enslaved native populations for plantations (especially in Brazil) and mining (especially in Mexico and Peru). K318-19,46 On the other side of the world, Spain took the Philippines, while Portugal seized other islands.

The Pacific Ocean ("Peaceful Ocean") was named by Ferdinand Magellan, who led the first European voyage to sail it. He reached the Pacific through a narrow, dangerous channel that pierces the tip of South America, known today as the Strait of Magellan. Magellan was killed by natives in the Philippines, however, forcing one of his officers (Juan Sebastián Elcano) to finish the journey. 33,46

Early Modern Period

To recap the previous section: global exploration and empire-building were initiated by the Portuguese (early Age of Discovery), who were eventually joined by the Spanish (late Age of Discovery). Following the Age of Discovery, the Iberian nations were joined by Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The world's oceans subsequently experienced a five-way balance of power during the Early Modern age. Only during the nineteenth century did Britain reign as the sole naval superpower. 45

Primary Early Modern Colonies (of the five primary colonial powers)
Portugal Brazil Caribbean islands
Spain Latin America (except Brazil), Philippines
Netherlands parts of Indonesia
France eastern Canada/US
England eastern Canada/US, eastern Australia

During the age of sail , which spanned the Early Modern age (plus the early nineteenth century), great sailing ships dominated naval trade, exploration, and warfare. The age of sail was enabled by various advances in navigation and ship design achieved during the later medieval period. The most crucial development was the ability to sail efficiently against the wind. A251,77

Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, the principal venue of European naval conflict had been the Mediterranean in all that time, the nature of sea warfare changed little. The principal warship was the galley (a shallow-hulled craft powered by rowers), whose main form of attack (apart from moving alongside an enemy vessel, allowing soldiers to board) was simply to ram other boats, though sometimes catapults were used. In the Early Modern age, the galley was succeeded by the man-of-war (a general term for any deep-hulled, sail-powered warship) armed with cannons. 44

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. 46

The Early Modern period also witnessed the vast (mostly eastward) expansion of Russia. Russian colonialism was of the traditional kind, however, in which a state simply expands its borders (rather than acquiring overseas territory).

The northern colonies of the New World (Canada, northern US) provided such resources as timber, fish, and furs, while southern colonies (southern US, Caribbean, Latin America) yielded sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Southern crops were often grown in plantations: vast, single-crop farms. Since warm-climate crops tend to be labour-intensive, these plantations required large workforces thus did the rise of plantations in European empires fuel the massive expansion of the slave trade. 46

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 (see Humanism, Enlightenment). Unfortunately, the human tragedies of colonialism are unspeakably vast. Many thousands of Africans, Native Americans, and other indigenous peoples throughout the world were killed (by violence or disease), enslaved, and/or oppressed in countless other ways (e.g. forced migration to barren land, outlawing of indigenous languages and traditions).

Types of Colonialism

The term "colonialism" is often used synonymously with "imperialism": the imposition of a state's will upon external territory. Yet "colonialism" is derived from the word "colony" thus, strictly speaking, colonialism is a form of imperialism in which a state settles territory outside its borders.

The colonial age featured two types of empire. In a colonial empire, conquered territories were settled by the conquering nation a trading empire, on the other hand, was concerned only with the establishment and protection of trade routes (via warships and fortified settlements). A trading empire thus involved little or no conquest of territory, though it did require skilful diplomacy with local rulers (to maintain trade flows and avoid attacks on trading settlements). A299

Colonial empires were mainly confined to the New World, while trading empires prevailed in the Old. The only major Early Modern territorial seizures in the Old World were conducted by Russia (as it expanded eastward) and Britain (which conquered Australia and New Zealand). A299

The British, Spanish, and French Empires were all dual empires, in that they featured both colonial and trading components. The Portuguese and Dutch Empires, on the other hand, were limited mainly to trading. This explains how these two countries (which, given their small populations, lacked great armies) managed to amass mighty global empires.

Indeed, the seventeenth century was the Dutch Golden Age, during which the Dutch Empire flourished as the world's wealthiest power. This incredible achievement can be traced to the unusual degree of freedom enjoyed by Early Modern Dutch society most crucially, freedom of private economic activity. By allowing private companies and investors to seek their own fortunes, economic growth was propelled by private ambition (rather than depending entirely on state planning). Moreover, economic freedom allowed the Dutch financial system to become the most advanced in the world, most crucially in the fields of investment and insurance. A299,K238-39

In most of Europe, monarchs rigidly controlled the economic activities of their empires. In terms of being a free society (including economic freedom), the only rival to the Netherlands was Britain yet the economic growth of the British Empire lagged initially, due partly to Britain's underdeveloped investment and insurance markets. After the Dutch Golden Age, the British Empire rose to world supremacy (with London surpassing Amsterdam as the world's busiest financial centre) thanks largely to the adoption of Dutch financial innovations. A299,K238-39


As noted above, colonial settlement occurred primarily in the Americas. The rate of European immigration grew steadily throughout the Early Modern period, peaking in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was due both to massive European population growth resulting from industrialized food production, as well as the rise of of steam-powered transportation (steamships and trains). A367 Yet colonial settlement was heavily lopsided most immigrants chose to settle in British territory, as opposed to New France or Latin America.

