Colonization and Empire – Europe

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British colonialist in a litter carried by local men

British colonialist in a litter carried by local men

Napoleon’s empire in Europe 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 inequality instead.

It’s true that European politics were beginning to change. Poor men (but not women) in Europe got more rights than they had had before. 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. Then in the 1850s, Austrian farmers got their freedom from serfdom. Then the people of France formed a real democracy in 1870.

But rich European men still held most of the power, and they were much, much richer than they ever had been before. Most Europeans were still poor, and the shift from farming to factories made most people less healthy than they had been in the 1700s. Most people were shorter, and they died younger, often of tuberculosis.

These rich Europeans got their money by ruling over millions of men and women who lived in other parts of the world like India or Africa or South AmericaBritain 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, NevadaUtah, Colorado, ArizonaNew Mexico, and Texas), Cuba, and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Portugal controlled Brazil. These people had almost no political power at all.

Rich Europeans got richer and richer by taking a lot of profit from the colonies all over the world. Families in India and Africa became too poor to send children to school. But more European children went to school and grew up to become inventors and engineers.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Slowly these colonized countries started to break free. South America broke free of Spain by the 1830s. Canada became pretty much independent from Britain in 1867. Australia got its independence in 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. That made the Austro-Hungarian Empire much weaker. 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
United States home

By | 2018-04-08T21:33:36+00:00 August 5th, 2017|History, Modern Europe|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Colonization and Empire – Europe. Study Guides, August 5, 2017. Web. May 27, 2018.

About the Author:

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.

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