views updated Jun 27 2018














c. 1875

The boundaries of Colonialism, like those of many literary eras, are difficult to draw. The history of Colonialism as a policy or practice goes back for centuries, and arguably the story of Colonialism is not over yet. Thus literature of several ages reflects concerns about Colonialism in depictions of encounters with native peoples and foreign landscapes and in vague allusions to distant plantations. As colonial activity gained momentum in the late nineteenth century, so the reflection of that activity—as a celebration of European might or as fears of what lay in the wilderness—grew in intensity. Thus rough boundaries for the literary movement of Colonialism would begin in 1875, when historians date the start of a "New Imperialism," through the waning empires of World War I and up to the beginning of World War II, around 1939, although the years after World War I reflect primarily nostalgia for an era that was rapidly coming to a close. Colonialism is primarily a feature of British literature, given that the British dominated the imperial age; even colonial writers of other nationalities often wrote in English or from an English setting. The literature of Colonialism is characterized by a strong sense of ambiguity: uncertainty about the morality of imperialism, about the nature of humanity, and about the continuing viability of European civilization. Perhaps the essential colonial critique is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, though such works as Olive Schreiner's Story of an AfricanFarm and E. M. Forster's A Passage to India similarly explore the paradoxes of Colonialism. Colonial literature is also full of high adventure, romance, and excitement, as depicted in Rudyard Kipling's spy thriller Kim or the adventure tales of H. Rider Haggard. Isak Dinesen's memoirs, including Out of Africa, similarly romanticize the wildness of the colonial landscape and the heroism of adventurous colonizers.


Joseph Conrad (1857–1924)

Though considered one of the masters of modern English literature, Conrad was ethnically Polish. He was born in the Ukraine as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857, but he correctly presumed that Conrad would be a surname more easily pronounced by readers of the English language, in which he wrote. He lost his father at the age of four to Russian authorities, who arrested him for nationalist activities on behalf of Poland. His mother died when he was eight, leaving him in the care of his uncle. He joined the British navy in 1880 and became a British citizen in 1886. In 1890 he traveled to the Belgian Congo, a difficult trip that provided the background for Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, first published in serial form in 1899 and 1900. Heart of Darkness is a paradigmatic work not only of colonialist literature but also of modernist literature. Conrad wrote several major novels, including The Nigger of Narcissus (1897), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and Under Western Eyes (1911). Conrad's works are widely believed to be highly critical of the colonizers, especially when they are compared to the works of his contemporary Rudyard Kipling, the only other author who is as representative of colonialist literature as Conrad himself. Scholar William York Tindall, in Forces in Modern British Literature, 1885–1956, wrote that Conrad was distinct from Kipling in "producing many novels and stories that without being imperialistic are colonial." The postcolonial African writer Chinua Achebe, however, contended that Conrad was a racist who depicted Africans as "savages." Conrad turned down an offer of knighthood in 1924; he died of a heart attack that same year, on August 3, in England.

Isak Dinesen (1885–1962)

Isak Dinesen is the pen name adopted by Karen Blixen, who was born Karen Christentze Dinesen on April 17, 1885. Dinesen was born in Denmark, fifteen miles north of Copenhagen. Her father, Wilhelm, committed suicide when Dinesen was ten. She nonetheless grew up on her family's comfortable estate as a member of the upper classes. She was schooled in painting and design and began writing stories as a young woman, publishing three ghost stories in Denmark before moving to British East Africa in 1914. That year, she married her cousin Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke of Sweden and moved with him to a coffee farm in Kenya. She was married only seven years before divorcing her husband, who had infected her with syphilis. She kept the coffee farm, preferring the relative freedom of life in Africa. She stayed for ten more years before returning to Denmark in 1931, where she began writing about her life as an early colonist. Her major works about Africa include Out of Africa (1937) and Shadows on the Grass (1960), which depict in detail her view of Africa and, in particular, the Africans who worked for her on her coffee farm. One of her short stories on a non-colonial theme, "Babette's Feast" (1958), was made into a major motion picture by Gabriel Axel in 1986 and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Sydney Pollack directed a film version of Out of Africa in 1985, with Meryl Streep portraying Dinesen. The film won an Academy Award for Best Picture that year along with six other Academy Awards. Dinesen died of malnutrition on September 7, 1962, in Denmark and is remembered by modern readers as either a white colonizer with a patronizing view of Africans or a sympathetic advocate of the colonized. She was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature.

E. M. Forster (1879–1970)

Edward Morgan Forster was born January 1, 1879, to Edward Forster, a painter and architect, and Alice (Lily) Whichelo Forster. His father died when he turned two years old; afterwards, he was cared for by his mother and his paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton, who focused almost solely on his health and development. He attended several prep schools then entered Cambridge in 1897. He was already publishing books while at Cambridge, in addition to studying literature. However, his first real success did not come until 1910, with the publication of Howard's End, a critique of both class structure and cultural taste in Edwardian England. Forster first visited India for pleasure in 1912 and began writing about it in 1914. He visited again in 1921, when India was much changed by the rise in nationalism following a 1919 attack by the British military on Indian civilians. There he worked as a personal secretary for a maharajah. A Passage to India (1924), Forster's last novel, is often thought to be influenced by the Hindu and nationalist views of India. The novel was such a success that Forster feared he could not live up to it, and though he continued writing for many years, he never again wrote a full-length novel. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, an informal collective of writers, artists, and intellectuals, all of whom are associated with Modernism, including Virginia Woolf. He was homosexual but not openly so; his novel Maurice, which addressed homosexual themes, was not published until after his death. He died June 7, 1970, in Coventry, England.

H. Rider Haggard (1856–1925)

Henry Rider Haggard was born on June 22, 1856, in Bradenham, Norfolk, England, and moved to South Africa at the age of nineteen. He worked in the colonial service for at least five years before returning to London and pursuing a career in law. Inspired by the success of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Haggard began writing adventure novels of his own, eventually penning over thirty. Among the most well known is King Solomon's Mines (1886), which was an immediate commercial success. Its popularity may have been enhanced by the multiple anonymous reviews Haggard wrote with his friend Andrew Lang to promote the book. King Solomon's Mines began a series of South African adventures featuring the white hunter Allan Quatermain. Perhaps Haggard's best-known novel is She (1887), which features the character She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a catch phrase still in use. "She" is a beautiful but deadly Arab goddess who presents an obstacle to a white adventurer sometimes considered a prototype of Indiana Jones of the Raiders of the Lost Ark films. Haggard was a friend of Rudyard Kipling and shared many of Kipling's views about native peoples. His books depict white heroes as brave adventurers and black men and women as exotic and mysterious. He died May 14, 1925; his autobiography, The Days of My Life, was published in 1926.

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865. His father was the curator of the Lahore Museum, the setting for the first scene of his novel Kim (1901). Kipling lived with his parents, British natives, for five years until he went to England for schooling. He came back to India in 1882 as a journalist and worked seven years in the northern part of India. He left India to travel throughout the British colonies, including South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, and New Zealand. He married an American, Caroline Balestier, and lived for a short time in the United States. During those years, he also began publishing short fiction to great success. Soon he returned to England, where he was already well known as a writer. Two of his major works are generally considered children's literature: The Jungle Book (1894–1895) and Kim. He also published several collections of stories and an autobiography, Something of Myself (1934). Much of his earlier work, including Kim, was written during very difficult times in Kipling's life; he nearly died from influenza, and he lost his seven-year-old daughter Josephine to the disease. Kipling coined the phrase "the white man's burden" as a description of Colonialism in the 1899 poem of the same name. The poem echoes the beliefs about race and imperialism that are reflected in most of Kipling's works, which suggest that it is the obligation of white Westerners to bring the "primitives" of other races into the fold of civilization. Kipling died following an intestinal hemorrhage, January 18, 1936, in London, England, and is buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923)

Katherine Mansfield is the pseudonym of Kathleen Mansfield Murry, born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp on October 14, 1888, in Wellington, New Zealand. Mansfield's father was a banker and her family was very comfortable, both socially and financially. Mansfield was sent to London, where she studied cello at Queen's College in London from 1902 to 1906. She returned to London in 1908, bored with the quiet life in New Zealand. She became involved in the bohemian artistic community, and her writing began to attract the attention of editors and publishers. Her first collection of short stories, In a German Pension, was published in 1911 but was not very successful. She then sent stories to the magazine Rhythm and began a correspondence with editor John Middleton Murry. He published "The Woman at the Store," and they soon moved in together; Murry and Mansfield married in 1918. Her writing was highly regarded by contemporaries such as Virginia Woolf. In 1917, Mansfield contracted tuberculosis and nearly died as a result; she was in frail health for the rest of her life and also suffered bouts of depression. In her last years, Mansfield convalesced at many resorts around Europe, writing prolifically. She died of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January 7, 1923, in Fontainebleau, France. Her husband later edited and published her large quantity of unpublished poems and stories.

Olive Schreiner (1855–1920)

Olive Schreiner was born in South Africa to missionary parents on March 24, 1855, the ninth child out of twelve. Schreiner rejected Christianity, which caused a lot of argument within her religious family. At age 16, she began working as a governess but frequently changed households to avoid the advances of her male employers. When possible, Schreiner returned home to live with her parents or brothers, but her family's poverty meant she had to return to work. In 1874, Schreiner went to work as governess on the Foucheś family farm, an experience which formed the basis of her novel The Story of an African Farm. She moved to England in 1881, hoping to train to be a medical doctor; however, her ill health (Schreiner suffered from asthma and angina) kept her from her studies. The Story of an African Farm, published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron, was a popular and critical success. Troubled by her relationships with several men, Schreiner returned to South Africa in 1889 and became involved in politics. She married a farmer, Samuel Cronwright, in 1894, who shared her religious and political views. As strife built between the British and the Boer (settlers of European origin who lived outside British rule in South Africa), Schreiner and her husband became increasingly isolated for their sympathy with the Boer. Despite ill health and unpopularity, Schreiner worked hard for the rest of her life to dissuade the British and the Boer from going to war. She also argued for women's suffrage and gender equality. Schreiner died in her sleep on December 10, 1920, in Wynberg, South Africa.


Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness, by Conrad, is, in the eyes of many scholars, an essential literary expression of Colonialism. In his important work on Colonialism, Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said wrote that Heart of Darkness "beautifully captured" the "imperial attitude" in its depiction of Europeans dominating Africans and African resources and in its sense that there is no alternative to imperialism and thus to Colonialism. The novella was first published in serial form in 1899–1900 and in book form in 1902, as British imperialism was peaking. The book is generally understood as an important critique of the evil done in the name of empire. The empire challenged in Heart of Darkness is not the British Empire specifically; set in the Belgian Congo, the story seems to condemn European oppressors, most notably Leopold II of Belgium. Whether doing so was Conrad's intent, this


  • Sydney Pollack directed the film adaptation of Dinesen's Out of Africa, released in 1985. The film starred Meryl Streep as Dinesen and Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton and focused on their relationship. In addition to Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction, the film won the award for best adapted screenplay.
  • The film version of Forster's APassage to India was directed by David Lean, who also directed Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, and was released in 1984. The film was nominated for a host of Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who played Mrs. Moore, won for Best Supporting Actress. In a review of the film that appeared in the New Yorker, noted critic Pauline Kael wrote, "Like the book, the movie is a lament for British sins; the big difference is in tone. The movie is informed by a spirit of magisterial self-hatred. That's its oddity: Lean's grand 'objective' manner . . . seems to have developed out of the values he attacks."
  • The epic film Apocalypse Now is loosely based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, though set in Vietnam in the 1960s. The film, released in 1979, is considered one of the masterpieces of director Francis Ford Coppola and was re-released in August 2001. The film starred Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. Marlon Brando played Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, who raises his own army of Cambodian tribesmen and murders Vietnamese intelligence agents. He is pursued by Captain Benjamin Willard, a revision of Marlow, who is played by Martin Sheen. The film was nominated for Best Picture.
  • Richard Attenborough's biographical epic Gandhi won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi. Released in 1982, the three-hour film also starred Candace Bergen, the playwright Athol Fugard, Sir John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, and Martin Sheen.
  • Allan Quatermain, Haggard's fictional adventurer, is in the twilight of his career when he joins up with a group of other heroes from fiction—Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, and Dr. Jekyll—in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Released in 2003, this film is directed by Stephen Norrington and stars Sean Connery as Quatermain. As of 2008, it was available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox.

interpretation seems to resonate with the popular British belief that British colonization was benevolent and morally superior to European colonization. The story of Heart of Darkness is told by Marlow, who is sent into "darkest Africa" to find Kurtz, an exceptional agent and head of the inner station who is reported to have abandoned every pretense of morality or civilization. The "heart of darkness" in the title is thus not strictly Africa, as readers might initially expect, but the heart of a white man, who proves capable of incomparable evil. Heart of Darkness is also considered an example of Modernism, with its sometimes unaware narrator, its departure from chronological order, and its questions about the so-called civilized human nature when it remains beyond the constraints of social and civic order.


Like Heart of Darkness, Kipling's Kim was published at the height of the British Empire, in 1901, though it is a very different kind of story. Kim is often considered children's literature, a spy thriller and coming-of-age story about a young Irish orphan known as "Little Friend to All the World." Kim, or Kimball O'Hara, meets and travels with a Buddhist holy man on his spiritual quest, unaware that the British government is using him to obtain important information. The book thus explores one aspect of Indian spirituality (Indian Buddhism is a relative of one of the dominant Indian religions, Hinduism) as well as the political struggles of the Indian colony. Kipling was not particularly critical of imperialism, and Kim reflects the belief, widely held particularly prior to World War I, that the colonization of India was a politically sound act for England as well as a moral obligation for a superior race. If Kim reveals a more optimistic view of the aims of empire than Heart of Darkness, it also belongs to a different type of literature. Though both works are representative of Colonialism, Kipling's Kim looks back to the more traditional form of the late-Victorian era, which Modernist writers vigorously rejected.

Lord Jim

Conrad's Lord Jim was published as a serial novel in 1900. Like Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim is largely told from the perspective of the narrator Marlow, who follows the story of a wandering English sailor named Jim, in part to help him, and in part to determine the truth of his life, especially regarding one important event. Jim stands trial for abandoning his ship and leaving the passengers behind to die, an act of moral cowardice he does not deny but also cannot explain. Eventually, he comes to live in the East Indies among the natives in an attempt to redeem himself, but when the native chief's son is murdered by a British looter, Jim feels responsible and accepts a death sentence from the chief, who shoots him in the chest. In Marlow's eyes, Jim's death is a heroic act that serves as his redemption, but the novel itself offers several other possible interpretations, concluding with a moral ambiguity that is a hallmark both of Conrad's work and of Modernist fiction in general. The style of the novel is also modern, characterized by chronological jumps forwards and backwards, shifts in point of view and narrative style, and a lack of closure. Though it came to be considered an exemplary modern novel, early readers did not respond favorably to Conrad's innovations.

Out of Africa

Dinesen's memoir Out of Africa was published in English in 1937. British Colonialism was waning when the book was released, but the stories recalled by Dinesen capture a wide swath of colonial history, from 1914 to 1931, and reflect the ambiguous perspective on British colonial practices that is characteristic of much colonialist literature. Dinesen tells of her failed marriage, her difficulty in making her Kenyan coffee farm economically viable, and her relationships with African natives. As it covers the period that marks the decline of the British Empire, which began with World War I in 1914, the book reflects a sense of nostalgia for a lost time and place that infused much late colonial writing. The book was not an immediate success in England; Dinesen's publisher informed her that the book was popular among intellectuals, if not the general public, though he also stated his belief that Out of Africa would "take its place in the permanent great literature of the world," according to Olga A. Pelensky in Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer. Dinesen cited as one of her inspirations Olive Schreiner, a novelist born in South Africa.

A Passage to India

Published in 1924, A Passage to India hints at the end of the colonial era in British India and the rise of Indian nationalism. Its author, E. M. Forster, used his experiences in India to depict the tense relationship between the British and Indians, suggesting that even among friends, a truly friendly relationship is difficult to sustain. The title of the novel comes from a Walt Whitman poem of the same name in which Whitman questions the value of the British presence in India but also hopes for unity between East and West. The novel tells a complex story of two English women visiting India in the 1920s, a volatile time after the galvanizing massacre at Amritsar in 1919 that sparked the steady increase of Indian nationalism and inspired the political career of Mohandas Gandhi. One of the women accuses one of her Indian companions of attacking her, fueling the hostility of both local British and Indians, though she later recants. The book is also a story of friendship between an English professor and his Muslim friend, perhaps inspired by Forster's friendship with his Muslim student Syed Ross Masood, to whom he dedicated A Passage to India. The book was well received at its publication and was adapted to film in 1984.


She is the story of the monstrous goddess Ayesha, known only as She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and the adventuring hero Leo Vincy. First published by Haggard in 1887, the novel broke sales records with its immense popularity, especially among men, possibly because of the strong sexual overtones and the mysterious heroine. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed rules over a society where male and female roles have been reversed. Vincy is shipwrecked on the African coast and journeys through a mysterious landscape to the people ruled by She, a journey that critics, including Sandra Gilbert in "Rider Haggard's Heart of Darkness," have said resembles "a symbolic return to the womb." The ruler She is both exotically sexual and darkly threatening, not unlike colonial depictions of Africa itself. She also evokes fears of a growing feminist consciousness at the close of the Victorian era; Sigmund Freud wrote that She captured some of his fears of "the eternal feminine" as a castrating threat.

The Story of an African Farm

Olive Schreiner's novel The Story of an African Farm, first published in 1883, was among the first major novels of the colonialist era. Schreiner was the daughter of missionaries in South Africa, though after her father was found guilty of violating trading regulations she was largely left to fend for herself. She worked as a governess on African farms, educating herself with the works of Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Carlyle while working on her novel. She went to England in 1881 and worked two years to find a publisher for The Story of an African Farm. The novel was a great success, though it was the last one she published in her lifetime; her later writings were works of political nonfiction. In The Story of an African Farm, Schreiner states rather modern views about women's roles in colonial society, a theme that was also common to the writings of women missionaries during the colonial era. Jed Esty argues in a 2007 essay for Victorian Studies that Schreiner's novel is also related to the Bildungsroman movement, although the youthful characters, like the colonies themselves, are unable to mature given the unstable position they are in.

"The White Man's Burden"

Kipling first published his poem "The White Man's Burden" in McClure's Magazine in 1899, and throughout that year the poem was republished in several British and U.S. magazines and newspapers. In it, Kipling encourages white people to go out to their colonies and establish civilization there for the benefit of "sullen" natives living in darkness. Kipling repeatedly emphasizes the lack of gratitude white colonizers must accept as part of their burden, claiming that native "sloth and heathen folly" will often counteract European works of civilization and that colonizers can expect to be hated by those they free from the "bondage" of their "loved Egyptian night." The poem was especially influential in the United States, where it appeared as the country was about to enter its own imperialist period by taking control of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba. Anti-imperialists also latched onto the poem, publishing immediate parodies suggesting the hypocrisy of the notion of a "white man's burden." The phrase became a slogan for those on each side of the imperialist debate.

"The Woman at the Store"

"The Woman at the Store" is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand native who is considered a master of the genre. Mansfield spent little time in colonial New Zealand, preferring even as a young woman to live in London. Her stories reflect her wide travels, including her visits to her family's estate in New Zealand. Her New Zealand stories, which include "The Woman at the Store" and "The Garden Party," depict British colonists doing their best to stay connected to their homeland by maintaining their old social practices and pretensions on foreign soil. These standards are in marked contrast to the conditions of native inhabitants and the poverty forced upon them by colonial practices. First published in 1911, "The Woman at the Store" describes the encounter between a party of traveling colonists and a lonely, crude woman with whom they are forced to stay overnight. The hopelessness of the woman and her child and the limited sympathy and understanding of the travelers, one of whom narrates the story, combine to paint a very bleak picture of colonial life.


