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Imperialism basically means being the top dog, the boss, or just the one in charge, and it comes from the Latin word “imperium.” Think about the time when the Americas were being colonized from the 15th to the 19th centuries and when countries like the United States, Japan, and European powers were growing a lot in the late 1800s and early 1900s – that’s what we call the Age of Imperialism. The thing is, as powerful nations expanded, they ended up messing up a bunch of indigenous societies and cultures along the way.

What is Imperialism?

Imperialism basically means being the big boss in charge, like having the ultimate power or being the ruler. The word comes from the Latin word “imperium.” A good example of imperialism is when the Americas were taken over by different countries from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Also, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States, Japan, and some European countries became really big and powerful. But, you know, this whole imperialistic thing hasn’t always been good. It messed up a lot of indigenous societies and cultures throughout history.


  • The earliest instances of imperialism can be found in the Assyrian and Babylonian empires of the third millennium BC. Still, the modern idea of imperialism emerged in the 17th century with the expansion of European colonialism.
  • Although colonialism and imperialism are frequently used interchangeably, historians have long maintained that the two ideologies are fundamentally different despite their close ties.
  • Imperialism uses military force or other forms of coercion to increase a nation’s power and influence.
  • The primary purpose of European nations in the 15th and 16th centuries was colonization.
  • Following European nations’ discovery of sea routes to Africa and America in the 15th and 16th centuries, colonialism was a politically and economically motivated phenomenon that resulted in numerous European nations conquering significant portions of the world.
  • Portuguese, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and England were the major proponents of colonialism among the European sea powers.
  • Previously small European nations became vast empires due to the expansion of colonies worldwide. By 1914, colonization had spread throughout much of the world, with the African continent being particularly hard hit.


Some of the major objectives of imperialism are:

    • The objective of imperialism was economic expansion and profit-seeking.
    • Imperialism aimed to obtain resources, cheap labor, and new markets for goods.
    • Politically, it sought to consolidate power and control new territories.
    • It aimed to increase national prestige and strengthen national security.
    • Religious objectives included spreading Christianity and protecting missionaries abroad.
    • Exploration and scientific research in unknown territories were additional goals.
    • Cultural beliefs of superiority justified the idea of “civilizing” other cultures.

    Types of Imperialism

    In the past, European countries were pretty competitive when it came to trying to rule as much foreign land as they could. This led to different kinds of control popping up in different parts of the world.

    Three types of imperialism emerged:

    • Colonies,
    • Protectorates, and
    • Spheres of influence
    • Imagine a strong country taking full control of another place – that’s what we call a colony. The powerful nation sets up its own government there and basically runs the show. They appoint their own people to handle things, and these folks report back to the powerful country.
    • Now, here’s the catch – locals in that territory have no say in public matters. No holding public office, no influence on laws or policies. It’s like the powerful country is calling all the shots, and the locals are just watching.
    • Think about it: the people who actually live there end up being treated like second-class citizens in their own home. It’s not a great situation for them.
    • France and Britain were big fans of this approach. They did it in various places throughout history. Britain, for example, had colonies like the 13 Colonies in North America and in India during the “British Raj” era.
    • Why did they do it? Well, these colonies were like gold mines for the powerful countries. They provided all sorts of goods and raw materials that the powerful nations could then sell in other parts of the world. It’s kind of like a business strategy, but on a country level.
    • When a country can handle its own day-to-day affairs but is kind of bossed around by another country, that’s called a protectorate. It’s like having your own house, but your big brother still tells you what to do.
    • Imagine if your family decided to run your house like your friend’s family across the street. Your parents are still sort of in charge, but now they’re taking advice from your friend’s parents. In this case, your family would be the protectorate, and your friend’s family would be the outside power.
    • In Africa, the area around the Niger River got into this situation with Britain. It’s like they were doing their own thing, but Britain was still calling some shots and looking after the international stuff.
    • After the Spanish American War, Puerto Rico ended up in a similar deal with the United States. Puerto Rico was doing its own thing, but the U.S. was keeping an eye on them, especially when it came to international stuff and defense. It’s like Puerto Rico was given some freedom, but with certain limits.

      Sphere of Influence
      • When an outside power asserts authority over a territory or region, this is known as a sphere of influence.
      • Typically, it is used for business and investment, but occasionally, it is also used for defense.
      • This frequently happened in areas that bordered an established colony.
      • A treaty was typically used to establish spheres of influence.
      • Normally, this was between two controlling nations who agreed not to intrude on each other’s territory or between a controlling nation and a territory representative.
      • Typically, this came before the founding of a colony or protectorate. Following the US adoption of the “Open Door Policy” in 1899, China was divided into spheres of influence by foreign nations such as the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia.

      Periods of Imperialism

      • Large-scale imperialism and aggressive colonialism lasted for three periods in the modern era.
      • Empires were established in the Americas, India, and the East Indies between the 15th and the middle of the 18th centuries by England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.
      • Empire building experienced a nearly century-long relative calm due to strong opposition to imperialism.
      • Again, imperialism spread quickly during the period between the middle of the 19th century and World War I (1914-1918) Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the United States developed into new imperialistic states as indirect control, particularly financial control, became the preferred form of imperialism over direct military intervention.
      • Following World War I, the League of Nations’ vision of a peaceful world caused imperialism to halt once more temporarily. When Japan invaded China in 1931, it restarted its empire-building efforts.
      • The Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin led to a new era of imperialism that dominated the 1930s and 1940s.


          The word “imperialism” started popping up in the 16th century, describing the control and influence big nations had over smaller ones, covering everything from colonies to trade and military dominance. Even though it’s an old concept, imperialistic vibes have stuck around. There are three main types, shaped by people’s cultures and lifestyles. How a government sees rules and traditions plays a big role in how imperialism plays out. So, it has its pros and cons, depending on how you look at it.

          Read Also: Unification of Italy

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