The success of British colonialism may be attributed primarily to Parliament, which provided Britain with strong representative government (see History of Democracy). Representative government ensured that the British people enjoyed relatively robust freedoms (e.g. freedom of speech and religion, freedom of economic activity, freedom from arbitrary fines/imprisonment) compared to other European nations the notion that government should prioritize individual freedom is known as liberalism. When British territory expanded to include overseas colonies, the British institutions of representative government and liberalism were imported to these colonies. A372,K236-39

In terms of being a free society, Britain was rivalled only by the Netherlands, which had never been subject to strong centralized rule. During the Middle Ages, the Netherlands region consisted of various small, oligarchic states that grew wealthy from manufacturing and trade. Though the Netherlands was absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire ca. 1500, it broke free during the Reformation. The newly-independent Netherlands found itself free of both the Church (due to the Dutch adoption of Protestantism) and centralized monarchy (since the nation was still essentially a loose union of small, merchant-ruled oligarchies), allowing liberalism to flourish. A296

Had the Dutch engaged in large-scale colonization, perhaps the liberalism of Dutch society would have been transplanted throughout the world. Since the Dutch Empire focused mainly on trade, however, British colonies were almost the only option for European emigrants seeking freedom from political and/or religious oppression.

Social conditions were not the only factor in the success of British colonization, however. Another was arable land, which was relatively abundant in the British-ruled portions of the Americas, and especially in the region that would become the United States. Indeed, this region drew as much European immigration as the entire remainder of the British Empire.

British culture (including representative government and liberalism) forms the cultural foundation of British offshoot nations. This includes the United States, which would elevate representative government and liberalism to unprecedented heights, thereby giving birth to modern democracy (see History of Democracy). A372,B208


As described in the previous section, British colonies experienced much heavier settlement than those of other European powers. British colonies were also unique for the extent of their political and economic development. Consequently, while many present-day nations originated as European colonies, only British offshoots are found among the world's most-developed nations.

Once again, this fact can be largely explained by the importation of representative government and liberalism, the latter of which includes freedom of economic activity (i.e. capitalism). Life in the colonies of France, Spain, and Portugal, on the other hand, was much more strictly controlled, by both the absolute monarchies of those nations and the Roman Catholic Church. The political and economic development of these colonies typically did not advance beyond the minimum required to produce raw materials (e.g. crops, metals) for the home countries. B208,B253,K234-39

Modern Period

The extent of European imperialism in the Old World climbed steadily in the modern age, peaking ca. 1900. At this point, firm European domination had spread across most of the Old World, the only major exceptions being Turkey (the Ottoman Empire), Persia, and Japan. At its peak, the British Empire became the largest empire the world has ever known, at nearly a quarter of the Earth's land area. The Russian Empire became history's third-largest empire, behind the British and Mongol Empires. A731-72,88

In the nineteenth century, the European empires experienced three major changes: the Latin American Wars of Independence, the expansion of European territory in Asia, and the Scramble for Africa.

Most of the Spanish Empire was lost in the Latin American Wars of Independence (ca. 1810-30), sparked by Napoleon's occupation of Spain, which (briefly) replaced the reigning Spanish king with Napoleon's brother. This destabilized the politics of Latin America, where support for independence movements had already grown to dangerous proportions, especially after the success of the American Revolution (the first successful colonial revolution). A370,K318-19

The Wars of Independence gave rise to the modern nations of Latin America. (Brazil's independence from Portugal, though achieved in the same period, was obtained peacefully.) Mexico became the primary power of Mesoamerica, while Brazil emerged as the chief power of South America. The United States, however, remained the overwhelmingly dominant power of the New World.

The final blow to the Spanish Empire was delivered at the turn of the century, in the Spanish-American War . This war began with Cuba's fight for independence, to which the United States lent military support at war's end, Cuba was granted freedom (as a US protectorate), while other Spanish possessions (including the Philippines and Puerto Rico) were ceded to America. 86 (A protectorate is a nation that accepts the control of another country over its defence and foreign policy.)

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 (Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia). 85 Russia expanded eastward and southward, and Dutch control was extended across most of Indonesia. Thailand was the only Southeast Asian nation to evade conquest. 84

Most of Africa was conquered by European powers in the Scramble for Africa (ca. 1880-WWI) only Liberia and Ethiopia remained independent. 81 The two primary participants in the Scramble were Britain (which seized a wide strip of territory from Egypt to South Africa) and France (which governed most of West Africa). The five secondary participants were Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. British possession of Egypt held particular strategic significance, as it entailed control of the Suez Canal. 82

Two key conflicts of the Scramble for Africa were the Boer Wars , in which Britain successfully fought the Boers (descendants of Dutch settlers) for control of what is now South Africa. In addition to being rich in gold and diamonds, the tip of Africa was a crucial strategic possession for the circum-Africa trade route. A369,87

Asia and Africa were thus both subject to intense European imperialism neither, however, was heavily colonized. One factor was tropical disease, which rendered much of the Old World (especially inland regions) deadly to Europeans. Moreover, much of Asia (e.g. Persia, South Asia) was already heavily populated, limiting space for settlement and making European control relatively tenuous (given the constant danger of rebellion).

European domination did not necessarily manifest as territorial seizure another form was economic imperialism. The foremost example is China, which was forced into profoundly skewed trade agreements with Western powers via the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century.

The Opium Wars erupted between China and Britain when the former attempted to ban imports of opium from the latter. Selling opium to China was Britain's method of recovering the currency (mainly silver) used to purchase Chinese luxuries (notably tea). 83 The Opium Wars essentially consisted of the decimation of Chinese cities by modern British weapons, forcing China to accept unfavourable trade agreements (including opium imports) and to cede Hong Kong to Britain. K354-55

In the twentieth century, European colonies across the globe were drawn into the two World Wars, which ripped Europe apart and terminated its dominance of the Old World. In the period WWII-1980, which might be called the age of decolonization, regions conquered by European empires gradually obtained their independence (sometimes peacefully, sometimes not). 80 National overseas possessions are few today, consisting mainly of small islands.


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