Imperialism and Empire

Attention to the aims and ends of imperialism is a repeating theme of colonialist literature. As a political term, imperialism refers to the policy of an outside power acquiring colonies—whether settled or not—for its own political and economic advantage. Though Europeans had participated in imperialist activity for centuries, in the late nineteenth century imperial powers, including England, France, Belgium, and Germany, began competing fiercely to increase their colonies, resulting in a high level of aggressiveness and a greater degree of intrusion into previously independent areas. In addition to economic motives, imperialism was fueled by a widely held, self-justifying belief that the "superior" white race of Europe should bring civilization to the "less developed" peoples of color living on other continents. Colonialist literature both affirms and critiques this belief, often at the same time, in keeping with the ambivalence of even the most sympathetic Europeans. Dinesen's Out of Africa, for example, has been praised for its positive portrayal of Africans even as it has been condemned as the work of a racist. Such conflicting readings can exist because the book, like many other works of Colonialism, contains both ideas.

National Identity

Colonial practices redefined national boundaries. As the British Empire grew, it came to draw its boundaries over a larger and larger portion of the globe, and at its greatest it controlled one-fourth of the globe. While this control was a source of English pride, it was also a threat to British national identity: if Indians, Africans, and inhabitants of the West and East Indies were British subjects, were they also British? And if not, what constituted British national identity? Colonial authors sometimes depict British colonists clinging to British mores, as in Mansfield's short fiction or Forster's A Passage to India. Others, such as Kipling, appear more confident, using exotic portrayals of "primitives" and their customs to suggest an inherent, unbridgeable difference between the colonizers and the colonized. Some authors also explored the possibility of "going native," which was sometimes considered an abasement, sometimes a mark of increased nobility. This theme is hinted at in Kim, Lord Jim, and Heart of Darkness, among other works.

Gender and Sexuality

Ideas of the masculine and feminine underlie much of colonialist literature. The very act of colonization is often seen and described as a form of penetration, and such disparate works as Heart of Darkness and She portray the white male journeys into a feminized dark landscape. Depicting the colonizer as masculine and the colonized as feminine creates an essential difference between the two and implies the latter needs to be mastered and possessed. Yet for white women authors, Colonialism offered a kind of freedom unavailable to women remaining behind in developed countries, especially in Victorian Britain. Dinesen frequently commented on the freedom afforded her by living in Africa. Single women could travel unaccompanied as missionaries, and many women took the opportunity to advance the cause of women's education through missionary work. The daughter of missionaries, Schreiner takes on some of these issues in The Story of an African Farm. As she decries the treatment of native women, she makes the argument that all women have inherent human rights and deserve the same advantages men enjoy.


No white colonial author has escaped the charge of racism, in large part because of the totalizing nature of the imperialist worldview that maintained white European superiority—whether


  • Images can be more powerful than words in swaying public opinion. Locate editorial cartoons, book illustrations, or other visual art that depicts colonized peoples. Sources might include illustrated versions of Kim or The Jungle Book, newspapers in which "The White Man's Burden" appeared, or books about English history. What does the physical appearance of colonized peoples seem to imply about their intelligence or temperament? Which details of the images give you some insight into the political position of the artists? Do any details of the images give you some insight into the date each was published (e.g., published before or after the start of World War I)?
  • Economics played an important role in colonization. Choose a colony and describe the production and trade of a commodity it produced (e.g., tea, spice, coffee). Consider whether the resource could have been grown or manufactured in Europe, what kind of labor was required for production (e.g., skilled or unskilled), and who consumed the resource. What insight does this give you into the acquisition of this particular colony?
  • The belief that darker races were not as far advanced along the continuum of civilization is sometimes referred to as Social Darwinism. In addition, Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fittest" justified for some Europeans the use of force to take the resources of "weaker" societies. In your own words, summarize the scientific theories of Darwin in regard to evolution and natural selection, which you find in Darwin's own writings. Do these ideas transfer from biology to sociology? What about economics? Support your opinion with examples and analysis.
  • Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea attempts to correct the colonialist history of Jane Eyre by offering an alternative perspective. Read a colonial work such as Kim, She, or Out of Africa and try to imagine the events from the perspective of one of the native characters, such as the Buddhist holy man Teshoo or the African tribal leader Kinanjui. Choose one event from the novel and write a short story from that character's perspective, using what you are learning about imperialism to illuminate where a native perspective might differ from that of the original novel.
  • The charisma and reputation of the British Queen Victoria were central to the symbolism of imperialism, while the actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Lytton were its teeth. Choose one of these individuals—or another government official of your own finding—and research his or her individual role in the history of Colonialism. Summarize your findings, giving an overview of your subject's actions while addressing such topics as public opinion and opposition within the government.

biological or cultural in nature. Even Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which is widely believed to be highly critical of imperialist policies and practices, cannot envision a worldview outside imperialism, and one of the foundations of imperialism is an abiding belief in racial difference. Kipling provided a straightforward articulation of these beliefs in his poem "The White Man's Burden," which suggests that whites were under a moral obligation to educate, civilize, and Christianize the darker races, or even to care for them as their stronger "protectors." By contrast, Forster's A Passage to India depicts Indians as professionals and intellectuals, although the novel closes by suggesting that the differences between Indians and Europeans are too great to be bridged even by the most well-meaning individuals in either culture.

Human Nature

Questions about racial difference and national identity reflect narrower aspects of larger concerns about the nature of humanity. The benevolent paternalism of some literature relies on an optimistic view of human nature: progress is the natural course of human evolution, the wealth of the imperial powers is evidence of their progress along this course, and the "backward" societies of tribal peoples reflect their need for assistance toward higher evolution. Here again is the attitude of "The White Man's Burden." At the peak of the colonial movement, however, this view became suspect. Conrad's novels perhaps reflect the bleakest view of progress, civilization, and human nature, although Forster's work also expresses grave doubts about civilization's advancement.


Although works such as She and Kim are the most straightforward celebrations of Colonialism as an exotic adventure, the romantic ideal of the wanderer appears in colonial writing of several varieties. In Out of Africa, Dinesen writes of her affair with the pilot Denys Finch Hatton, who is depicted as an exciting, independent adventurer who bravely faces danger on safari. Lord Jim is a darker tale of adventure, which casts its wanderers as morally ambiguous at best, ruthless thieves and murderers at worst. Mansfield's story "The Woman at the Store" deflates the romantic image of adventure travelers by contrasting the wealth and privilege that allows Europeans to travel by choice with the poverty and hopelessness that entrap those who inhabit the tourist destinations.



Colonialist literature was consistently set in the colonies. From a European point of view, colonial territory was singular: colonized land and people all fell in the category of "other," even for the Europeans living in the colonies. Politically, geographically, and culturally, however, the colonies were widely different. For example, England's relationship with India began with the spice trade in the sixteenth century, but England did not venture into the African interior until the nineteenth century. India built sophisticated cities that would have been unfamiliar to tribal Africans in rural areas, as would the ports of Cape Town. Thus Conrad's view of Colonialism from the Belgian Congo would necessarily be different from that of Kipling or Forster, not only because of their philosophical differences but because of the different geographical backgrounds from which they drew.


Though there is not a particular narrative style for colonialist literature, the perspective of the narrator and the mode of narration is an important aspect of style in fiction written during the colonialist movement. To some extent, this feature is relevant to the literary movement of Modernism (see below), which broke up seemingly stable functions of literature such as point of view, narrator, and even plot. Thus the narrators of Conrad's novels are not necessarily reliable sources of information, nor are they the central focus of the novel or a center for interpreting the action of the novel. The fragmented narration of characters such as Marlow highlights the political and ethical morass of European colonization. More broadly, however, the narrative perspective of much colonialist literature gives "subject" status only to white colonizers, as if it were impossible to relate to the colonized as anything but "object." Fundamental to imperialism, this perspective reflects the tacit belief that Europe is central and dominant, and the rest of the world is peripheral and dominated.


The colonial experience brought forth a flood of memoirs and autobiographies of colonists eager to share their experiences and observations with friends and family at home. In particular, this was a way that many women were able to publish respectably, and several women produced memoirs, journals, and collections of correspondence from their travels or missionary work. Many of these were widely and eagerly read at the time, though modern readers mostly value them as historical documents. Out of Africa is a notable exception, though it shares several qualities of travel and missionary writing. With such works, the authority given to the writer's observations and opinions, as part of a "true story," was high; Victorian and Edwardian readers admired missionaries and adventuring colonists and formed their opinions about colonized peoples through these texts. Yet as many readers of her works have remarked, Dinesen portrayed the African landscape and people in terms of her memory and nostalgia as well as her necessarily limited European perspective. In writing a book of literature, she crafts a story out of events that may or may not have a direct relation to each other. Though not autobiographical works, the same could be said of Mansfield's New Zealand stories, drawn as they were from distant childhood memories.


Literary historians have sometimes maintained that the rise of Modernism as an aesthetic is directly related to a growing European crisis of confidence in imperialist policy. Doubts about the progress of civilization, the benevolent nature of humanity, and even the existence of truth are conveyed artistically not only in the theme and tone of modernist literature but in some cases in the disjointed, ambiguous style of the language itself. Both Conrad and Forster belong as much to the history of Modernism as to the history of Colonialism. Yet Colonialism is not simply a thematic subset of Modernism, in part because it is also represented by more traditionalist authors, such as Kipling and Haggard.


Missionary Writing

The work of Christianizing the "heathens" of the Third World was an important focus of Colonialism; some historians have suggested that the seemingly "compassionate" purpose of "saving" the darker races put a positive face on the aggression of imperialist policy. Some missionaries, however, felt that the blessings of "Christianity and commerce" were necessarily linked; the famous missionary and researcher David Livingstone was an advocate of this position. Missionary writing was very popular with readers back home, since it gave moral support to the work of colonizing and provided supposedly true-life adventure stories and in some instances added substance to discussions about the role of women by depicting the exploitation of native women in non-Christian countries. Some missionaries were also among the earliest ethnographers; they depicted the physical and cultural features of native societies with a semi-scientific tone. This too added weight to the authority of missionaries' tales, and the writings of missionaries helped shape ideas about biological and social relationships among the races. Particularly after the start of the antislavery movement in Europe, missionaries were inclined to conceive of natives as possessing the potential to evolve into civilized individuals resembling Europeans, which they understood as a natural and desirable progression. Thus, while most missionaries clearly thought of the darker races as "other," they also argued for their common humanity. Publishing a missionary memoir was also a ready way for women to get into print, and the form was generally thought more respectable than fiction.

Travel Writing

Both men and women wrote travelogues, but as with the literature of missionaries, the greater mobility of women in the late nineteenth century meant an increase in the publication of women's writing, which made women's colonialist travel writing a significant genre in its own right. Many women writing during the era of high imperialism reflect the paradox of the times: They are simultaneously writing against the oppressive strictures of Victorianism and reinforcing the oppressive policies of the colonial powers. Yet, as Sara Mills argues in Discourses of Difference (1991), "women travel writers were unable to adopt the imperialist voice with the ease with which male writers did." As a result, Mills claims, "their writing exposes the unsteady foundations on which [imperialism] is based."

Colonial Themes in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Several works of nineteenth-century literature that might not be classified under Colonialism in a strict definition nonetheless exhibit colonialist concerns. Examples often mentioned by scholars of Colonialism and post-Colonialism include Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814) and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847). In these novels, the colonial themes recede to the background, though some critics suggest that the marginal nature of the colonial elements is itself indicative of the ethos of imperialism, concealing the extent to which the exploitation of other peoples supports the privilege of the English gentry. In Mansfield Park, for example, the Bertram family acquires its wealth in part through its plantations in Antigua and the work of its slaves, though most of the Bertrams never set foot in the colony. Many readers have seen in the character of Sir Thomas Bertram Austen's conservative defense of British plantation owners. In Jane Eyre, Rochester's first wife Bertha is a white Creole from the West Indies, a secret locked in his attic after she goes mad. In Brontë's novel, Bertha's final act of madness is burning down Rochester's family home; however, apart from three violent acts perpetrated at night (in only one of which is she observed), Bertha is seen only once in the novel. As in Mansfield Park, the silence of the colonial presence in Jane Eyre is thought by some to speak louder than words. In fact, the imprisonment of Bertha has inspired several groundbreaking books, including Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's central work of feminist criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979, reissued 2000), and Jean Rhys's postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which tells the West Indies story of Bertha and Rochester preceding the action of Jane Eyre.


Early History

The history of European expansionism goes back at least as far as the fifteenth century. Much European exploration was related to trade, particularly in tea, spice, silk, and other goods not readily available in Europe. The long relationship between England and India is a good example: In competition with its longstanding enemies the Dutch, the English began trading with India in 1600 and soon formed the East India Company (EIC). Throughout the seventeenth century, the EIC strengthened its presence in India by acquiring territory, and by the eighteenth century, with little organized resistance from Indians, who lacked a centralized government, England controlled most of India through the EIC. As the power and territory of the English increased, the rights of Indians decreased; by the close of the eighteenth century, Indians were not allowed in high government positions and the English had cut Indian wages. The resentment of Indians, reaching a peak with the Mutiny of 1857, demonstrated to Queen Victoria the need for the English government to relieve the EIC of its rule in India in order to protect its trade interests there. She named herself "Viceroy of India" in 1859. It was in part a public relations move intended to convey England's concern for India, though official and unofficial acts of racial exclusion increased in scope. The domination of Africa did not begin until the mid to late nineteenth century as it moved southward from the full possession of Egypt in 1882 to the military victory in the South African (Boer) War (1899–1902) and the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Global Conflicts

Though England was the dominant colonial power in the era, several other countries were aggressively seeking to add to their land holdings, sometimes leading to violent conflict among European nations in addition to force used against the native peoples. Spain, France, and Russia had long been colonizers, and the New Imperialism countries, including Germany, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and the United States, also sought colonies to protect their economic and military interests. The increasing number of colonizers and the limited amount of territory sparked a virtual feeding frenzy, particularly among the newer colonizers. Between 1875 and 1914, the rate of colonization was three times that of the rest of the nineteenth century. That period also saw a flurry of conflicts between colonial powers, including the South African (Boer) War (with the Dutch Afrikaners), the Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish-American War, and the Russo-Japanese War. The race for land in Africa produced a number of confrontations among European forces; France and England nearly went to war for control of territories of the Congo, Ethiopia, and the Sudan. Such conflicts were sometimes resolved through diplomatic means, as competing colonial states bargained for control and defined new boundaries for contested territories. The result, especially in the case of he African continent, was national boundaries drawn with no regard to geography, ethnic groups, or economic relationships. Thus, even after the colonial powers withdrew, the native peoples of Africa were left to struggle with the results of colonial deal-making.

British Imperialism

The era during which Colonialism as a literary movement peaked coincides with a period historians sometimes call the second British Empire, or, more generally, the New Imperialism, from 1875 to 1914. England's defeat of France in the Seven Years' War compelled


  • 1900s: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are British colonies, though nationalist movements have begun to argue for independence. Australia develops its own constitution in 1901 but is still subject to the laws of England; Canada must send troops to the British war in South Africa.

    Today: Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain members of the fifty-four nation British Commonwealth, headed symbolically by Queen Elizabeth II and officially by the Commonwealth Secretary-General. In 2000, Don McKinnon of New Zealand is installed as the Secretary-General, following the term of Chief Eemeka Anyaoku of Nigeria.

  • 1900s: The British fight the South African War, or Boer War, struggling for control of the South African Boer Republics against the white Afrikaners (early Dutch settlers) who also claim the area. The decade closes with the creation of the Union of South Africa under British rule.

    Today: While under the leadership of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela, its president, the nation of South Africa is represented by its black African majority, though race relations between Africans and Afrikaners remain tense and sometimes violent. After leaving the Commonwealth in 1961, South Africa rejoins in 1994.

  • 1900s: Responding to violence against British officials in Bengal, India, the British partition the province in 1905. The decision is also motivated by a desire to place Indian Muslims and Hindus into separate areas. Indian nationalists use nonviolence and non-cooperation, including strikes and boycotts, to compel the British to rescind the division.

    Today: A separate nation exists for the former Muslims of India: Pakistan, created as part of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Hostility between the nations continues, and in January 2002 United States Secretary of State Colin Powell urges talks between Pakistan and India to ward off a threat of nuclear war. Both India and Pakistan are members of the Commonwealth, though Pakistan withdrew between 1972 and 1989.

  • 1900s: Literature taught in colonial schools emphasizes the greatness of European authors. Native students study Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in education systems guided by beliefs such as those of Thomas B. Macaulay: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect."

    Today: Students in British and U.S. classrooms study diverse authors, including Buchi Emecheta, Jamaica Kincaid, and Chinua Achebe, whose works reflect non-European perspectives on colonization.

France to give up most of its foreign colonies and granted England free passage throughout the seas. To some extent, the loss of the American colonies also motivated the pursuit of additional territory and the consolidation of power in existing colonies. In England itself, one of the chief crafters of imperialist policy as the second British Empire opened was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was said to be Victoria's favorite prime minister. Disraeli sought to consolidate Britain's colonial holdings, and he was also skilled in swaying public opinion by emphasizing the glory and stature that global expansion brought to the Crown, represented by the figure of Queen Victoria. The death of Victoria in 1901, bringing a sixty-four-year reign to an end, thus shook the imperialist enterprise, and soon so did a worsening economy. As the first decade of the twentieth century continued, England found the need to align with its former colonial rivals France and Russia to face an increasing threat from Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. When Germany invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, England declared war, thus entering the conflict later to be known as World War I. That conflict permanently transformed international politics, marking the decline of the colonial era and England's dominance in international affairs.

Rebellion and Independence

Native people were not unwilling to defend their territory, though for much of the colonial period the lack of an organized leadership in lands previously inhabited by various tribal groups or loosely knit principalities made successful resistance difficult. In some ways, however, defeats could be as powerful as victories. The defeat of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was partly responsible for the growth of Indian nationalism. The arrest of two nationalist leaders in Amritsar in April of 1919 sparked a series of events that culminated in the British army opening fire, without warning, on a public gathering, killing 379 Indians and wounding 1,200. The Amritsar massacre gave new momentum to the nationalist movement in India and inspired protestor Mohandas Gandhi to a career of nonviolent protests, urging "noncooperation" with British policies that eventually led to the withdrawal of Britain from India in 1947.

Colonial Education and Patronage

The role of literature and language in colonial activity was a matter of government regulation. Colonial education systems and colonial literature bureaus sought to increase literacy and develop written communications as part of their "civilizing" process, but in so doing they created a hierarchy of language, making the written European languages and histories superior to the oral languages and histories of many native cultures. Arts such as literature were patronized, while native arts, including weaving and carving, were devalued and considered evidence of unevolved cultures. In countries in which several native languages were spoken, colonial governments often encouraged the dominance of one language, directly or indirectly suppressing languages or verbal traditions that were connected with indigenous religious practices.

The Science of Imperialism

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) in an effort to describe his theories of evolution by the principle of natural selection. According to this theory, desirable traits for survival dominate in a species whereas undesirable traits recede, by a natural course of progress. Darwin's ideas were adapted from biology to sociology by Benjamin Kidd, whose Social Evolution (1894) was published in the United States and England to immediate popular acceptance. He followed this work with The Control of the Tropics (1898), in which he depicted colonization as a moral obligation of the "Anglo-Saxon" empires of Britain and the United States, in part to save the "lower races" from the crueler practices of other European colonizers and in part to "elevate" them to a higher level of social evolution. Such arguments played an important part in maintaining public support for imperialist policy.


