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History - Western Civilization

New Imperialism, which was a period in European history from 1870 to 1914, can be seen as a rise of unprecedented nationalism, the construction of Italian and German nation states, and the widespread acceleration of colonialist expansion by European states. The precursor conditions for the First World War are characterized by the competition due to this colonialism.

Britain was enjoying unparalleled dominance in colonialism before the late 19th century. However, it began to come up against increasing competition from rival European nations who had just as much ardor for taking new territories and using them to their advantage. The areas that still had lots of room for colonialism were the Pacific and Africa, and these provided the drive for expansion. The European colonies of Africa separated the continent into distinct parts. The Germans had control over Southwest and Southeast Africa, Angola and Mozambique became under the control of Portugal, Belgium controlled the Congo, France controlled Senegal, Cameroon, and much of central Africa, while Britain had control over much of the rest, including Kenya ("The Martian Chronicles").

For the Pacific Region, Europe has to contend with America for dominance, who had control over the Philippines and Hawaii. There was still room for European colonialism however, with Germany controlling New Guinea, the French controlling Indochina, the British controlling Malaya and Burma, including China which was split into different sections of control ("The Martian Chronicles"). Aside from keeping hold of their power, the British took measures to ensure that Russia did not expand into Asia, by taking control of Cyprus in 1878, to act as a preventative measure against Russia expanding into Turkey and Afghanistan. The same motives also caused the British to take control of Tibet.

The link between these colonialist ventures and WW1 lies with the concept of nationalism, which John Hobson stating that strong nationalism, or an establishment of a common union on the grounds of nationality, was highly influential in forming power movements, and forming the collective consciousness of nations (Hobson, 1902). While there were aims to create federations based on mixed nationalities, like in Norway and Switzerland, the idea of national unity emerged and proved to be the most influential identity, nurtured by the developing nation states. Earlier examples are cited by Hobson, such as the Ottoman Empire fragmenting into Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, and the separation of Northern Italy from the Austrian Empire.

The unification of Germany in 1871 was arguably the most significant event in late 19th century European history, and would go on to shape the political and social landscape of the entire continent. It was not long before this new state held great dominance, with powerful industrial, political and military strength, overseen by Otto von Bismarck. While Germany was first apprehensive about New Imperialism, a decade after unification, they changed their stance and demanded a share of Europe's colonial prosperity, proportionate to the power of the country. However, Germany still struggled to match up to Britain, and they realized that the best parts of the world had already been taken by the traditional colonial powers.

At the heart of WW1 was the competition for dominance, which was influenced heavily by colonial expansion pre-WW1. The fact was that colonies were highly important places because they provided trading, land and other things that provided the host countries with significant wealth, and as such, power did not simply mean power within Europe, but over the entire colonial world. By the start of the 20th century, the major players on the world stage was Europe, the US and Japan. But the disenfranchisement of political powers like Italy and Germany who came to the scene too late to properly capitalize on colonialism, was an important precursor for the War.


Hobson, J. (1902). Modern History Sourcebook: Imperialism. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from LINK

The Martian Chronicles: History Behind the Chronicles: New Imperialism. Retrieved December 5, 2005.