Colonization and Empire - History of Europe
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Colonization and Empire

white man in a litter carried by dark-skinned men
British colonialist in a litter
carried by local men

November 2016 - Napoleon's empire in Europe had ended a lot of the old powers, but when Napoleon lost power in 1815 AD, rich men just built new empires. Even though the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had tried to bring political equality to everyone, the 1800s were a time of tremendous political inequality instead. Rich European men still held most of the power in Europe. Poor men (but not women) in Europe got more rights than they had had before, but the rich were much, much richer. In Britain, elected Prime Ministers held most of the power. In France, even though there were more kings and emperors after Napoleon, they ruled under a constitution. In the 1850s, Austrian farmers got their freedom. Then the people of France formed a real democracy in 1870.

But these Europeans also ruled over men and women who lived in other parts of the world like India or Africa or South America, and these people had almost no political power at all. Europe got richer and richer by taking a lot of profit from the colonies all over the world. While families in India and Africa became too poor to send children to school, more and more European children went to school and grew up to become inventors and engineers.

Britain ruled South Africa, East Africa, India, Australia, and Canada. France ruled South-East Asia, West Africa, and North Africa. Spain ruled most of South America, Mexico and the western part of North America (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), Cuba, and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Portugal controlled Brazil. Even with money pouring in from all these colonies, though, the money only went to a very few rich families. Even in Europe, most people were still poor, and the shift from farming to factories made most people less healthy than they had been in the 1700s. They were shorter, and they died younger, often of tuberculosis.

indian man in white robe
Mahatma Gandhi, who worked for Indian independence

Slowly these countries began to break free. South America broke free of Spain by the 1830s. Canada became pretty much independent from Britain in 1867, and Australia by 1901.

Near the end of the 1800s, many old city-states and small kingdoms of central Europe banded together to make the new countries of Italy and Germany. The Ottoman Empire lost control of Eastern Europe, and Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Romania became independent countries. Within Western Europe, poor factory workers began to form unions to demand better pay and safer, healthier working conditions.

People in Germany worried that without many colonies, they were falling behind France and Britain. Meanwhile, people in France were worried that the new country of Germany would attack them, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire had done in the time of the French Revolution, not so long before.

Learn by doing: did your family get richer or poorer from colonization?
More about Louis-Philippe in France
More about Austria-Hungary
World War I

Bibliography and further reading about colonization:

Ottoman Empire
Russia
United States
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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