A coherent study of the body of the literature of Colonialism arose in the latter half of the twentieth century. A precursor to this work was Susanna Howe's 1949 study Novels of Empire, which reviewed a body of literature in colonial settings. Critics from the late 1960s and early 1970s began raising questions about the morality of imperialism and the resistance of the colonized. Scholars began discussing imperialism not merely as a political policy but as a mythology, a system of symbols, narratives, and beliefs supporting imperialist action. But not until the release of Edward Said's landmark work of cultural scholarship Orientalism in 1978 was there a theory of Colonialism that encompassed the full range of colonial discourse and its uses in legitimizing and maintaining colonialist practices. Orientalism as a cultural practice entails a web of beliefs about biology, culture, race, and religion that fix the "oriental" as "other," thus necessarily "less than," justifying the West's dominance of the East. It was Said, in fact, who began the common usage of the phrase "colonial discourse" to describe the wide scope of textual practices related to Colonialism. Another of Said's major studies is Culture and Imperialism (1993). James Scannell, in a 1996 essay for the journal Style, argues that British colonial writers, such as Kipling, Conrad, and Graham Greene, supported imperialism and selectively chose their justifications concerning why British imperial expansion was more legitimate than the imperial endeavors of other nations.

After Said, perhaps the other most influential scholar of Colonialism is Homi K. Bhabha. Bhabha emphasized the ambiguity of colonial discourse, introducing to colonialist studies the idea of hybridization, a theory first developed by the Russian scholar of the novel Mikhail Bakhtin in The Dialogic Imagination. Bakhtin defined hybridization as "a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor." Bhabha supported the work of Said but also offered a corrective by stressing the continual presence of those two languages and two consciousnesses, which create the ambivalence that characterizes the body of colonialist literature. Among Bhabha's most influential works are the essay "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination, and the Discourse of Colonialism" (1986) and The Location of Culture (1994).

Though racial difference was always a central factor in the study of the literature of Colonialism, feminist scholars insisted that gender was a missing term in the equation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak pointed to an apparent feminist blindness to colonial discourse in texts such as Jane Eyre and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in her widely quoted essay, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1985). Studies that grew out of this argument include Laura Donaldson's Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Empire-Building (1992) and Jenny Sharpe's Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Women in the Colonial Text (1993), which further explore the complex relationship between feminism and Colonialism. As Sharpe observed, many nineteenth-century feminists used the ideology of racial difference to advance their own cause. In his 1995 book Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race, Robert Young added the term colonial desire to the vocabulary of Colonialism. Young wrote that sexuality and commerce were closely bound together in colonial discourse, arguing that "it was therefore wholly appropriate that sexual exchange . . . should become the dominant paradigm through which the passionate economic and political trafficking of Colonialism was conceived."


Shaun Strohmer

Strohmer holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan and is an independent scholar, freelance writer, and editor. In this essay, Strohmer discusses empowerment and dis-integration as central themes in the literature of Colonialism.

The literature of Colonialism is often unpleasant, or at least challenging, to read. Even after most European countries had abandoned the practice of slavery, which eventually was deemed barbaric by public opinion, the taking of territory and the imposition of new governments were considered jewels in the crown of the second British Empire. Yet the era of "New Imperialism" was short-lived. In practical terms it ended with the start of World War I, but the imperial age also waned as public support for colonization declined. As the literature of Colonialism demonstrates, ambiguity and paradox


  • Shakespeare's late play The Tempest is thought by many contemporary literary scholars to be a meditation on England's early imperialist activities, particularly in the relationships among Caliban, Miranda, and Prospero.
  • Modernist author Henry James wrote during the same years as Conrad but with a different focus. From an American perspective, James wrote novels that critiqued what he saw as the failing aristocracy of Europe, a subject closely related to the rise and fall of imperialism. James had strong sympathies with England, however, and became a British subject in 1914 in order to fight in World War I. Among James's major novels is The Wings of the Dove, an aristocratic tragedy set in London and Venice.
  • One of the more important figures to emerge from the Indian colonial era is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later known as Mahatma (meaning "Great Soul") Gandhi. His nonviolent efforts to persuade the British to leave India drew the attention of the rest of the world; he was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1930, and the Christian Century proposed his name for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934—all before his crusade for Indian independence showed a hope of success. Gandhi published his views on non-violence in several books, including An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth and Nonviolent Resistance. The well-known monk Thomas Merton published a study of Gandhi's beliefs in Gandhi on Nonviolence.
  • Chinua Achebe was born in colonial Nigeria and in the postcolonial era became one of its most important writers. Achebe has also become an important novelist and postcolonial critic. Though Achebe has adopted a European form, his works represent an African aesthetic. Among his most widely read works are Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah.
  • Another writer of postcolonial significance is Salman Rushdie, who was born in Bombay, India, in the first year of India's independence. Among his classic novels is Midnight's Children, which tells the story of India from 1910 through 1976, through the eyes of its young hero Saleem, born like Rushdie in 1947. Rushdie's fiction explores the power of memory as well as history and the lingering impact of colonization.

characterize colonial discourse. What forces underlie that paradox?

It is perhaps no accident that the increasing momentum in imperialist history is echoed in the rapid developments in the history of psychology and psychiatry during the nineteenth century. Though no historian has proven a connection, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that increased encounters with other peoples would give rise to questions about the nature of humanity. The discipline of anthropology emerged from these questions—the Royal Anthropological Institute was founded in 1871—but the existing sciences of mankind also grew. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, scholars including Alexander Bain, Franz Brentano, William James, and John Dewey began defining their discipline, seeking to describe in scientific terms the relationship between emotion and the will, states of consciousness and unconsciousness, and human mental development. In the field of psychiatry, Freud began developing his theories of the unconscious, where humans are ruled by animal instincts that must be tempered by reason or punishment. Concurrently, Darwin began publishing his series of works on


evolution and natural selection. Indeed, to some extent the notion of the "survival of the fittest" grew out of the travels of his friend Alfred Wallace through Malaysia. Darwin too wrote about the emotions in scientific terms, publishing The Expression of Emotion in 1872. In that work he discussed the communication of animals and how their various signals reveal the foundations of the human expression of emotion.

Such discoveries were cause for optimism. As the Industrial Revolution surged forward, it seemed that science and technology held the keys to ever greater wealth and progress. Outmoded superstitions and needless self-repression could be cast aside. The dawn of a new century and the death of Queen Victoria contributed to the sense of a bold new era dominated by the power of man. At the same time, however, the new science of human nature seemed to create as many questions as it purported to answer. Not surprisingly, the notion of agnosticism, or the belief that ultimate reality, or God, is unknown and unknowable, sprang from the followers of Darwin. The scientific search for man's origin led only to a clouded mystery, far more ambiguous than traditional notions of humankind's place in the universe. Thought and emotion, even action, appeared to be ruled by forces even more remote than a heavenly deity—at best, the nervous system, at worst, the murky recesses of the unconscious.

An obvious literary response to and reflection of this paradox is Conrad's Heart of Darkness, long celebrated as a mirror for the fragmented modern man. But Conrad's antiheroes are not the only characters of colonialist literature who experience that joint pull toward both power and disintegration. Arguably, that contradictory movement is an essential part of much of the literature of Colonialism. Haggard's She and Kipling's Kim, not examples of Conrad's Modernism, nonetheless similarly reveal aspects of the paradoxical modern self. As in Heart of Darkness, in these novels contact or confrontation of man's animal nature, represented by untamed wilderness or untamed "primitives," draws the protagonist in conflicting directions.

In She both Leo Vincy and the narrator Holly find themselves tempted by the goddess Ayesha even as they loathe her and her highly sensual and barbaric brand of paganism. After receiving a chilling tour of her tombs, Holly readily succumbs to her temptations anyway, though she tells Leo frankly that a kiss from her would undo him forever. Yet somehow Holly senses something that he says "chilled me back to common sense, and a knowledge of propriety and the domestic virtues." In the unconscious of Holly, instinct and civilization struggle mightily. Likewise, Leo confronts Ayesha but staggers back, "as if all the manhood had been taken out of him." When Ayesha successfully seduces Leo after killing his wife before his eyes, Holly reports:

Leo groaned in shame and misery for though he was overcome and stricken down, he was not so lost as to be unaware of the depth of the degradation to which he had sunk. On the contrary, his better nature rose up in arms against his fallen self, as I saw clearly later on.

In Holly's terms, Leo's struggle is a struggle of those two aspects of his nature: the power of the will and the devolutionary force of instinct and desire. This struggle looks quite different in Kim, a novel with a very different tone and audience. Nonetheless, as both a spy novel and a coming-of-age story, Kim toucheson issuesof identity and development. In the closing chapter, Kim's final battle is between the Body and the Soul. In this case, the Body is tied to reason and reality, solid things that are known to exist and be useful. The Soul, particularly as it is described by the lama, is mystical and irrational. Yet it is never made clear how the battle ends. Shortly before the novel ends, Kim cries out, "I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?" Though the overall ethos of the novel appears to privilege Western empiricist knowledge over Eastern mysticism, the answer to Kim's question remains ambiguous.

Though Kim, She,and Heart of Darkness are written from a strongly masculine perspective, the paradox of human nature is not a question limited to men. The combination of Colonialism and rising early feminism was a potent mixture for women seeking to understand their place in the world. Women did not have the same claim to the sense of power and entitlement with which white male Europeans rang in the twentieth century, yet the symbol of empire was a woman—Victoria— and individual women played major roles in the project of colonization. The writing of many women who ventured into the colonies does not display a fear of losing one's self but a sense of finding one's self. This is perhaps a reductive dichotomy—women move between oppression and integration, while men move between power and disintegration—but if we keep its limitations in mind it can help highlight some interesting aspects of colonialist texts by women. Adjacent to this difference in women's writing is the role the narrator/heroine of women's texts plays. While the men's texts discussed above depict men as dominant heroes (or antiheroes), the heroines of works such as Mansfield's New Zealand stories or even the autobiographical Out of Africa stand to the side of such figures. The narrator of "The Woman at the Store" is led by a party of men, and the external action and conflicts of the story take place between the men and the shopkeeper, as the unnamed female narrator stands by. Even in Out of Africa, where Dinesen is the subject of her own story, the hero is "played" by Denys Finch Hatton. These women write themselves into the history of Colonialism, yet the force of patriarchy does not allow them to imagine themselves as real subjects.

Such texts thus reflect the workings of colonial discourse. As Mills writes in Discourses of Difference, "Females play an important part in the colonial enterprise as signifiers, but not as producers of signification." In other words, women are not actors or subjects, but symbols, or objects. This is a difficult position from which to write, and a difficult position from which to imagine a self. The development of psychology, as discussed above, was not a great help. The normative self was naturally male simply because that was the cultural standard of the time, but in some cases the development of the human sciences rendered this cultural practice as a scientific axiom. Freud's understanding of "the eternal feminine" construed it as part of the dangerous unconscious that needed to be mastered by male will and reason. In her essay on Haggard's She, Gilbert quotes Freud's description of the novel, which he says depicts that eternal feminine as "the immorality of our emotions." Thus as symbols of empire and symbols of irrationality, women were not masters but the embodiment of that which needed to be mastered, doubly so.

Postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak suggests this in her "Three Women's Tests and a Critique of Imperialism," on Brontë'sJane Eyre. Spivak writes, "Bertha's function in Jane Eyre is to render indeterminate the boundary between human and animal and thereby to weaken her entitlement under the spirit if not the letter of the Law." In the context of our discussion, the Law can be understood as analogous to Freud's "Law of the Father," the masculine control of the illicit instincts of the unconscious. Bertha, as white Creole and female, demonstrates the need to subordinate the feminine. It is this Law, this sense of being mastered, that Schreiner writes about through the character of Lyndall in The Story of an African Farm. After visiting a Boer wedding, Lyndall reflects on her feelings of restriction and freedom and their relationship to imperialism. Her monologue is worth quoting at length:

I like to feel that strange life beating up against me. I like to realize forms of life utterly unlike mine. . . . When my own life feels small, and I am oppressed with it, I like to crush together, and see it in a picture, in an instant, a multitude of disconnected unlike phases of human life— medieval monk with his string of beads pacing the quiet orchard . . .; little Malay boys playing naked on a shining sea-beach; a Hindoo philosopher alone under his banyan tree, thinking, thinking, thinking, so that in the thought of God he may lose himself . . . a Kaffir witch-doctor seeking for herbs by moonlight, while from the huts on the hillside come the sound of dogs barking, and the voices of women and children; a mother giving bread and milk to her children in little wooden basins and singing the evening song, I like to see it all; I feel it run through me—that life belongs to me; it makes my little life larger; it breaks down the narrow walls that shut me in.

Schreiner describes in detail the wildness that Haggard and Conrad describe as threatening, that Kipling portrays as tamable, and constructs it as liberating. This liberation is not complete—Lyndall is very much a radical whose dreams are unlikely to be realized, as in Out of Africa Dinesen's sense of freedom is countered by the force of patriarchy that does not allow her to claim the role of the hero for herself. Moreover, that liberation appears to come at the cost of the continued oppression of the colonized. Africa, after all, did not exist solely for the self-realization of white European women. Nonetheless, perhaps what has made works such as Dinesen's and Schreiner's compelling to successive generations of readers is that they can envision that liberation at all. Like Conrad, they do not escape paradox and ambiguity but instead write it out where it can be viewed and acknowledged. In the contemporary climate of neo-Colonialism, where the history of humanity will go from there remains to be seen.

Source: Shaun Strohmer, Critical Essay on Colonialism, in Literary Movements for Students , The Gale Group, 2003.

James Scannell

In this essay, Scannell compares the cultural ideologies and aesthetics of three authors who wrote about colonization and explores why these authors accepted British imperialism.


In his 1970 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures published as Sincerity and Authenticity, Lionel Trilling contends of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

Today it is scarcely possible to read Marlow's celebration of England without irony; to many, especially among the English themselves, it is bound to seem patently absurd. The present state of opinion does not countenance the making of discriminations among imperialisms, present or past, and the idea that more virtue might be claimed for one nation than another is given scant credence. But this was not always the case. Having the choice to make, Conrad himself elected to become English exactly because he believed England to be a good nation.

Trilling's notion that one can discriminate among imperialisms, claiming virtue for some and not for others, is a perfect starting point for a discussion of the imperial justifications of Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and Graham Greene, all of whom saw in Britain's empire a justifiable endeavor. In their three fictions, Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Greene's The Heart of the Matter, these authors discriminate among possible motivations for the colonial project, critiquing their predecessors' justifications and offering their own. Further, having inherited a fictional tradition from Kipling, Conrad and Greene also link what they consider to be of value in the colonies to what they consider to be of value in their predecessors' texts, believing as well that more virtue might be claimed for some fictional techniques than for others. In this essay, I will present Kipling's, Conrad's, and Greene's valuations, both cultural and aesthetic, as they are presented in these colonial fictions.

Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling's first collection of stories, brought colonial India home to England: those individuals who went out to India were for the British reading public suddenly endowed with faces, vices, virtues, and love affairs and disappointments, their administrative, military, and patriotic roles constituted as full lives. At one stroke, Kipling created for the English reading public the culture of Anglo-India: what the British in India do for leisure; what they value; where the best and where the worst posts are; how love and friendship differ in Anglo-India as compared to at home. Though introducing a new culture is no small task, for the Victorians it could never be a solitary one. True to his Victorian fellows, Kipling sought, in capturing that culture, to justify its existence as well. Faced with such a task, where better to turn than Matthew Arnold, who had done the same for England itself nearly 20 years earlier. Thus Kipling invokes the famous Arnoldian binary from "Culture and Anarchy":

We may regard this energy driving at practice, this paramount sense of the obligation of duty, self-control, and work, this earnestness in going manfully with the best light we have, as one force. And we may regard the intelligence driving at those ideas which are, after all, the basis of right practice, the ardent sense for all the new and changing combinations of them which man's development brings with it, the indomitable impulse to know and adjust them perfectly, as another force. And these two forces we may regard as in some sense rivals.

Between the "intelligence driving at . . . ideas" and "the obligation of duty," Kipling situates Indian colonial culture. Not content with Arnold's pendulum swinging back and forth between the two, however, he adds to the binary a middle term. In the last story of his collection, Kipling brings Arnold's two forces together in the figure of McIntosh Jellaludin. McIntosh is a Hellenist:

He was, when sober, a scholar and a gentleman. When drunk, he was rather more of the first than the second. . . . On those occasions the native woman tended him while he raved in all tongues except his own. One day, indeed, he began reciting Atalanta in Calydon, and went through it to the end, beating time to the swing of the verse with a bedstead-leg. But he did most of his ravings in Greek or German. The man's mind was a perfect rag-bag of useless things.

He is also a Hebraist who at one point in his life served society, though in what capacity the reader never learns: "The public are fools and prudish fools. I was their servant once." Most importantly, McIntosh has a knowledge of a middle way, of an alternative that partakes of both opposing qualities:

I do not refer to your extremely limited classical attainments, or your excruciating quantities, but to your gross ignorance of matters more immediately under your notice. "That, for instance"; he pointed to a woman cleaning a samovar near the well in the centre of the Serai. She was flicking the water our of the spout in regular cadencejerks.

There are ways and ways of cleaning samovars. If you knew why she was doing her work in that particular fashion, you would know what the Spanish Monk meant when he said—

    'I the Trinity illustrate,
    Drinking watered orange-pulp—
    In three sips the Arian frustrate,
    While he drains his at one gulp—'

and many other things which are now hidden from your eyes. However, Mrs. McIntosh has prepared dinner, let us come and eat after the fashion of the people of the country—of whom, by the way, you know nothing.

This passage includes references both to the Hellenism of McIntosh's book learning and to the Hebraism, the "energy driving at practice," about which the narrator knows nothing. We later learn that Strickland, whom we've been brought by the narrator to respect for his awe-inspiring knowledge of the natives he rules, is for McIntosh an "ignorant man." Unlike Strickland, McIntosh does not merely know how the natives will act, but he also understands why they act. McIntosh's understanding of the significance of the cleaning of the samovar and the sipping in Browning's poem represents a marriage of the most esoteric knowledge with the most mundane of daily actions; the rhythmic cleaning is as informed by a theology or cosmology as is the three sips of the Spanish Monk. McIntosh alone sees to the heart of matters, an ability that, far from precluding an attention to ordinary practice, in fact entails a knowledge of the ideal in and through "practice."

Kipling makes much of this ability in the Plain Tales collection. Figures who embody one or the other side of the dyad are undercut, just as Strickland in all his practical glory is undercut by McIntosh. Mrs. Hauksbee, the cleverest woman in India, who helps several people stick to the straight and narrow, is herself bested at the beginning of the short story sequence in "Three and— an Extra," when she acts without the backing of an approved ideal. Trejago in "Beyond the Pale" brings doom upon himself and his lover: the practicality that makes his intrigue possible prevents him from fully acknowledging the cultural laws he has transgressed. On the other hand, those who err on the side of Helenism, who attach too much meaning to everyday events, are equally suspect: the "Boy" of "Thrown Away" who commits suicide over a "cruel little sentence, rapped out before thinking", or Aurelian McCoggin, whose love of "isms" is cured by an attack of aphasia. Only a handful of figures manage to inform their practical doings with the knowledge of a higher sphere. In "His Wedded Wife," the Worm, who joins a "high-caste regiment" in which "you must be able to do things well . . . to get on with them," does nothing well except read, keep to himself, and write home. The members of the regiment refuse to accept him until he inadvertently advertises his acting talents, by dressing as a neglected wife and coming upon the regiment as a fury "rushing out of the dark, unannounced, into our dull lives." The revenge is successful because his play-acting speaks to the regiment's deep feelings of complicity, haunting even those in no way concerned in this particular matter. Janoo in "In the House of Suddhoo" respects the spiritual hold the seal-cutter has on Suddhoo, though she understands it is all a sham, and that respect assures her revenge as well: "Unless something happens to prevent her, I am afraid that the seal-cutter will die of cholera—the white arsenic kind—about the middle of May." Finally, Moriarty in "In Error" is saved by his illusion that Mrs. Reiver is a saint whose respect he must earn: the "error" has no foundation in reality, but his belief in that self-constructed ideal has the amazing practical result of curing his alcoholism.

Yet this ability to get to the heart of the matter, though it involves a knowledge of the ideal, is anchored in an English practicality. In "To Be Filed for Reference," when McIntosh turns scholar during one of his drunken binges, he speaks either Greek or German, the former the language of scholars and the clergy, the latter the language of idealists. At these moments, the narrator tells us, he is not a "gentleman," nor, the reader may add, an "English gentleman." The ability to get to the heart of matters includes both a spiritual astuteness and a practical knowingness, but what these two opposing qualities have in common is a directedness, a doggedness that Kipling identifies with Englishness, an ability to recognize things as they really are. The story "In the House of Suddhoo," a tale of spiritualism, includes an account of the honor of an English gentleman, the narrator, whose principles and kindness have put him at the center of conflicting moral and legal claims:

Now, the case stands thus. Unthinkingly, I have laid myself open to the charge of aiding and abetting the seal-cutter in obtaining money under false pretenses, which is forbidden by Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. I am helpless in the matter for these reasons. I cannot inform the Police. What witnesses would support my statements? . . . I dare not again take the law into my own hands, and speak to the sealcutter; for certain am I that, not only would Suddhoo disbelieve me, but this step would end in the poisoning of Janoo, who is bound hand and foot by her debt to the bunnia. . . . And thus I shall be privy to a murder in the House of Suddhoo.

Yet for all his confusion, he nonetheless is able, in his directedness, to appreciate the complexities of his own case. In "Lispeth" the native girl taken from the hills and raised according to British tradition is "killed" not by an English gentleman but by an Englishman whose conduct is ungentlemanly and by a Chaplain's wife who advises lying in preference to a "fuss or scandal." While their actions may be very "English," they are not those of a true English gentleman and lady. Rather, Lispeth is the only one in the story to embody such traits, expecting a forthrightness of which the Chaplain's wife and the Englishman are incapable. In the same way, Moriarty is proud of his "very good reputation" and worries that his alcoholism will "undermine that reputation," but "reputation" is not enough to work his cure: he controls his alcoholism only in order to show himself worthy of the finest of English ladies.

It is the doggedness of the English, allowing them to get to the heart of matters, that qualifies the British for the role of colonial administrators. In "The Bronckhorst Divorce-Case," Strickland, the man with great practical knowledge of native life, is called in to show that Bronckhorst's accusations against Biel, which have been confirmed by native witnesses, are a total fabrication. Strickland manages to scare the natives into recanting their testimony. Thus one Englishman, Strickland, corrects through intimidation the wrongs of another Englishman, Bronckhorst, who has bribed the natives to lie, while a third Englishman, Biel, is provoked by Strickland to thrash Bronckhorst but allows him to go free of charges of "fabricating false evidence": "Biel came out of the Court, and Strickland dropped a gut trainer's whip in the verandah. Ten minutes later, Biel was cutting Bronckhorst into ribbons behind the old Court cells, quietly and without scandal." But all this occurs outside the courthouse, the place where such claims should be weighed. None of the three is an English gentleman, for they manage to denigrate, sidestep, and tamper with that justice housed in the British courthouse, a justice the narrator cannot report since his story follows Biel: just when "the Judge began to say what he thought," the text cuts away to Biel's punishment of Bronckhorst behind the courthouse. Such merely practical "virtues" are outside the purview of true English justice. English justice is also at stake in one of the stories that perfectly embodies the union of the practical and the ideal, the tale of "The Bisara of Poree," a magic charm in a silver box that brings good only to those who obtain it dishonestly. Churton, the present owner of the charm, is suffering because he bought the object unknowingly; his chief complaint is that "his decisions were being reversed by the upper Courts more than an Assistant Commissioner of eight years' standing has a right to expect." Magic, a spiritual practicality, and English administrative justice are thus closely linked. With the aid of the charm, Churton is able to administer justice against a fellow Englishman named Pack, who steals the charm, a justice well deserved in Churton's eyes since he had not been "brought up to believe that men on the Government House List steal—at least little things." In his practical endeavor to bring about justice, he is aided by another Englishman, who holds the knowledge of the powers of the Bisara of Poree. Together, practical action and the knowledge of esoteric matters ensures justice.

This English trait that Kipling defines and locates at the center of the colonial project in the Plain Tales is Conrad's leaping-off point in Heart of Darkness: Conrad examines Kipling's justification, finds it lacking, and offers one of his own. The first section of the story heavy-handedly presents itself as an answer to Kipling's Plain Tales, taking up as it does the question of the practical colonial endeavor redeemed by the Idea:

These chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force. . . . The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.

Marlow has enlisted the aid of his aunt in his efforts to secure a position, and his aunt in turn represents Marlow to her influential friend as one of the new "gang of virtue," those who go out to the colonies motivated not by profit but by a commitment to a transcendent idea: "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways." The gang of virtue bring to the practical colonial endeavor an intelligence that supplies "those ideas which are, after all, the basis of right practice." Clearly, Marlow distances himself from the redeeming idea at the outset, but the first section of Heart of Darkness is nonetheless ruled by it. Critics rightly emphasize how central the Idea's role in the colonial process is to the story, but they often fail to recognize that Conrad emphasizes the Idea informing practical action. As Hunt Hawkins states, Conrad judges the colonial project on the basis of "two explicit criteria—efficiency and the 'idea."'

Conrad's initial critique of Kipling is, however, aesthetic: he objects to the way in which Kipling embodies his colonial justification in the Plain Tales. Moreover, it appears that the aesthetic shortcomings of the Plain Tales lead Conrad to note the potential ethical or moral dangers of the defense of colonialism Kipling offers. Through the reactions of those listening to Marlow's story, Conrad shows that Kipling's "message" in the Plain Tales is at odds with the effect they produce in their readers. Those characters in the Plain Tales who successfully embody the spiritually informed pragmatism of the English, who are thus ideal colonial administrators, are not the characters who most engage the reader. Even a casual reader of the Plain Tales will come away with a memorable impression of Strickland, the adventurous undercover policeman, and of Mrs. Hauksbee, the cleverest woman in India. In terms of effect, the practical characters win the day, though the spiritual characters have a haunting quality that also makes them linger in the reader's mind. "The Gate of Sorrows," an eerie story that is so pervasively depressing it nearly sinks the entire volume with its weight, puncturing a hole in the stories' off-hand narrative charm, is powerful, as is the sudden and harrowing reassertion of spiritual right and race purity at the end of "Beyond the Pale." But Moriarty or Churton or the narrator of "In the House of Suddhoo" do not leave the same lasting impression on the reader. They are all intriguing characters, but they fade from memory until specifically recalled to one's attention, unlike Mrs. Hauksbee and Strickland. Those characters who embody the English ability to get to the heart of matters, valorized by Kipling and aligned with British justice in its colonies, do not demand the attention their privileged status seems to require.

Conrad conveys this perceived shortcoming of Kipling's collection almost from the start in Heart of Darkness, when Marlow's narrative is not met with a warm welcome. The narrator notes of Marlow's jarring first line, tossed into the silence—"'And this also . . . has been one of the dark places of the earth"'—"It was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even," suggesting a company that acquiesces to the inevitable: hearing another of Marlow's yarns. Near the end of the first section, the reader again is reminded that Marlow may not have completely captivated his audience: "There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep." While this description may betoken an awed silence or breathless interest, it may just as easily be a straightforward account of the truth: the others present are sleeping and therefore not listening. The reader can be sure only that the narrator is listening to Marlow's tale, and he is interested in Marlow's discourse on the informing idea only because it matches his own sense of Empire as well as his own tendency to see the world in terms of the Spirit moving in the real; two beliefs upon which he expounds in the prologue. As it is with Kipling, however, Conrad's story of pragmatic idealism may not be an engaging one. Marlow chooses initially to tell the story of Moriary and Churton, without regard for the interests of his listeners who might be more engaged by the likes of Strickland or Mrs. Hauksbee. The moral value of Kipling's project aside, Conrad's point here is that the fiction fails aesthetically, and this failure leads Conrad to question the very nature of Kipling's justification. The aesthetic dissonance of Kipling's collection triggers its ethical dissonance.

In the second section of Heart of Darkness, Conrad makes it clear that the impression made by such stories of the ideal informing practice is strongly at odds with the set of values those stories are intended to convey. Kipling never makes it possible for his readers to experience his own high regard for those who make ideas the basis of their practice. We share Kipling's regard for an ideal-informed practice only as an idea extracted from the text, not one experienced firsthand inside Kipling's narratives. Twice in the second section of Heart of Darkness, the listeners are again brought into the frame of the narrative, and in both instances their responses provide an occasion for Marlow to break the flow of the narrative for a more direct idea-driven form of address:

"The inner truth is hidden—luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight-ropes for—what is it? half a crown a tumble"

"Try to be civil, Marlow," growled a voice, and I knew there was at least one listener awake besides myself.

"I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do your tricks very well."

"I couldn't have felt more of lonely desolation somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life. . . . Why do you sigh in this beastly way, somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good Lord! mustn't a man ever— Here, give me some tobacco. . . . "

There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match flared, and Marlow's lean face appeared, worn, hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids, with an aspect of concentrated attention; and as he took vigorous draws at his pipe, it seemed to retreat and advance out of the night in the regular flicker of the tiny flame. The match went out.

"Absurd!" he cred. "This is the worst of trying to tell. . . . Here you all are, each moored with two good addresses, like a hulk with two anchors, a butcher round one corner, a policeman round another, excellent appetites, and temperatures normal—you hear—normal from year's end to year's end. And you say, Absurd! Absurd be—exploded! Absurd! My dear boys, what can you expect from a man who out of sheer nervousness had just flung overboard a pair of new shoes!"

Indeed, in the second of these two examples, his listener's response leads Marlow on a digression that takes him far ahead of his story. In both examples, the synthesis of the practical (the dangerous particulars of the uncharted river, the new shoes, the butcher around the corner) with the ideal (the inner truth and the stolen belief) forces Marlow out of the flow of the story itself. This idealistic pragmatism, this attempt to get to the heart of matters, can appeal to readers only as an extra-narrative datum, a disembodied notion beyond the borders of the narrative, as in Kipling's story sequence.

In the third section of his story, Conrad rejects Kurtz and, in doing so, rejects Kipling's justification for such an approach to the colonial enterprise. As Marlow makes clear, Kurtz's exalted ideals have freed him of constraint, opening the way for "forgotten and brutal instincts": "There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air." In fact, the entire third section consists of Conrad's rejection of Kurtz, as one by one he is abandoned by all those who have been waiting so eagerly to meet him. First, the Russian, who had been helping Kurtz at great personal risk to himself, decamps. Then, of course, the manager, looking after his own interests, declares that Kurtz has "done more harm than good to the company." His native worshippers flee at the sound of the steamer's whistle, and even the manager's boy casts him off: "Suddenly the manager's boy put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt: 'Mistah Kurtz he dead."' Finally, back in Europe, Marlow slowly divests himself of what is left of Kurtz, his report, which he gives to the journalist friend, and "some family letters and memoranda," which he gives to Kurtz's cousin. And in lying to Kurtz's Intended, Marlow, who held to Kurtz longest, is unable to render him "that justice which was his due."

If Kipling's practical idealism provides such unsteady ground for the colonial project, what then redeems it? In the second section of the story, Conrad offers what he sees as the only real justification for empire: the spiritualism of Arnold and Kipling is rejected in favor of the rich wilderness that surrounds Marlow. Portrayed throughout the story as a dark, unknowable force to be reckoned with, the wilderness, the land and its richness is justification enough for the colonial endeavor:

"H'm. Just so," grunted the uncle. "Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this." I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence.

According to Conrad, the justification for colonialism is the land itself. Its treacherousness requires enormous skill and concentration—the accountant working in the most stressful of climates, Marlow piloting the ship up an unknown river, the native monitoring the boiler—yet such concentration pays great dividends. Kurtz's great material accomplishment, the collection of large amounts of ivory, is belittled by the manager as "mostly fossil," which Marlow glosses as ivory the natives have buried. But his repetition of the phrase transforms ivory into a rich mineral deposit that the land has been made to yield. For Conrad, the colonial endeavor has only one objective: raw material, the natural resources so plentiful in Africa.

Phil Joffe writes that "the disillusioned Conrad, in the last year of his life, wrote of his 'distasteful knowledge of the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration."' But the target of Conrad's critique in Heart of Darkness is not this attempt to tap the richness of the land, but the hypocrisy, the Lie that masks this motivation. As Born writes: "The profit motive for oneself is neatly excluded from this altruistic strand of imperial ethical progress. We can usefully recall here Orwell's telling remark 'that Kipling does not seem to realise, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern."' The colonial enterprise becomes morally dangerous when the profit motive is clouded by all sorts of grand ideals; Kurtz is Conrad's object lesson of the "horror" of that sort of colonialism. Heart of Darkness does not denigrate a colonial endeavor motivated by the richness of the untapped land. The ethical control in such an enterprise is the work ethic itself: only those who know their jobs and do them efficiently can effectively tap these riches. The natives left to die on the hillside are the victims of an inefficient and poorly managed colonial enterprise, one that excavates and blasts a hill for no reason: "They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on." Seen in this light, the manager's strictures on Kurtz's behavior, though heartless in their zealous concern only for profit, embody the sort of practical moral safeguard Conrad sees as part of the redeeming nature of work, the ethic of the work ethic: "'Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously— that's my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer."'

Conrad takes up the issue of materialism and idealism in his discussion of the Russo-Japanese war in "Autocracy and War," where he seems to occupy a position similar to Kipling's ideal-driven pragmatism: "The trouble of the civilised world is the want of a common conservative principle abstract enough to give the impulse, practical enough to form the rallying-point of international action tending toward the restraint of particular ambitions." He also seems vehemently opposed to the rule of material interests: "Germany's attitude proves that no peace for the earth can be found in the expansion of material interests which she seems to have adopted exclusively as her only aim, ideal, and watchword." Yet Conrad's stance in this essay is far more realistic, more expedient, than the two statements just quoted might suggest. Conrad notes that Germany's material interests are dangerous only insomuch as they have been "adopted exclusively as her only . . . ideal." Here is the Conrad of Heart of Darkness.Immediately following his rousing endorsement of a Politik driven by the Ideal, he concedes that "the true peace of the world will be a place of refuge much less like a beleaguered fortress and more, let us hope, in the nature of an Inviolable Temple. It will be built on less perishable foundations than those of material interests. But it must be confessed that the architectural aspect of the universal city remains as yet inconceivable—that the very ground for its erection has not been cleared of the jungle." Indeed, Conrad acknowledges that hope for immediate peace may be found in the pursuit of material interests, however distasteful they may be, though not according to the example set by Germany, but according to the one set by the world's democracies:

Democracy, which has elected to pin its faith to the supremacy of material interests, will have to fight their battles to the bitter end, on a mere pittance—unless, indeed, some statesman of exceptional ability and overwhelming prestige succeeds in carrying through an international understanding for the delimitation of spheres of trade all over the earth, on the model of the territorial spheres of influence marked in Africa to keep the competitors of the privilege of improving the nigger (as buying machine) from flying prematurely at each other's throats.

As the tone alone makes clear, this option does not thrill Conrad; as it is in Heart of Darkness, here his distaste for the cure is palpable. But it is a cure nonetheless, and the example he cites is none other than colonized Africa. Further, the statesman who will create delimited "spheres of trade all over the earth" has in fact much in common with the manager of Heart of Darkness. Despite a lack of stature, ability, or force of personality, the manager holds absolute authority over the region he controls:

He was obeyed, yet he inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a...a...faculty can be. He had no genius for organising, for initiative, or for order even....He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away.

Further, Conrad aligns this greatness with trade—"'He was a common trader . . . nothing more"'—and presents the manager as a representative of delimited spheres of trade, influence, and action. The manager views the Russian as a threat to ordered spheres of trade: "They approached again, just as the manager was saying, 'No one, as far as I know, unless a species of wandering trader—a pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the natives"', and "'It must be this miserable trader—this intruder,' exclaimed the manager. . .'He must be English,' I said. 'It will not save him from getting into trouble if he is not careful,' muttered the manager darkly." He insists at all times on respecting the boundaries of spheres of action: "'Well, I must defer to your judgment. You are captain,' he said, with marked civility"; "'The district is closed to us for a time"'; and "'It is my duty to point it out in the proper quarter."' The manager is no paragon, as Marlow's hatred for him makes clear, but in a world in which "the conscience of but very few men amongst us, and of no single Western nation as yet, will brook the restraint of abstract ideas as against the fascination of a material advantage," his pragmatic, compartmentalized role is the safest option.

Like Conrad does with Kipling, Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter begins where Conrad's narrative leaves off, embodying in its first section his materialist justification for the colonial enterprise. Though reference to it is subtle, set far in the background of Greene's narrative, the land and its allure are at the heart of Scobie's desire to stay in West Africa:

    He said aloud, "You know I like the place."
    "I believe you do. I wonder why."
    "It's pretty in the evening," Scobie said vaguely.

The narrator registers for the reader the inadequacy of Scobie's reply, which seems an odd, insufficient reason for staying, particularly in light of his wife's desire to leave and his over-wrought feelings of responsibility for her. But what seems at first like an off-hand comment gets picked up in the narrative, taking on a seriousness that the first comment never even vaguely suggests:

In the evening the port became beautiful for perhaps five minutes. The laterite roads that were so ugly and clay-heavy by day became a delicate flower-like pink. It was the hour of content. Men who had left the port for ever would sometimes remember on a grey wet London evening the bloom and glow that faded as soon as it was seen: they would wonder why they had hated the coast and for a space of a drink they would long to return.

Scobie stopped his Morris at one of the great loops of the climbing road and looked back. He was just too late. The flower had withered upwards from the town; the white stones that marked the edge of the precipitous hill shone like candles in the new dusk.

The days in the colony are harsh, and the nights, as Scobie's wearisome duels with Louise suggest, hardly restful. But evening is "the hour of content." Scobie, as he himself acknowledges, is seeking "peace" "content[ment]," and the land at evening provides these for him. Though not exactly Conrad's image of the rich, untapped, colonized land, the land as presented in book 1 nonetheless is the reason for Scobie, representative of British law in the colony not coincidentally, to stay in West Africa: for him it has a value that ensures his continued presence there. Also like Conrad, Greene aligns the value of the land, in this case its temporary beauty that gives Scobie a brief nightly repose, with work: "He had nearly everything, and all he needed was peace. Everything meant work, the daily regular routine in the little bare office, the change of seasons in a place he loved." The throw-away tag, "a place he loved," emphasizes the connection: the land provides peace, and Scobie longs only to work (in) that land. Further, this notion that the land itself, the very physicality of it, imparts "peace" to Scobie suggests that Greene also recognizes the motivation, as suggested in "Autocracy and War," for Conrad's turn to materialism: that the land, both in what it yields and in its partition, may offer the only viable chance for peace in the context of the present state of the world. Greene rather ingeniously transplants Conrad's justification for the colonial project to the West African world and the life of his British police captain, Scobie, for the purpose of critiquing it, in the same way that Conrad critiqued Kipling.

Just as Conrad first noted the aesthetic discord of Kipling's program in Heart of Darkness, so too does Greene identify an aesthetic dissonance in Conrad's colonial justification that reveals its ethical dissonance. A number of critics have concurred with F. R. Leavis's censures of Conrad's style in The Great Tradition:

There are, however, places in Heart of Darkness where we become aware of comment as an interposition, and worse, as an intrusion, at times an exasperating one. Hadn't he, we find ourselves asking, overworked "inscrutable," "inconceivable," "unspeakable" and that kind of word already?—yet still they recur. Is anything added to the oppressive mysteriousness of the Congo by such sentences as: "It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention." The same vocabulary, the same adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery, is applied to the evocation of human profundities and spiritual horrors.

At times in Heart of Darkness, Conrad's attempt to demonstrate the importance of the land to the colonial project is quite heavy-handed. The story begins with the frame narrator's description of the scene before him and his vision of the Roman triremes on the Thames and goes on to include descriptions of the mining operation at the outer station, of the dense jungle surrounding the two-hundred-mile trek inland, of the river itself and the challenge it poses to navigation, and even of the "defensive attack" launched by the natives loyal to Kurtz, which is presented as a rejection by the jungle itself of the Nellie and its crew. Some of the description and evocation serves a distinct scene- and mood-setting purpose, but too often the attempt to present a distinct impression is overwrought. For instance, in the scene quoted earlier, the manager gestures towards the forest, improbably causing Marlow to leap to his feet: "It was so startling that I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though I had expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence. You know the foolish notions that come to one sometimes." Or the description of the trip upriver, which begins with an effective evocation of the imposing fullness of the jungle:

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.

The heaviness of the air requires such "adjectival insistence," but the description trails off into the passage Leavis singles out for its heavy-handed repetition: "This stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention." This passage may be excused as Marlow's, not Conrad's, rhetoric, but such an excuse fails to account for the strange scene of Marlow's "foolish notion." Conrad's tale falls short only when he continues to detail an impression he's already managed to capture.

Greene's criticism of Conrad in book 1 of The Heart of the Matter is later repeated in his African journal. He does not adopt Conrad's method of introducing the question of aesthetic merit by including the responses of an "audience" within the frame of his tale. Instead, within the narrative itself he introduces a motif of aesthetic appreciation, which he then links to excess. Louise's love of poetry, which is shared by the newcomer Wilson, thus becomes a symbol of excess. Wilson is introduced at the beginning of the novel as someone who loves to read poetry but, because he fears it will call undue attention to himself, he hides his interest. And, indeed, Louise's interest in poetry becomes the objective correlative of the club's dislike for her pushy, whining, and patronizing airs: "Literary Louise has got him." This mutual aesthetic appreciation eventually plunges Wilson headlong into excesses of romantic love as he tries to play the avenging, protective lover, a role Louise either ignores or ridicules.

Greene is guilty of some excess himself in his heavy-handed, incremental revelation of Wilson's spying. He punctuates the first book with hints concerning the identity of the new spy who has been sent out to report on the colonial administration:

"You ought to have been a policeman, Father."

"Ah," Father Rank said, "who knows? There are more policemen in this town than meet the eye—or so they say."

"Who says?"

"Been in to see the Commissioner about a pass. There are so many passes one has to have in this town, sir. I wanted one for the wharf. . . . "

When Wilson had gone, Scobie went in to the Commissioner. He said, "I was just coming along to see you, sir, when I ran into Wilson."

"Oh, yes, Wilson," the Commissioner said. "He came in to have a word with me about one of their lightermen."

"I see." The shutters were down in the office to cut out the morning sun. A sergeant passed through carrying with him, as well as his file, a breath of the Zoo behind. The day was heavy with unshed rain: already at 8.30 in the morning the body ran with sweat. Scobie said, "He told me he'd come about a pass."

"Oh yes," the Commissioner said, "that too."

"Then the special man they have sent from London. . . . "

"You must come back when I'm clearer, Yusef. I don't know what the hell you are talking about."

"They have sent a special man from London to investigate the diamonds—they are crazy about diamonds—only the Commissioner must know about him—none of the other officers, not even you."

"What rubbish you talk, Yusef. There's no such man."

"Everybody guesses but you."

"Too absurd. You shouldn't listen to rumour, Yusef."

She said, "Oh, Wilson's been attentive."

"He's a nice boy."

"He's too intelligent for his job. I can't think why he's out here as just a clerk."

"He told me he drifted."

Though several of these passages serve to characterize Scobie's peculiar blindness, neither the episode with Father Rank nor that with Scobie and the commissioner, in which Scobie seems aware that something's amiss, clearly work to that end. Yet, if the passages are meant to tip the reader off to Wilson's true role in the colony, and to some extent they do have that purpose since the reader has no other means of reaching that conclusion, they are hardly notable for their subtlety. Between Wilson's earlier paranoia and the fact that the novel begins with his arrival, the reader takes Father Rank's meaningful comment as the first hint. The following passages at first confirm the reader's suspicions and finally vex the reader. The insistent and repeated hints as to Wilson's "real" role in the colony enact a narrative excess akin to Conrad's. Moreover, the diamonds, which are at the heart of Wilson's spying, connect this excess to the "natural resources" that the colonies yield.

Greene's perception of Conrad's excess, the one source of aesthetic dissonance in Heart of Darkness, leads him to note the danger of Conrad's excessively materialistic take on imperialism. In book 3, the natural profuseness of the land is invoked and, in each case, identified with illogic:

"You must promise. You can't desire the end without desiring the means."

Ah, but one can, he thought, one can: one can desire the peace of victory without desiring the ravaged towns.

They kissed as formally now when they met as a brother and sister. When the damage was done, adultery became as unimportant as friendship. The flame had licked them and gone on across the clearing: it had left nothing standing except a sense of responsibility and sense of loneliness. Only if you trod barefooted did you notice the heat in the grass.

They would imagine, he thought with amazement, that I get something out of it, but it seemed to him that no man had ever got less. Even self-pity was denied him because he knew so exactly the extent of his guilt. He felt as though he had exiled himself so deeply in the desert that his skin had taken on the colour of sand.

Then he realized what it was—a diamond, a gem stone. He knew nothing about diamonds, but it seemed to him that it was probably worth at least as much as his debt to Yusef. Presumably Yusef had information that the stones he had sent by the Esperança had reached their destination safely. This was a mark of gratitude—not a bribe, Yusef would explain, the fat hand upon his sincere and shallow heart.

Oh God, he thought, I've killed you: you've served me all these years and I've killed you at the end of them. God lay there under the petrol drums and Scobie felt the tears in his mouth, salt in the cracks of his lips. You served me and I did this to you. You were faithful to me, and I wouldn't trust you.

The land—the grass, the sand—and its resources—diamonds, petrol—are only referred to in conjunction with a reality that defies logic: Yusef's sincere yet shallow heart, desiring the end without desiring the means, having more than one's share yet left with nothing. All describe situations that are possible and yet, at the same time, wholly illogical. Greene suggests that the colonial project, tied to the land and its natural resources, motivated by the very real desire for mineral/material wealth—in other words, a colonialism based on the real and not on the ideal—creates a situation that lacks rationality because it lacks an Idea, and it exists in an atmosphere of illogic, a world in which cause and effect are out of whack and prediction is an impossibility.

A colonialism based on reality is damned to the perverse and quirky workings of that reality, and the final book of The Heart of the Matter is full of thwarted predictions. Scobie attempts to spare his wife suffering when in fact she has known about his affair all along. Although he hoped by his death to help Helen forget him, as it turns out, in death Scobie has more hold over her mind than he did in life: "'You can't love the dead, can you? They don't exist, do they? ...She put her hand out beside her and touched the other pillow, as though perhaps after all there was one chance in a thousand that she was not alone, and if she were not alone now she would never be alone again." Scobie is certain of his own damnation, but Father Rank insists at novel's end, "'For goodness' sake, Mrs. Scobie, don't imagine you—or I—know a thing about God's mercy."' Scobie embraces an all too real, meticulously planned, material solution to his problems, which fails to achieve any of its goals. The one aspect of his suicide that seems to go as planned, the material one—the dosage is enough, the climate makes it impossible to perform a post-mortem—betrays Scobie: the "colour of the ink," under Wilson's trained scrutiny, gives him away. For Greene, the colonial project that is motivated by very realistic material goals is even more unpredictable in its results on all levels than is that motivated by the Idea. The search for smuggled diamonds, as nearly every intelligent person in the colony concedes, is a farce, involving large merchant ships on which a handful of tiny gems could be hidden anywhere. Scobie is appointed commissioner one-half year too late, and would have, in effect, nullified the entire series of tragic events the novel narrates. Scobie's appointment is based on the "good impression" he makes in an interview in which he entirely loses his cool and acts like a man guilty of the worst corruptions. A colonial administration based in reality alone is at the mercy of a myriad of forces, all unguided: natural, psychological, political, economic, and so forth.

Greene himself sees the empire as nothing more than an outlet for those forces that English life and England itself cannot contain: thwarted ambitions, restless longings, boredom. The colonies serve not so much as a safety valve for England or as a dumping ground for undersirables, but as a haven for those whose needs are not met at home. Book 2 of The Heart of the Matter is populated with such figures. Perrot imagines himself on the frontiers of the empire, far from the decadence of the "big city," protecting the empire's borders from alien invasion—a hard thing to imagine when home is an island:

Scobie said, "If they ever joined the Germans, I suppose this is one of the points where they'd attack."

"Don't I know it," Perrot said, "I was moved here in 1939. The Government had a shrewd idea of what was coming. Everything's prepared, ye know . . . We're stripped for action here."

Scobie reads to Fisher A Bishop among the Bantus, a missionary tale that he transforms into a pirate tale set in the West Indies in order to relieve the boy's boredom. Helen Rolt is intrigued by the story, the first indication that in the wake of her extraordinary ordeal at sea, she too is looking for an adventurous and romantic alternative to her now-safe existence, a desire she repeatedly expresses during her stay in the colonies with Scobie: "'If you knew,' she said, 'how tired I get of all your caution. You come here after dark and you go after dark. It's so—so ignoble."' The colonies offer Father Rank the opportunity to be "useful": "'They were very generous in Northampton. I only had to ask and they'd give. I wasn't of any use to a single living soul, Scobie. I thought, in Africa things will be different. ...I wanted to be of use, that's all."' Finally, Harris defines the colonies as the fit place for boys who never quite fit in, who were not quite happy at school. He says: "'I wonder if Wilson was happy there. ...I don't suppose he was ...or why should he have turned up here?"' The colonies exist because they meet a need that home cannot, a restlessness that Greene never particularizes because it varies with different individuals. The need to roam, to confront the unknown, to make a name, to experience adventures, all of which spurred on the late Renaissance explorers, the Victorian expeditions to the poles, the twentieth-century astronauts and kept them from staying at home— such impulses are not limited to a celebrated or noted handful, and the colonies, according to Greene, exist to provide an outlet for those others. Scobie's tremendously strict Catholicism leads him to choose his own damnation in order to save Louise and Helen as well as God himself from the suffering his acts are inflicting on them. Clearly, such an immense project, immense in the assumptions it questions of God and man, requires a breadth, a large playing field, that England cannot provide. Indeed, Patrick McCarthy states that for Scobie "in the context of the West African colony it [Catholicism] acts as a seditious force because it undermines the pretence of law and duty. Scobie likes the colony because 'human nature hasn't had time to disguise itself.' The poverty and misery of the colony present man as God sees him." This then for Greene is the only valid justification for empire: an extensive stage on which to follow and achieve vast aspirations.

Kipling inherited a Victorian mandate: in describing the Anglo-Indian culture, he felt obligated to justify its existence. He found in Arnold a schema with which to represent Anglo-Indian life. But as Conrad recognized, Kipling failed to realize that schematization fully in Plain Tales from the Hills. Why? One can only speculate. In adopting another's schema, did Kipling ignore the power of his own first-hand contact with Anglo-Indian life, his lived experience in the colony, which in turn then took on a life of its own in his short story sequence? If such is the case, Greene's response to Conrad can be read as an odd return to Kipling's own view of the matter. Greene, like Kipling and unlike Conrad, believes the colonial endeavor can only be justified with recourse to the Idea. In the face of the purposelessness of Conrad's hyper-realism, Greene returns to an intellectual construct reminiscent of Kipling's Arnoldian borrowing, though he rejects that specific, as well as imported, schema. In this respect, Greene is closer to Kipling. Yet unlike Kipling, both Conrad and Greene encounter the project of empire as artists first. Conrad's initial response to Kipling in the opening section of Heart of Darkness is an aesthetic critique leveled at Kipling's failed fictional embodiment of an idea. Greene's first critique of Conrad is similarly an aesthetic one. In this respect, responding first as artists, Greene is much closer in spirit and approach to Conrad than he is to Kipling.

Source: James Scannell, "The Method Is Unsound: The Aesthetic Dissonance of Colonial Justification in Kipling, Conrad, and Greene," in Style, Vol. 30, Fall 1996, pp. 409–32.


Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination, University of Texas Press, 1981, p. 358.

Bhabha, Homi K., The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994.

———, "The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination, and the Discourse of Colonialism," in Literature, Politics, and Theory, edited by Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, Margaret Iversen, and Diana Loxley, Methuen, 1986, pp. 148–72.

Donaldson, Laura E., Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Empire-Building, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Esty, Jed, "The Colonial Bildungsroman: The Story of an African Farm and the Ghost of Goethe," in Victorian Studies, Vol. 49, No. 3, Spring 2007, pp. 407–30.

First, Ruth, and Ann Scott, Olive Schreiner: A Biography, Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Gilbert, Sandra M., "Rider Haggard's Heart of Darkness," in Partisan Review, Vol. 50, 1983, pp. 444–53.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 2000.

Herringshaw, Thomas W., Prominent Men and Women of the Day, A. B. Gehman, 1888.

Horton, Susan R., Difficult Women, Artful Lives: Olive Schreiner and Isak Dinesen, in and out of Africa, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Howe, Susanna, Novels of Empire, Columbia University Press, 1949.

Kael, Pauline, "A Passage to India: Unloos'd Dreams," in the New Yorker, January 14, 1985.

Macaulay, Thomas B., "Minute on Indian Education," in The World's Classics, No. 183, Oxford University Press, 1935.

Meyes, Jeffrey, Katherine Mansfield: A Darker View, Cooper Square Press, 2002.

Mills, Sara, Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism, Routledge, 1991, pp. 3, 59.

O'Sullivan, Vincent, "Mansfield, Kathleen," in Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattle, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Pelensky, Olga A., Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer, Ohio University Press, 1991, pp. 140–41.

Rive, Richard, Introduction to The Story of an African Farm, Africana Library, 1975.

Ross, Robert L., "Katherine Mansfield," in Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology, 1999, pp. 39–40.

———, "Olive Schreiner," in Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology, 1999, pp. 61–62.

Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, pp. 19–31.

———, Orientalism, Pantheon Books, 1978.

Scannell, James, "The Method Is Unsound: The Aesthetic Dissonance of Colonial Justification in Kipling, Conrad, and Greene," in Style, Vol. 30, Fall 1996, p. 409.

Sharpe, Jenny, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism," in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, Autumn 1985, pp. 243–61.

Tindall, William York, Forces in Modern British Literature, 1885–1956, Vintage Books, 1956, p. 59.

Travers, Martin, "Modernism," in Introduction to Modern European Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism, St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Young, Robert, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race, Routledge, 1995, pp. 181–82.


Cesaire, Aime, Discourse on Colonialism, translated by Joan Pinkham, New York University Press, 2000.

The African poet Aime Cesaire wrote this essay on the impact of Colonialism on native peoples in 1955, later published in English in 1972. Cesaire attempts to describe, in moving and poetic language, both the external and internal effects of Colonialism.

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press, 1991.

Originally published in 1953, Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks tells the story of Colonialism's aftereffects in Africa from the perspective of an African man. Fanon's work is a landmark influence on anticolonial and civil rights movements, reputed as both insightful and beautifully written.

Ferguson, Moira, Colonialism and Gender Relations from Mary Wollstonecraft to Jamaica Kincaid, Columbia University Press, 1993.

Ferguson has been a pioneer in the study of women writers from colonized areas, particularly the Caribbean. This study of both English and Caribbean writers is an accessible overview of issues in gender and Colonialism.

Gilmour, David, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002.

Biographer David Gilmour conducted extensive research and used previously unknown information to produce this new study of the life and works of Kipling. Gilmour adds to earlier studies of Kipling's life an extended examination of his views on empire.

Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad, University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Harpham's study of Conrad is a literary biography that focuses on Conrad's writings and their dominant themes.

Hobsbawm, Eric J., The Age of Empire: 1875–1914, Vintage Books, 1989.

A Marxist scholar, Hobsbawm pays close attention to the economic aspects of imperialism. The Age of Empire is nonetheless a thorough study of the height of the era. Hobsbawm is a highly regarded historian whose works have been praised for their readability and their ability to link history to present concerns.

Lace, William W., The British Empire: The End of Colonialism, Lucent Books, 2000.

In a history designed specifically for high school students, Lace details the factors that led to the fall of the British Empire.

Rieder, John, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, Wesleyan, 2008.

Rieder examines works of early science fiction within the historical context of Colonialism. Rieder argues that ideologies of Colonialism have influenced the attitude of science fiction authors as they approach the unknown in their fiction.


views updated Jun 11 2018


I. Political AspectsRupert Emerson


II. Economic AspectsD. K. Fieldhouse



Colonialism is the establishment and maintenance, for an extended time, of rule over an alien people that is separate from and subordinate to the ruling power. It is no longer closely associated with the term “colonization,” which involves the settlement abroad of people from a mother country, as in the case of the ancient Greek colonies or the Americas. Colonialism has now come to be identified with rule over peoples of different race inhabiting lands separated by salt water from the imperial center; more particularly, it signifies direct political control by European states or states settled by Europeans, as the United States or Australia, over peoples of other races, notably over Asians and Africans. To this category should be added Japan’s rule over her dependent territories, lost after World War ii.

Some further features of the “colonial situation” are: domination of an alien minority, asserting racial and cultural superiority, over a materially inferior native majority; contact between a machine-oriented civilization with Christian origins, a powerful economy, and a rapid rhythm of life and a non-Christian civilization that lacks machines and is marked by a backward economy and a slow rhythm of life; and the imposition of the first civilization upon the second (Balandier 1951, p. 75).

The Belgians attempted in the earlier years of the United Nations to broaden the concept of colonialism to include all ethnically distinct minorities discriminated against in their home countries. Contending that such minorities were often in greater need of UN attention than the people in overseas dependencies, the Belgian thesis proposed their acceptance as nonself-governing peoples under Chapter xi of the Charter. This interpretation was generally rejected in the UN and by the colonial and former colonial peoples themselves. The most serious shortcomings of the narrower interpretation are that it excludes the Asian and other non-Russian peoples in the Soviet Union, alleged to be dominated by the Great Russians, and the Africans and Asians of South Africa, barred from the main stream of the country’s life by the apartheid doctrine. South Africa lacks the geographic separation of colonies from the imperial center but can be at least partially brought within the colonial rubric because the dominant group is white European whereas the ruled are of different race and color. The Asian peoples of the Soviet Union are usually placed outside the traditional colonial category even though Western observers often accuse the U.S.S.R. of being the colonial power par excellence.

Definitions of colonialism couched in terms of value and emotion take quite a different form. This is most true of those left-wing analysts who can find nothing but evil in colonialism. Thus the “Great Soviet Encyclopaedia” of 1953 speaks of colonization as the military or economic enslavement of any dependent country and sees it as accompanied by bestial exploitation and extermination of the indigenous population. The more leftward-inclined Asian and African leaders frequently denounce colonialism in similar terms.

Historical evolution of modern colonialism

Modern colonialism started with the fifteenth-century voyages of the Portuguese along the west coast of Africa, which in 1498 brought Vasco da Gama to India. The Portuguese and Spaniards were the first to establish their dominions overseas and clung to them long after their imperialist drive had lost its forward thrust. The Americas were wholly taken over as European domains, the Dutch and British began to stake out their claims in India and the Indies, and France had won and lost more than one empire by 1815. The first blows for anticolonialism were struck by the American Revolution and the subsequent liberation of most of Latin America.

Although Europe’s imperial expansion and growth in power continued during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, the circumstances of the times tended to discourage the extension of colonial holdings. Britain’s command of the seas and its industrial head start gave it a virtual monopoly of access to the world overseas, making unnecessary the kind of exclusive control that colonialism offered. The abandonment of mercantilism and the swing to laissez-faire and free trade made colonies less attractive than they had been before. Bentham had pleaded that Britain and France should rid themselves of their dependencies; Turgot saw colonies falling from the tree like ripe fruit; and Disraeli, assuming the colonies would soon be independent, regarded them in 1852 as “millstones around our neck.”

China was opened to the penetration of the West but was not subjected to colonial rule. Only in India did the British more or less consistently expand their colonial sway, and France took over Algeria and made its first encroachments in Indochina. In Britain it was even seriously proposed, not long before the start of the scramble for Africa, that there should be a withdrawal from African holdings.

A very different climate of opinion and range of action prevailed in the last quarter of the century. The restraints on colonialism were swept away in the new imperialist flood that speedily completed the partition of the world between the imperial powers. Africa was almost totally divided into European dependencies. In other areas as well, new colonies were carved out or old ones consolidated and extended, as in southeast Asia, where the Dutch, French, and British greatly expanded the scope and intensity of their rule in the Indies, Indochina, Malaya, and Burma. Changing power relationships brought a redivision of territories in the Spanish–American War, in the Boer War, and after World War i with the transfer of German and Turkish holdings.

To assess the causes of the change in the last decades of the nineteenth century would involve the whole range of theories of imperialism, but certain elements particularly related to colonialism may be singled out. Such men as Jules Ferry, Joseph Chamberlain, and Cecil Rhodes justified the revival of colonialism in terms of the needs of the new industrial system and by the demands of a Darwinian struggle between nations and races. The entry of France, Germany, and Italy, followed by Japan and the United States, into the imperial rivalry, not to mention Russia’s expansive mood, seemed to substantiate Lenin’s dictum that only colonial possession gave a complete guarantee against the risks of competitive struggle. The new wave of protectionism and governmental intervention at home restored validity to the assertion of direct political control overseas. Such control seemed particularly justified in tropical Africa, where it was arguable that only the assumption of full responsibility by a Western government could establish the conditions under which modern enterprise could function. This position found powerful support in the prevalent theories holding that certain races, notably the Teutonic or Anglo–Saxon, had a peculiar genius for government.

The transition away from colonialism

Western imperialism reached its highest point before World War i, although several decades went by before World War ii brought a full rejection of colonialism. The Spanish–American War marked the beginning and the end of any large-scale American involvement with colonialism, and the Boer War crystallized the hostility of many, in Britain and elsewhere, to imperialism. The years preceding World War i were the last in which a complacent colonialism could flourish as a part of what seemed the natural order of things. Liberal and socialist attacks on colonialism were growing, although the belief in white supremacy lingered on. The adoption of the mandates system in the Versailles peace settlement was one significant expression of the doubts that were beginning to undermine colonialism. The only significant additions to the colonial domains between the two world wars were short-lived: Mussolini’s anachronistic seizure of Ethiopia and Japan’s drive on China and, later, southeast Asia.

All the forces opposed to colonialism and sap-ping its vitality grew in strength in the interwar years. The success of the Russian Revolution brought into being a world-wide network of agitation against imperialism, and nationalist activities and organizations were multiplying in the dependent territories themselves. In the imperial centers the will to maintain empire steadily declined with the spread of ideas hostile to racialism and colonial domination. World War ii greatly hastened the process through the Japanese displacement of the colonial powers in southeast Asia, the further weakening of those powers at home, the intensification of anti-imperialist opinion throughout the world, and the atmosphere of change that permeated many of the colonies.

After 1945 the flood tide of anticolonialism swept away the colonial system with a speed and thoroughness that matched colonialism’s advance at the close of the nineteenth century. The possession of colonies, so long a matter of pride and prestige, now became a sin to be expiated only, if at all, by the granting of immediate independence. The League of Nations’ indifference to the problem was replaced by the profound involvement of the United Nations in the process of decolonization.

Attitudes toward colonialism

Attitudes toward colonialism have varied greatly from time to time and from place to place. Most frequently, colonialism has been accepted as merely one manifestation of the ever-present truth that the strong dominate the weak. Although the missionary element has rarely been wholly absent, the usual presumption has been that every colony does or ought to exist for the benefit of the mother country.

The justifications of colonial rule cover a wide range, often resting upon the right of the conqueror, perhaps bolstered by a claim of racial superiority. Where the interests of the dependent peoples are taken into account, it is held that an extended period of guardianship is necessary to enable them to “stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.” Here the mission civilisatrice and the “white man’s burden” come into play. Some French spokesmen for colonialism acclaim it as the universal instrument for the spread of civilization, pointing to themselves and many of their neighbors as products of Roman colonization.

The defense of colonialism is likely to adopt some variant of the criterion laid down by John Stuart Mill, who, in the case of peoples not yet ready for representative government, defended alien rule on the ground that the colonial mode of government was as legitimate as any other if it was the one which in the existing state of civilization of the subject people most facilitated their transition to a higher stage of improvement. Lord Lugard (1922) introduced another element in proposing that the colonial powers were under a dual mandate obligating them to secure the advancement of their dependent territories and to develop them in the interest of the world at large.

The assumptions on which such defenses of colonialism rest have been increasingly subject to challenge in recent decades. The more moderate present-day approach tentatively accepts colonial rule if the authorities devote themselves to preparing their wards for independence, but growing skepticism as to the trustworthiness of the colonial powers has led to the insistence that they accept international supervision in so doing. The UN Charter looked to independence or self-government for all dependent peoples, tightened control over the trust territories surviving from the mandates system, and brought all nonself-governing territories into the international public domain.

The more radical approach denounces the imposition of alien rule as always evil under all circumstances. This starting point eliminates all controversy as to whether one colonial system or policy is better than another by blanket condemnation of all, leaving immediate independence as the only way out. Building on the anticolonial resolution of the 1955 Bandung Conference, the UN General Assembly in its 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence gave this position international recognition. This declaration denounced the alien subjugation of peoples as a denial of human rights and an impediment to peace, proclaimed the right of all peoples to self-determination without conditions or reservations, and repudiated the doctrine of tutelage by asserting that inadequacy of political, economic, social, or educational preparedness shall never serve as a pretext for delaying independence. Asian and African opinion has constantly been moving toward this radical position, pillorying colonialism as the source of most of the world’s troubles and proclaiming that the higher law of anticolonialism renders all remnants of the era of European colonialism illegitimate and open to attack.

The anticolonialists project such doctrines into the future through the use of the concept of neocolonialism, which accuses the imperialists, among whom the Americans figure prominently, of regarding the independence that the colonial peoples have wrung from them as only the occasion to adopt more subtle tactics of domination and exploitation. Overt colonial rule is thus replaced by economic and other forms of control, including the provision of aid, and the nominally free countries are Balkanized and manipulated in the imperial interest.

The colonial and former colonial powers see what has been happening in recent decades in a very different light. They reject the charge of being oppressors and exploiters and point to their accomplishments in advancing their dependent peoples in every sphere, including the granting of independence to hundreds of millions since 1945. However, they differ greatly in the way in which they have envisaged their colonial mission. The position of four of them—Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal—may be briefly sketched to indicate the wide range of variation.

Varying colonial policies

Great Britain

With the exception of the United States, whose colonial holdings were far smaller, Great Britain could adapt itself more easily to the new dispensation than any of the other colonial powers. The entire British policy of regarding colonies not as integral parts of the mother country but as countries with their own distinctive ways of life facilitated autonomous development. The colonial peoples were given an increasing share in the governing councils, public service, and judiciary and thus were started on what came to be a standard cycle culminating in self-government and then independence. This was a cycle through which the older dominions had passed and which was tested again in India, Ceylon, and elsewhere in the interwar decades. World War ii brought both a heightening of the belief that colonial rule imposed responsibility for the well-being of dependent peoples and an acceptance of the need to move speedily to end colonialism. India’s independence, in 1947, started a process of decolonization that dismantled the British empire in Asia and most of Africa and the West Indies; and although difficulties have cropped up where there is a substantial amount of white settlement or race mixture, as in the Rhodesias, Kenya, and British Guiana, the British have been able to transform most colonies into independent states within the framework of long-established policies that were already in operation.


France, on the other hand, was forced to undertake a basic reversal in direction. In contrast to the British, the French inclined always to a policy of cultural, economic, and political assimilation. It was characteristic of French policy that the 1944 Brazzaville conference of leading colonial officials decreed that France’s work of civilization in her colonies excluded any idea of autonomy or of evolution outside the French empire, “even in the distant future.” French aid for the colonies was greatly increased after World War ii, and many reforms were introduced, but the bonds linking the colonies to France were not relaxed until the eve of independence. The Indochinese and Algerian wars demonstrated French reluctance to accept colonialism’s end. Even in 1958, when Guinea opted for independence by voting “no” in the referendum on de Gaulle’s constitution, Guinea was treated as an outlaw. Yet in the succeeding months de Gaulle reconciled himself and the French people to African independence on terms of intimate collaboration between France and the newly freed countries—terms often so intimate as to lead to charges that a French neocolonialism had been instituted, rendering independence nominal.


Belgian rule over the Congo, which came to an abrupt end on July 1, 1960, was an unusual combination of elements. The Belgians concentrated power in Brussels, as did the French in Paris, but they did not follow France in associating Africans with them in the imperial center nor Britain in drawing the Congolese into the local administration and governing councils. The great triumvirate—the Belgian government, the giant corporations, and the church—made tremendous strides in economic development, and to a lesser extent in welfare and education, laying the foundation for what would have been a solid structure if uninterrupted decades of colonial rule had stretched ahead. The Belgian philosophy of colonialism explicitly excluded the creation of an elite on the French or British model until mass education would have spread widely and a middle class come into being. The haste with which Belgium moved to sever its formal ties with the Congo following the riots in Leopoldville in January 1959 gave no opportunity to bridge the immense gap between its patronizing paternalism and the responsibilities suddenly assumed by the Congolese, who were left with a government lacking trained African leaders and officials and an army lacking African officers.


The Portuguese offer a fourth variant of colonialism, ruling over an empire shorn of Goa but still reaching from Macao to Mozambique and Angola. Oldest of the Western colonial powers, Portugal continues to protest vigorously that she has no nonself-governing peoples but only equal provinces of a single indivisible realm. The Portuguese boast that they are free of racial prejudice, but their African colonies are marked by the cleavage between the few thousands of “civilized” or “assimilated” Africans and the millions of “uncivilized.” The 1961 rising in Angola led the Portuguese government to announce a number of reforms, including the abolition of the regime do indigenato and the establishment of a single status for all within the Portuguese domain, but the overwhelming majority of the Africans remain illiterate and touched by little more of modernity than pressure to work as laborers for the Europeans. Furthermore, embittered competition has inevitably broken out between the advancing African elements and the thousands of Portuguese peasants and workers officially encouraged to emigrate to Portuguese Africa with the double purpose of relieving home poverty and establishing the Portuguese presence so firmly as to make it unchallengeable. The heart of the problem is that Portugal is itself only a partially developed country, having lived for many years under a dictatorship and being unable to overcome its own poverty and mass illiteracy. Its ability to secure the advancement of millions of people overseas is obviously questionable.

The literature of colonialism

The literature dealing with colonialism is wide-ranging and diverse and reflects the changing nature of the colonial problem. For the most part it consists of studies of particular dependencies or groups of dependencies, but a substantial body of literature dealing with general aspects of colonialism has also been built up. Several studies have undertaken to compare the colonial policies of the powers in terms of the goals that have been set, the success with which these goals have been reached, and the administrative and other machineries that have been employed. At both ends of the spectrum the motives lying behind the acquisition of dependencies and the evaluation of the forces leading to the present surge of decolonization open challenging vistas to inquiry. Among the themes that have recurred regularly in the examination of colonialism are the relative values of direct and indirect rule, centralization and decentralization, varying types of economic policy, the acceptability and effects of white settlement, pressures of different kinds to aid in recruiting a labor force, and the scope and nature of the educational system.

In the interwar decades there appeared in the literature of colonialism the relatively new theme of international control over the colonial powers, but since 1945 this has been superseded by the processes and problems of decolonization and the means of securing economic and political development. The transition through the last stages of colonial rule to independence has been studied in a number of instances but still offers an unusually rich field of inquiry. Africa, achieving independence almost overnight, has come in for unprecedented attention. Now that colonialism is virtually at an end, it becomes possible to explore in depth and in detail what type of colonial system has produced the best results, but before this question can be meaningfully explored it is necessary to determine the scale of values by which colonialism in its various guises is to be measured.

The era of colonialism is far too close to us for any definitive and objective assessment of it to be possible. A few salient points may, however, be tentatively put forward.

(1) Colonialism imposed alien and authoritarian regimes on subordinate societies. These regimes tended to train a few of their subjects in bureaucratic management and required passive acquiescence from the remainder.

(2) Although for long periods passive acquiescence was indeed largely attained, as colonialism advanced it also stimulated nationalist agitation and organization and came to be more and more passionately detested, particularly by those among the colonial people who came into closest contact with the European superiors.

(3) The anticolonial forces have derived their inspiration and ideas primarily from the teachings of the colonial powers themselves, have for the most part adopted Western forms of organization and action, and have been led by men intimately acquainted with the West.

(4) For good or ill, colonialism has been the primary channel through which the ideas and techniques, the spiritual and material forces of the West, have impinged upon the rest of mankind.

Rupert Emerson

[See alsoImperialism; Modernization; Nation; Nationalism.]


Balandier, Georges 1951 La situation coloniale: Approche théorique. Cahiers internationaux de sociologie 11, no. 51:44–79.

Burns, Alan 1957 In Defence of Colonies: British Colonial Territories in International Affairs. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan.

Easton, Stewart C. 1964 The Rise and Fall of Western Colonialism: A Historical Survey From the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present. New York and London: Praeger.

Furnivall, John S. 1948 Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. Issued in cooperation with the International Secretariat, Institute of Pacific Relations. New York: Macmillan; Cambridge Univ. Press.

Girault, Arthur (1895) 1938 Principes de colonisation et de législation coloniale. 7th ed. Revised by Louis Milliot. Paris: Sirey.

Hailey, Malcolm (1938) 1957 An African Survey: A Study of Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara. Issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Rev. ed. New York and London: Oxford Univ. Press.

Kat Angelino, A. D. de (1929–1930) 1931 Colonial Policy. 2 vols. The Hague: Nijhoff; Univ. of Chicago Press. → Abbreviated translation from the Dutch. Volume 1: General Principles. Volume 2: The Dutch East Indies. First published as Staatkundig beleid en bestuurszorg in Nederlandsch-Indië.

Lugard, Frederick J. D. (1922) 1929 The Dual Man-date in British Tropical Africa. 4th ed. Edinburgh and London: Blackwood.

Mannoni, Dominique O. (1950) 1956 Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. New York: Praeger; London: Methuen. → First published in French as Psychologie de la colonisation.

Maunier, RenÉ (1932–1946) 1949 The Sociology of Colonies. 2 vols. Edited and translated by E. O. Lorimer. London: Routledge. → Volume 1: An Introduction to the Study of Race Contact: Psychology of Expansion. Volume 2: The Progress of Law. First published in French in three volumes.

Nkrumah, Kwame 1965 Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. London: Nelson.

Panikkar, Kavalam Madhava (1953) 1959 Asia and Western Dominance: A Survey of the Vasco da Gama Epoch of Asian History, 1498–1945. New ed. London: Allen & Unwin.

Perham, Margery F. 1962 The Colonial Reckoning: The End of Imperial Rule in Africa in the Light of British Experience. New York: Knopf.

Plamenatz, John P. 1960 On Alien Rule and Self-government. London: Longmans.

Royal Institute of International Affairs 1937 The Colonial Problem. Oxford Univ. Press.


This article will deal with the economic theories propounded and the practices adopted at different times during the four and a half centuries of European colonization and with the effects these had on the colonies. It will examine what difference the end of formal empires in the mid-twentieth century made to the economic relations between metropolitan powers and former colonies.

The primary fact about colonialism as a historical phenomenon is that precast theories seldom dictated or even strongly influenced practice. At every stage the economic relationships between colonies and metropolis were determined pragmatically, according to current European practices and needs and conditions in the colonies. Theories were secondary, designed to justify or attack existing practice. Even in the case of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), when a new approach seems to have had demonstrable effects, it is clear that changed colonial policies resulted more from altered circumstances than from an intellectual acceptance of his arguments.

Economic theories of colonialism

Theories of colonialism may be placed into four periods of time: prior to 1660; from 1660 to 1776; from 1776 to 1870; and from 1870 onward. Such divisions are arbitrary, but they provide a primitive frame-work for analysis.

Before 1660. During the two centuries before 1660 colonial economic theories were of minimal importance. The expansion of colonial territories proceeded experimentally, reflecting a wide diversity of aims: crusading zeal against Islam, the missionary impulse, geographical curiosity, the desire for bullion and for luxury trades in the East, and land hunger. None of these objectives required theoretical justification—though men like Bartolomé de Las Casas might denounce particular aspects of Spanish native policy in America—and the economic systems imposed on American settlements and Eastern trading bases were derived from the simple premise that each colonizing country was entitled to any advantages its new possessions offered. The northern European countries that came to colonization later—England, France, and Holland—had more time to theorize before acting; but no one produced a general theory of colonialism, and contemporary attitudes must be deduced from passing references. Most French and English commentators, such as Bodin, Antoine de Montchretien, Marc Lescarbot, Bacon, and Richard Hakluyt, mixed economic with other rewards of colonization indiscriminately: the need for a route to the East via a northwest passage, the utility of American bases in the war with Spain, the interests of transatlantic fishermen, the possibility of finding gold and silver, the support a maritime empire would give the navy, the value of outlets for unemployed people, the possibility of new markets and sources of raw materials, and the Christian mission to convert the heathen. Most of these were commonplaces of Iberian writers: there was no attempt to select or to provide a rationale of colonialism.

The mercantilist era. During the period after about 1660, however, colonial theories became more sophisticated. This was the classical age of mercantilist thought, though it must be remembered that the multiplicity of arguments and practices it embraced were first dubbed a “system” by Adam Smith in 1776 [seeEconomic thought]. The essence of mercantilism was that it projected current metropolitan preoccupations into the colonies and assumed that dependencies existed solely to serve these particular interests. There was still some diffusion of aims, but the primary considerations were now economic advantage and the value of colonial trade for supporting an artificially large merchant marine. The economic possibilities of colonies were categorized. As producers of raw materials they served their owners by freeing them from dependence on European supplies, which might be cut off during war and for which monopoly prices were often charged. Colonial products could, moreover, be paid for in exported manufactures, saving foreign exchange, and could be re-exported to Europe to help the balance of trade. Conversely, colonies provided uniquely favorable markets for European exports, since they were monopolies, and thus helped to maintain employment in metropolitan industries. Since they were subordinate, they could be prevented from building competing industries, and their economies could be made entirely complementary. These arguments, based on observation of established practices, were the staple of pamphleteers and statesmen from the second quarter of the seventeenth into the early nineteenth century: of Richelieu, Colbert, and Vauban in France; of Child, Petty, Davenant, Defoe, Arthur Young, and many others in Britain. Though never brought together into a coherent academic “system,” they formed a well understood and only occasionally criticized corpus of concepts, conveniently summarized as the pacte colonial.

Adam Smith: free trade. Attacks on these principles became significant only in the mid-eighteenth century, led by the French physiocrats and Encyclopedists; the first because they disapproved of overemphasis on industrial production for the colonies, the second because they disliked all monopoly [seeEconomic thought]. But it was Adam Smith (1776), normally taken to be the first academic economist, who first attacked mercantilism root and branch and provided an alternative theory of colonial economics. He did this by applying his theory of the division of labor to colonial production and trade. The value to Europe of colonies in America (he largely ignored possessions elsewhere) was merely that they provided new articles for international trade and extended the market for European manufactures. Such advantages were in-dependent of any colonial system and were diminished to the extent that any state tried to monopolize its colonial trade. Monopoly raised the cost to consumers both in America and Europe; discouraged foreign capital from colonial investment; raised the profits of metropolitan capital and so reduced each country’s competitiveness; and made the metropolis dangerously dependent on colonies of uncertain loyalty. In addition, the higher profits allegedly made by European merchants on the monopoly trade of the colonies had to be set against the costs of imperial government and defense, which were paid by the general taxpayer. Hence a better colonial system would be one in which there was no monopoly and in which common costs were shared between colonies and metropolis. Better still, all colonies should be liberated, for once their trade was open to the world, the principle of the division of labor could be fully applied, and Europe would no longer bear the unrewarding cost of imperial organization.

Smith was rightly pessimistic about Europe’s willingness to admit the truth of these facts. For half a century his arguments convinced only the minority, and no colony was liberated voluntarily, for there were always enough traditionalists to argue that the benefits of colonialism were real and to run against colonial monopoly and therefore purely economic rewards. But the trend of economic theory, as expounded in England by men like David Ricardo and the Benthamites, continued to run against colonial monopoly and therefore against colonies, for the two were still assumed to be inseparable. In any case the question had become almost academic by the 1830s, for once the United States, Spanish America, and Brazil were independent the British alone retained a substantial empire, compensating by gains in India for what they had lost in America. But in the 1820s, the British, as they moved toward international free trade, were also losing interest in their colonies, which were increasingly criticized as fields of government expenditure unrequited by economic advantages. India and trading bases in the East were generally accepted, because they were economically self-supporting and were an increasingly valuable market for British manufactures; but settlement colonies were falling into disrepute.

Modern period: capital outlet. In the century after 1830 two distinct theories were developed to justify or rationalize colonies as economic phenomena under the new conditions. The first theory applied only to colonies of white settlement in North America, South Africa, and Australasia and concerned only the British. Against those who denounced such possessions, E. G. Wakefield, in a series of publications starting with his Letter From Sydney in 1829 and culminating in his Art of Colonization in 1849 argued that suitable colonies were valuable to the parent state, even under free trade conditions, provided they were correctly organized. Denying the precepts of Ricardo, he argued that an industrialized state could generate surplus capital which it was unprofitable to invest at home either in agriculture (because of the declining profitability of marginal lands) or in industry (because foreign markets did not expand fast enough to absorb its products). Adopting Smith’s theory of “new equivalents,” he held that this capital would be more profitably employed if it were exported to places where fertile land was in good supply. Provided ample labor was made available by emigration, capital would be more productive in these new lands and at the same time would expand the market for British manufactures and increase the supply of cheap foodstuffs and industrial raw materials. Colonies would provide these advantages better than independent states because colonies could be forced to be free-trading, and the new settlements would remain primary producers for the indefinite future.

Wakefield’s theory and the detailed prescriptions he laid down for new settlements were never fully tested; but his basic argument carried conviction and constituted the main justification for settlement colonies under free trade conditions. But since only Great Britain possessed important settlement colonies in the nineteenth century, Wakefield’s theory had limited applicability. The vast majority of new European colonies in the period after 1830 were tropical territories in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific that did not fit his formula. By the last quarter of the century new theories were necessary to justify these acquisitions to the mass electorates of Europe.

Modern period: market outlet. Thus the second main theory of colonialism in the modern period was specially adapted to the facts of tropical dependencies. Significantly, no leading economist dared challenge Adam Smith by formulating a comprehensive doctrine; the new “neomercantilist” theories were evolved by politicians and businessmen rather than academic economists. Theory followed the fact of new colonies and had to justify them. As propounded and widely disseminated by such statesmen as Jules Ferry of France and Joseph Chamberlain of Britain, the new argument was that tropical colonies were essential as markets (débouchées) for the surplus products of European industry as it expanded under the influence of renewed domestic protectionism—necessary safety valves for industrial capitalism—without which Europe faced social chaos and perhaps revolution. As a secondary point it was held that industrial states needed guaranteed sources of cheap industrial raw materials and food and that colonies ensured that any one country could not be made to pay monopoly prices for them. In addition, some argued that Europe had surplus capital that was best invested in tropical plantations, mines, and communications. Thus, in general, such colonies provided the solution to most of the economic and social problems of industrial Europe under conditions of protectionism.

Twentieth-century criticism. By the early twentieth century these arguments were widely accepted, even to the extent that many believed tropical colonies actually did provide these projected advantages and that they had been deliberately acquired for these functions. Seldom were any of these assumptions true: the irony was that critics of the new colonization accepted them and founded their new anticolonialist arguments on these alleged facts. Critics had been vocal throughout the later nineteenth century, mostly on financial or humanitarian grounds. After about 1900 they divided into two groups: those who believed the profits of tropical empire to be real but deplored them; and those who believed the rewards to be illusory. The first school was led by European Marxists who regarded the export of capital to the tropics as evidence that Europe was entering a new phase of “monopoly capitalism” when it was no longer profitable to invest in protected domestic markets because they were dominated by a few great trusts. Europe had to export surplus capital or allow capitalism itself to stagnate. Ultimately the nations would compete for the limited supply of colonies, and the resulting wars for imperial redivision would inaugurate the socialist revolution and the end of capitalism. This was the basic argument propounded by V. I. Lenin in his influential pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). Others, like Rosa Luxemburg, produced variants on the same theme.

The rival school of critics was led by J. A. Hobson, whose Imperialism: A Study (1902) stated the case against the profitability of tropical colonization. Hobson accepted the propagandists’ argument that colonies were the product of surplus capital seeking fields for investment but held that this surplus existed only because the social and economic systems of Europe denied the masses sufficient consumer capacity to justify increased investment in home industry. Hobson was wrong in thinking that the bulk of the exported capital had gone to the new dependencies: in fact most was going to the old settlement colonies, India and the independent American countries. But he rightly pointed out that most of the new colonies were too poor to provide valuable markets for manufactured exports and held that the cost of defense and administration, coupled with the moral degradation resulting from most of Europe’s activities in Africa and Asia, outweighed any advantages such colonies might provide. His conclusion was that Europe’s best interest was to invest at home; to stick to free trade; and to place undeveloped tropical territories, whose raw materials were needed by the West, under international supervision. He thus brought the debate over colonization back to the position taken by Adam Smith. During the remaining half century of European colonialism no one satisfactorily demonstrated that tropical empire was either necessary or profitable to the Western powers.

The “practice” of colonialism

The practice of colonialism (taking this to mean the devices actually employed to provide economic advantages to the owners of colonial dependencies) can be described as having evolved through three stages of unequal length: from the foundation of the first colonies to the 1830s; from that time to near the end of the century; and from about 1890 to the period of decolonization after 1945. In each period imperial arrangements closely followed contemporary practices in the parent states and owed very little to theory.

Before 1830: the mercantilist period. During the first period—the era of mercantilism—the pattern was set by Spain and Portugal as the pioneers of overseas colonization. They in turn instinctively applied the protectionist and monopolistic practices current in sixteenth-century Europe to their new possessions. Later-starting imperial states adopted most, though not all, of these techniques, so that by the later seventeenth century there was a “system” largely common to all empires, varying mainly according to whether colonies were in America or the East. There were practices common to all: foreign ships were entirely excluded from colonial ports; virtually all colonial exports and imports were routed through the ports of the metropolis; and specified manufactures or processing of raw materials were banned in the dependencies. Spain and Portugal went further than others by insisting, until late in the eighteenth century, that American trade should be carried only in annual convoys and be restricted to a single metropolitan port. Spain also banned most intercolonial trade in America and restricted the Pacific trade from Mexico to the Philippines. By these means it was hoped that each metropolis would have a monopoly of colonial bullion and raw materials and a guaranteed colonial market for manufactures; that metropolitan merchants would be ensured a middleman profit on trade passing through the parent state; and that the colonies would be preserved as primary producers, ideal markets for industrial Europe. In addition, production of the most wanted colonial products was encouraged by complex systems of bounties and preferential tariffs in the home markets. Trade with Africa and the East was dealt with rather differently. Until after 1640 Portugal excluded even her own nationals from dealing in the more valuable Eastern commodities, leaving a monopoly to the crown. England, France, and Holland also imposed monopolies on their Eastern trade but granted them to privileged chartered companies with full administrative powers.

The main imperial “profit” from these mercantilist practices arose from commercial monopoly. This is practically impossible to estimate quantitatively but almost certainly existed, at least to the extent that colonists had to pay a higher price for their imports and received lower returns for their exports than under a free trading system. This metropolitan profit varied inversely with the economic capacity of the parent state, favoring economically uncompetitive countries like Spain, who would otherwise have had little share in the trade of their own colonies, more than a country like Britain, which, by the eighteenth century, possessed the greater economic potential. For Britain it has been estimated that in 1773 the gross “profit” of mercantile controls in North America lay between $2.5 and $7 million, ignoring the ancillary costs involved in empire. But in addition to such commercial profits, Spain and Portugal made substantial fiscal profits from their American colonies by transferring surplus revenue to the metropolitan exchequer. Portugal was receiving thereby some £900,000 annually in the mid-eighteenth century. No other colonial power used this device. The French subsidized their colonies. The British conceded the principle of fiscal autonomy until after 1763 and then attempted to impose taxes on the colonies, not to make a profit but to offset the cost of colonial defense and administration. This attempt failed, although it had considerable importance in the course of events leading to American independence.

Nineteenth-century trend to free trade. The first and longest era of colonialism ended effectively during the first half of the nineteenth century— more because the colonies that had made it meaningful were now independent than because colonial theory had changed. The British, who possessed the only large empire, gradually adopted free-trade practices at home and extended them to the colonies. British colonies were virtually open to the world by 1830 and by 1860 the last vestiges of shipping controls and preferences on colonial products had gone. Other colonial powers slowly followed suit. The Dutch threw open their colonial trade after 1815 but created a special monopoly of the carriage and sale of certain commodities that the Batavian government collected as part of the “culture system” from 1830 to the 1870s. France preserved the colonial shipping monopoly together with preferences and certain exclusive regulations until the 1860s but had abolished them by 1870. Spain and Portugal never completely removed mercantile controls but largely liberalized them for their few dependencies. By 1870 the era of mercantilism seemed over, in that no imperial power then obtained economic advantages from its dependencies that were not available to the world.

Resurgence of limited protectionism. The period of colonial free trade was very short-lived. The revival of protectionism in most parts of Europe in the last quarter of the century led naturally to its extension to the new tropical empires. France adopted a strongly protectionist domestic tariff in 1892 and extended it to all her colonies except West Africa, the Congo, and the Pacific, which had to have separate tariff systems because of international treaties or local economic conditions. Even so all colonies gave and received preferences. The Russians enclosed their new possessions in central Asia and the Far East within their metropolitan tariffs and gave bounties and preferences on selected colonial products. The United States incorporated most new dependencies in the Caribbean and Pacific within the metropolitan tariff, leaving only the Panama canal zone and Samoa open to international trade on the open-door principle. Portugal, Spain, and Italy either assimilated their colonies to the metropolis or imposed preferences. But not all states reverted to mercantile concepts. The Dutch abolished their semimonopoly of Indonesia in the 1870s and maintained an open door, although using quotas on imports in the 1930s. Germany before 1914 and Belgium also preserved the open door with moderate tariffs in their colonies. Britain resisted demands from pressure groups at home and from some settlement colonies and did not drop free trade until 1932, though the self-governing colonies indulged in protection and, after 1899, gave Britain limited preferences. Some preferences were given to colonial products in the British market during and after World War i. Britain reverted to protection in 1932, and the Ottawa agreements of that year led to a preferential system throughout the empire, coupled with quotas on some products and financial control by means of the sterling area.

During the last phase of European colonialism, therefore, most colonial powers adopted some form of preferential system: hence the term “neomercantilist” to describe the new pattern. Yet it never approximated in its severity the mercantilism of the first period. No power excluded foreign ships or goods from its colonies, forced colonial trade to pass through metropolitan ports, forbade colonial manufactures that might compete with its own or, with the sole exception of Holland between 1830 and 1877, transferred colonial revenues to the metropolitan treasury.

Significance of colonial trade. Moreover, few colonial powers obtained anything approaching a monopoly of the overseas trade of their dependencies or found their chief market or source of imports in their empires. Russia and the United States took most of the exports and supplied most of the imports of their possessions; but for both colonial trade was of marginal importance. Britain’s share in her empire’s overseas trade declined steadily from about 49 per cent in the decade after 1854 to 35 per cent in 1929–1933, rising only slightly thereafter as a result of imperial preferences. But the colonies’ share in British total overseas trade rose from about 28 per cent in the 1850s to 51 per cent between 1950 and 1954. France continued to furnish a high proportion of her colonies’ imports—always more than half (except during the world wars)—but the proportion of colonial exports to France declined fairly steadily. On the other hand the colonies’ share of France’s total overseas trade was always relatively small: about 10 per cent until 1914, then rising to 28 per cent in 1934. Belgian territories in central Africa took 51 per cent of their imports from Belgium in 1928 and 46 per cent in 1938. They sent 70.6 per cent of their exports in 1928 and 80.7 per cent in 1938 to Belgium. But the Congo played a very small part in Belgian overseas trade, supplying 2.4 per cent and 6.6 per cent of Belgian imports in 1928 and 1938 respectively and taking less than 2 per cent of Belgian exports in each year. The trade of the Netherlands Indies was not monopolized by Holland and played a minor part in Dutch overseas trade. In 1928 only 5.3 per cent of Dutch imports came from Indonesia, 7.2 per cent in 1938. In the former year 8.9 per cent of Dutch exports went to Indonesia and 9.5 per cent in 1938. Indonesian exports to Holland declined from 78.3 per cent in 1850 (during the period of the “culture system”) to 15.3 per cent in 1930; and Indonesian imports from Holland fell from 41.9 per cent to 16.8 per cent in the same period.

Although not comprehensive, these figures point to a firm conclusion about modern colonialism on its commercial side. Most colonial powers took a large proportion of the overseas trade of their colonies; but with the sole exception of Britain, whose empire was far larger and provided uniquely favorable markets and varied sources of raw materials, the colonies were of small importance to the world trade of their owners. Artificial factors, such as tariffs, preferences, and currency systems, probably affected the pattern of colonial trade to some extent, but never as much as mercantile controls had done before 1830. Since, moreover, there was never a total ban on foreign trade or shipping, and therefore no monopoly, it cannot be said that “neomercantilism” exploited dependencies; in fact, bounties, preferences, and quotas on colonial products probably favored the colonial producer more than colonial tariffs helped the metropolitan producer. The old pacte colonial was indeed revived, but it was no longer exclusive and was reasonably two-sided in its benefits.

Advantage of colonial investments. There remains the question of metropolitan advantage from capital investment in the colonies. Did political controls, especially of non-European labor, create especially favorable conditions for European capital in the dependencies, providing a “superprofit” for European “finance-capitalists”? The question is too complex to unravel briefly; but two points are reasonably certain. First, the great bulk of European investment in colonies was in government bonds or in fixed interest debentures in public utility companies. On both, the interest paid was only very slightly higher than that from comparable stocks in Europe or America, so that colonies were not forced to provide artificially high returns to metropolitan investors. Second, the return on some risk stocks—equities—was often high, and probably higher than could be obtained at most times on industrial equities in Europe or the United States. But this was due less to the fact of colonial subordination than to the intense world demand for certain products possessed by some tropical colonies, for example, metals and rubber; and the return on capital invested in such ventures was not evidently different from that invested in independent countries of similar economic type that lacked the capacity to develop their own natural endowments, notably those in the Middle East and Latin America. In short, the special profitability of capital investment attracted to the tropical colonies reflected the inherent advantages of the strong world demand at particular times for their particular types of product, the scarcity of capital there, and the strong bargaining position of Western countries when dealing with politically or economically weak societies. Colonial investments did not depend on formal imperial control to provide excess profits.

This fact is the key to understanding the economic relations between the industrialized Western powers and the new ex-colonial countries in the period after decolonization in the 1960s. The phenomenon denounced by Marxists and by nationalists in the new states as “neocolonialism” was the continued economic dependence of the ex-colonies on their previous masters or on other Western powers. This could take the form of special commercial relations, such as exist between France and several ex-dependencies in west Africa and elsewhere; between Britain and many members of the sterling area; and between the United States and the Philippines or Puerto Rico. Alternatively, “neocolonialism” might consist in the “exploitation” of these “developing” societies through their reliance on foreign capital, which tends to place segments of their economies under the control of foreign companies or governments. In either case “neocolonialism” implies that the advanced countries are continuing to interfere in the economic life of onetime colonies as if they had not been liberated.

It remains debatable how much truth there is in these allegations; but in fact “neocolonialism” is as imprecise a concept as colonialism. Facts are in any case more important than accusations. Most developing countries, like most earlier colonies, are primary economies, and depend heavily on more advanced states for markets, imported manufactures, capital, technical skills, and opportunities to train their own nationals. If they prefer to avoid contacts of these kinds in order to retain their entire freedom of action, the choice is now open to them, strengthened by the possibility of obtaining the same amenities from Russia or China as “nonimperialist” states. In practice, however, the balance of advantage almost certainly lies with the receiving countries. In the 1960s they have been given much capital in the form of “aid”—i.e., grants or capital on noncommercial terms—and many have benefited substantially from preferential markets for their products in France, the Common Market, Britain, or the United States. [SeeForeign aid, article onECONOMIC ASPECTS; International integration, article onECONOMIC UNIONS; International trade controls, article onTariffs and protectionism.] If “neocolonialism” exists, it is the inevitable product of an inherent imbalance between the advanced and the developing economies, irrespective of the political factors involved. This one-sided relationship will disappear only when the new states reach the position already achieved by Japan and become as powerful economically as the ex-colonial powers on whom they continue to depend. Evidence provided by eastern Europe after 1945 does not suggest that the economic status of nominally independent countries associated with socialist Russia differs substantially from that alleged to exist between the ex-colonial territories of Africa and the East with their onetime masters.

D. K. Fieldhouse


Bodelsen, Carl A. G. (1924) 1960 Studies in Mid-Victorian Imperialism. 2d ed. London: Heinemann.

Brown, Michael B. 1963 After Imperialism. London: Heinemann.

Cairncross, Alexander K. 1953 Home and Foreign Investment, 1870–1913: Studies in Capital Accumulation. Cambridge Univ. Press.

The Cambridge History of the British Empire. Edited by J. Holland Rose. 8 vols. (1929–1959) 1963 Cambridge Univ. Press.

Clark, Grover 1936 The Balance Sheets of Imperialism: Facts and Figures on Colonies. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Cole, Charles W. (1939) 1964 Colbert and a Century of French Mercantilism. Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press.

Deschamps, LÉon 1891 Histoire de la question coloniale en France. Paris: Plon.

Emerson, Rupert 1960 From Empire to Nation: The Rise to Self-assertion of Asian and African Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paper-back edition was published in 1962 by Beacon.

Furnivall, John S. (1939) 1944 Netherlands India: A Study of Plural Economy. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Hancock, William K. 1950 Wealth of Colonies. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Heckscher, Eli F. (1931) 1955 Mercantilism. 2 vols. Rev. ed. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan. → First published in Swedish.

Hobson, John A. (1902) 1948 Imperialism: A Study. 3d ed. London: Allen & Unwin.

Knorr, Klaus E. (1944) 1963 British Colonial Theories: 1570–1850. Toronto Univ. Press.

Koebner, Richard; and Schmidt, Helmut D. 1964 Imperialism: The Story and Significance of a Political World, 1840–1960. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Kolarz, Walter (1952) 1955 Russia and Her Colonies. New York: Praeger.

Lannoy, Charles de; and Linden, Herman V. 1907–1921 Histoire de I’expansion coloniale des peuples européens. 3 vols. Brussels: Lamertin. → Volume 1: Portugal et Espagne. Volume 2: Néerlande et Danemark. Volume 3: Suède.

Lenin, Vladimir I. (1916) 1964 Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline. Volume 22, pages 185–304 in Vladimir I. Lenin, Collected Works. 4th ed. Moscow: Progress.

Myint, Hla 1964 The Economies of the Developing Countries. London: Hutchinson.

Parry, John H. 1940 The Spanish Theory of Empire in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Parry, John H. 1963 The Age of Reconnaissance. Cleveland: World.

Roberts, Stephen H. (1929) 1963 History of French Colonial Policy: 1870–1925. Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press.

Schuyler, Robert L. 1945 The Fall of the Old Colonial System: A Study in British Free Trade, 1770–1870. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Semmel, Bernard 1960 Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social–Imperial Thought, 1895–1914. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Smith, Adam (1776) 1952 An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica. → A two-volume paperback edition was published in 1963 by Irwin.

Southworth, Constant 1931 The French Colonial Venture. London: King.

Thornton, Archibald P. 1959 The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies: A Study in British Power. New York: St. Martins.

Townsend, Mary E. 1930 The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Colonial Empire: 1884–1918. New York: Macmillan.

Viekke, Bernardus H. M. (1943) 1960 Nusantara: A History of Indonesia. Rev. ed. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Winch, Donald N. 1965 Classical Political Economy and Colonies. London: Bell; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Colonialism: Africa

views updated May 17 2018

Colonialism: Africa

Conceptions and characterizations of colonialism vary considerably among scholars of Africa. Differences and debates center on four sets of interrelated issues: first, the place and importance of the colonial period in African history; second, the nature of the colonial encounter and its driving force; third, the typologies of African colonialism; and fourth, the legacies of colonialism for postcolonial Africa. These questions have been addressed from a wide variety of disciplinary and analytical traditions. In general, the historiography of colonialism in Africa has been dominated at different moments by four paradigms: the imperialist, nationalist, radical, and postcolonial.

Imperialist approaches, which prevailed in the early twentieth century, emphasized the civilizing mission and impact of colonialism. Critiques against this tradition, combined with nationalist struggles that led to decolonization, culminated in the rise of nationalist historiography, which emphasized African activities and agency. From the 1970s, influenced by a growing sense of pessimism about the developmental and democratic capacities of the postcolonial state and the rise of militant ideologies and social movements, "radical" approaches emerged, centered on dependency and Marxist ideas that highlighted the economic depredations and effects of colonialism. In the 1990s, following the demise of socialist regimes and ideologies and the spread of poststructuralism and postmodernism, postcolonial perspectives were increasingly used to reinterpret the cultural and discursive dynamics and complexities of colonialism. Additional paradigms on colonialism arose, most critically those informed by feminist and environmental studies, which stress the role of gender and ecology in the construction of colonial identities, societies, and political economies.

Colonialism in African History

Imperialist and nationalist historiographies represent almost diametrically opposed views of the place and impact of colonialism in African history, with one regarding it as a decisive moment, the other, as a parenthesis. To the imperialists, colonialism in fact brought Africa into history, for in their view, Africa "proper," to use Hegel's monikerfrom which North Africa was excisedwas the land of the "Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit," exhibiting "the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state" (pp. 91, 93). European colonialism, therefore, was depicted as a civilizing mission undertaken to historicize and humanize Africans.

Consequently, imperialist historians mostly discussed in positive light the policies of colonial governments and the activities of colonial auxiliaries, from European merchants to missionaries. When their narratives mentioned Africans, it was to condemn their societies and cultures or to chronicle their Westernization or modernization. Those who resisted colonial conquest or colonial rule were depicted as atavistic, while those who collaborated or accepted the colonial regime were praised for their foresight and wisdom. In fact, in-depth study of African societies was largely left to anthropology, which, with its functionalist-positivist paradigms and ethnographic present, exonerated, if not extolled, colonialism.

Nationalist historians offered an ideological and methodological revolt against imperialist historiography. Using new sources, including oral tradition, historical linguistics, and historical anthropology, together with written and archaeological sources, they chronicled the histories of African states and societies before the European colonial conquest and celebrated the growth and eventual triumph of nationalism during the colonial era. They sought to unravel painstakingly African activity, adaptations, choice, and initiative. Led by J. F. Ade Ajayi (1968) in Anglophone Africa and Cheikh Anta Diop (1974) in Francophone Africa, they emphasized continuity in Africa's long history and reduced colonialism to a parenthesis, an episode, a digression, a footnote that had altered African cultures and societies only slightly. In this narrative, independence marked a moment of historical recovery in which the agency of the precolonial past was restored and reconnected to the postcolonial future. The linear and celebratory tales of nationalist historiography were later found wanting by numerous critics.

While both the dependency and the Marxist scholars focused on the exploitative economic structures and processes of colonialism, the former were more interested in explaining the external forces that produced and reproduced Africa's underdevelopment; the latter preferred to concentrate on the internal dynamics. To the dependentistas, colonialism marked a second stage in Africa's incorporation into an unequal world capitalist system that was ushered in during the fifteenth century with the onset of the Atlantic slave trade. Marxist scholars sought to transcend the ubiquitous and homogeneous capitalism of dependency theory. Colonialism, they argued, entails the articulation of modes of production whereby pre-capitalist modes are articulated in their diverse relations with the capitalist mode. Hence the introduction of capitalism by colonialism does not eliminate the precapitalist modes but re-shapes them; the latter are progressively subordinated to capital through a contradictory process of destruction, preservation, and transformation.

Unlike the nationalists, the imperialist, dependency, and Marxist historians share the view that the colonial period was decisive in African history. But they differ in their characterization and conceptualization of the place and impact of colonialism. Like the nationalists and unlike the imperialists, the dependentistas and Marxists see colonialism as an intrusive moment in the longue durée of African history. Insofar as dependency analyses concentrate on the external determinations of underdevelopment, they diminish African agency and echo imperialist accounts of African history, whereas the Marxist focus on internal production processes and social relations resonates with nationalist historiography.

The nationalist periodization of African history, in which the colonial moment occupies limited space, was sanctified in the Cambridge (History of Africa, 19771985) and UNESCO (General History of Africa, 19811993) histories, each in eight thick volumes, only two of which were on the colonial and postcolonial periods. Yet far more African historians currently work on the colonial period than on the precolonial period.

The Nature of the Colonial Encounter

Colonialism in Africa entailed an encounter between the continent and Europe. This encounter encompassed multiple spheres (from politics, economy, and culture to sexuality, psychology, and representations), spatial scales (from local and individual colonial territories to subregions and the continent as a whole), and social groups and inscriptions (from the colonizers and colonized to class, gender, and generation). Analyzing the nature of the colonial encounter, therefore, has proved exceedingly complex and contentious, given the range of possible analytical categories and conceptions of what indeed "Europe" and "Africa" mean. Different readings informed by disparate disciplinary or theoretical orientations emphasize the political, economic, cultural, or representational import of the colonial encounter.

Overall, some regard this encounter as essentially antagonistic while others depict it as ambivalent or even accommodative. Until recently, especially before the rise of postcolonial theory, colonialism was largely conceived in antagonistic terms as a series of encounters between the seemingly enduring and impermeable binaries of colonizer and colonized, Western and non-Western, domination and resistance, modernity and tradition, destruction and preservation, and universal and local. Postcolonialists insist on the ambivalent nature of colonialism, its contingency and decenteredness, and the hybridities and pluralities of the identities it produced. If colonialism is primarily viewed as a political encounter among imperialist and nationalist scholars and as an economic one among the radicals, the postcolonialists emphasize its cultural and discursive dimensions.

The Bifurcated Colonial State

Studies on colonialism as politics and the politics of colonialism have tended to focus on two main issues: the nature of the colonial state and African resistance. Discussion and debate on the colonial state have centered on its specificities and construction, how to classify African colonial states and administrations, the dynamics of colonial power and civil society, and the demise or reconstitution of the colonial state into the postcolonial state. Crawford Young has argued quite forcefully that the African colonial state derives its peculiarity from the fact that it enjoyed only some of the crucial attributes of the modern state (territory, population, sovereignty, power, law, and the state as nation, an international actor, and an idea) and could not exercise some of its imperatives (hegemony, autonomy, security, legitimacy, revenue, and accumulation).

This is because the colonial state in Africa was created in the late nineteenth century, long after both the modern metropolitan state and the generic colonial state had been formed, which allowed for no experimentation. Also, as a conquest state imposed by force, its hegemony was excessively coercive, so that it enjoyed little legitimacy. Moreover, its territoriality was ambiguous, its sovereignty and institutions of rule were extraverted and resided in the imperial metropole, and its revenue base was weak. Charged with the onerous tasks of consolidating colonial rule, linking the colony to the metropole, and establishing or promoting colonial capitalism, the result was that the colonial state was both interventionist and fragile, authoritarian and weak, and exercised domination without hegemony, all of which ensured its eventual downfall.

All colonial states, irrespective of their ideologies and administrative systems, justified themselves in the names of civilization and pacification. Economic motivations of colonialism were assiduously downplayed. Moreover, all colonial powers used African intermediaries in their administrative systems because they lacked personnel and local knowledge and in order to minimize African resistance and administrative costs. They also used chartered companies in some of their colonies in the early years.

In imperialist historiography, colonial power was portrayed as unassailable because it was for Africa's good. For the opposite reason it was decried in nationalist historiography, which stressed its oppressiveness and incapacity to withstand the full might of nationalist struggle. Dependency writers tended to disregard the importance of politics because they believed that neither the colonial state nor African resistance could stop the ineluctable juggernaut of the world capitalist system, while Marxists subsumed colonial politics to either local class struggles (waged by the numerically small working classes, and only reluctantly and later were struggles by the much larger peasantries considered) or anti-imperialist struggles mediated by communist parties in the imperial metropoles themselves or the Soviet Union. Many of the early studies failed to examine the ways that colonial power was specifically deployed, engaged, contested, deflected, or appropriated.

It was not until Peter Ekeh published his influential essay "Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa" that colonial civil society began to receive serious scholarly attention. He argued that colonialism created two publics that he called the primordial and civic publics, whose dialectical relationships accounted for the political problems of postcolonial Africa. The first public is associated with primordial groupings, sentiments, and activities; the second is associated with the colonial administration and is amoral, lacking the generalized moral imperatives operative in the private realm and in the primordial public. The two publics emerged because colonial ideologies of legitimation denigrated African societies and cultures and glorified European colonial rule, while African bourgeois ideologies of legitimation accepted colonial ideas and principles to justify the leadership of the elites in the fight against colonialism and the inheritance of the postcolonial state. Both ideologies envisaged and sought to separate the indigenous and colonial publics, in which different conceptions of citizenship, morality, and material expectations prevailed. Thus colonial civil society was characterized by the bifurcation of the public realm, which accounts for the centrality of ethnicity in African politics and the disjunction between the state and society that has bedeviled postcolonial Africa.

Others saw the bifurcation and ethnicization of colonial civil society differently. In his award-winning book Citizen and Subject, Mahmood Mamdani argued that the bifurcation of power in Africa results from the continent's distinctive colonial experience. The configuration of colonial rule in Africa led first to the institutionalization of two systems of power under a single authority: one urban, based on civil power and rights, excluding the colonized on the basis of race, the other rural, where tradition and culture incorporated the colonized into the rule of custom. Second, colonial rule in Africa led to the privileging of state-ordained and state-enforced traditions that had least historical depth and were monarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal, so that customary power and law became an integral part of a decentralized despotism. Finally, with custom becoming the language of force, colonial rule led to rationalizing the appropriation and management of land and the mobilization of labor under the colonial rubric.

This bifurcated state power, civil and customary, first crystallized in equatorial Africaas "indirect rule" in British colonies and "association" in French coloniesand later spread to older colonies to the north and south, including South Africa, where apartheid represented the last attempt at reorganizing the state structure to incorporate the "native" population in a world of enforced tradition. The challenges confronting African countries in the struggles for independence and after were to democratize the state and particularly customary power, deracialize civil society, and restructure unequal external relations of dependency.

Dependent Colonial Capitalism

To many scholars, economics, not politics, is central to the colonial project. In the 1970s systematic studies began to appear on African colonial economies. Three dominant approaches emerged. The first was rooted in neoclassical economic theory and focused largely on market processes and the problems of resource allocation. Anthony Hopkins has provided the most famous neoclassical treatment of African economic history. Using vent-for-plus theory (that colonialism provided a "vent," or an "opening"), he argues that colonialism inaugurated an "open economy" of increased market opportunities, which West Africans seized with alacrity by mobilizing previously underutilized resources. Hopkins's economic history walked a fine line between the imperialist approaches that stressed the modernizing impact of colonialism and the nationalist emphasis on African initiatives.

The second approach was dependency, which was born out of dissatisfaction with prevailing neoclassical descriptions, analyses, and prescriptions for Third World development. Using the concepts of "incorporation," "unequal exchange," "development of underdevelopment," and "center-periphery," dependency writers emphasized external economic linkages and exchange relations, often at the expense of internal and production processes. Walter Rodney's influential text How Europe Underdeveloped Africa portrayed colonialism simply as a new stage in Africa's unrelenting slide into structural internal underdevelopment and external dependency.

Marxist scholars attacked both neoclassical and dependency writers for alleged theoretical inadequacies, empirical shortcomings, and ideological biases. They sought to employ concepts of dialectical and historical materialismwhich seek to examine how specific systems originate, develop, function, and change in given historical epochsto unravel Africa's historical realities. For the precolonial era, it proved difficult to fit Africa into the traditional Marxian modes or to construct specific African ones. As far as the colonial economy was concerned, many Marxists found the concept of the articulation of modes of production useful and produced interesting studies on labor and workers, agriculture and peasants, and the changing structures of Africa's incorporation into the world economy.

Despite the different emphases of the three approaches, it is possible to outline the common features shared by African colonial economies: they were all expected to provide raw materials and markets for the imperial economies and to be financially self-supporting. The colonial economy was characteristically export-oriented and monocultural and suffered from uneven productivity between sectors and outside domination in terms of markets, technology, and capital. It developed in three phases: first, the period up to World War I, when coercionforced labor, cultivation, and taxationpredominated; second, the interwar years, characterized by regulation of the colonial economy and the disruptions of the Great Depression, which exposed its vulnerabilities and fostered new economic policies of development planning; and third, the postWorld War II period, when "colonial development and welfare" policies took hold, characterized by increased state intervention and investment in "economic development."

Typologies of Colonialism

A key challenge in analyzing African colonial economies, as with other spheres of colonialism, is their sheer diversity. The temporal division between precolonial and colonial economies and polities and their spatial development during the colonial period were manifested quite unevenly. The growth and structure of colonial economies, for example, were determined by the level of development of the precolonial economies themselves, the nature of precolonial relations with Europe, the modes of conquest and resistance, the level of development of the colonizing powers, the resource endowment of each territory, and the presence or absence of European settlers.

Several attempts have been made to construct typologies of African economies and colonialism more broadly. Three can be identified. First is the renowned tripartite division of Africa developed by Samir Amin (1972): the Africa of the labor reserves (Algeria, Kenya, and much of southern Africa), where Africans were primarily expected to provide labor for European colonial enterprises; the Africa of trade (West Africa, Uganda, Morocco, and Tunisia), where Africa produced the bulk of commodities traded by colonial companies; and the Africa of concession companies (central and equatorial Africa and the Portuguese colonies), where chartered companies enjoyed economic and administrative control over African labor and produce. Second is Thandika Mkandawire's typology distinguishing between rentier and merchant economies, in which surpluses are extracted from rents from mining and trade and taxes from agriculture, respectively. Third is the distinction often drawn between settler and peasant economies or modes of production.

The concept of peasants has a rich and controversial literature in African studies. Debate has focused on the historical origins of African peasantries, their relations with capital and the state, internal differentiations, the changing organization of peasant workespecially its complex articulations with gender and generational relations and divisionsthe impact of environmental conditions and changes, the complex patterns of rural cultural construction, peasant knowledge systems, and the intricacies of peasant politics and struggles at various levels, from the household and the local community to the national and global system. In this context, not only did colonialism alter the lives of African peasantries, but the latter also profoundly shaped the terrain of colonialism in Africa.

The concept of the settler mode of production sought to capture the specificities of settler colonies. Settler colonialism was characterized by several features: the exclusion of competition (settler control of key economic resources, including land, allocation of infrastructure, banking, and marketing, at the expense of the indigenous people); the predominance of the migrant labor system (which allowed the costs of reproducing labor power to be borne in the rural reserves); generalized repression whereby direct and brutal force was used regularly; and the close intersection of race and class.

Linked to the concept of settler colonialism is the concept of internal colonialism, in which the colonizing "nation" or "race" occupies the same territory as the colonized people. This concept found favor among some academics and liberation movements in South Africa who saw the hierarchical, exploitative, and separatist structures of segregation and apartheid as analogous to the relationship of domination and subjection between an imperialist state and its racialized colonies. Harold Wolpe attacked the concept for positing an unexplained autonomy of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups and obscuring the relationships between them, akin to the theory of plural society widely used by liberal scholars to describe South African society.

The Ambivalences of Colonial Society

The pluralist approach was widely applied by social anthropologies to explain many other African colonial societies, which were depicted as "plural societies" in which different ethnic groups and races lived in close proximity; colonial social change was attributed to "culture contact" and "acculturation." To the pluralists, colonialism provided an arena for the acculturation of African ethnic groups to European culture and values, and so they were preoccupied with recording the patterns of what they called "detribalization" as indicated by changes in clothes, occupations, education, family forms, and leisure activities.

Marxist critics such as Bernard Magubane attacked the indices used by the pluralists and the fact that the specifics of European life and culture in Africa and their own "acculturation" or "Africanization" were ignored. Above all, in their view, the pluralists mystified the real social relations for they failed to place colonial social change in the context of colonialism as a global system of economic relations. The Marxists demonstrated that behind the processes of "acculturation" lay widespread practices of resistance. For example, the leisure activities of workers, as exhibited in work songs, often articulated African popular resistance against colonial rule. Similarly, it was demonstrated that transformations of cultural practices in the rural areas reflected peasant attempts to resist and remake the colonial situation. The Marxists maintained that religious conversions, whether to Christianity or Islam, represented not simply "acculturation" and the renunciation of the old religions but also translations of the old religions into new terms as filtered through the complex mediations of class and social consciousness.

Preoccupied as they were to show African agency, nationalist scholars were perhaps the loudest in refusing to see the processes of colonial social and cultural change simply as a product of "Westernization." In a famous essay on the invention of tradition in colonial Africa, Terence Ranger insisted that social and cultural traditions were invented and manipulated by both Europeans and Africans to serve their own interests. Specifically, elders, men, ruling aristocracies, and indigenous people appealed to "tradition." The elders did so in order to defend their dominance over the rural means of production against challenges from the youth; men wanted to retain control against women, who were playing an increasingly important role in the rural areas, especially in regions dominated by male migrant labor; ruling aristocracies sought to maintain or extend their control over their subjects; and indigenous people were anxious to ensure that migrants who settled among them did not achieve political or economic rights. This model became popular for analyzing the contexts in which various cultural and social practices in colonial Africa developedfrom music and dance to law and marriage.

This constructivist approach was to be fully developed by postcolonial scholars, for whom colonialism was a regime of material and cultural relations as well as discursive and symbolic representations that affected both Africans and Europeans profoundly, although in different ways. The postcolonialists sought to dismantle the image of colonialism as a coherent and monolithic process, to transcend the dichotomy of colonizer and colonized by problematizing, differentiating, and pluralizing each group and mapping out their complex and shifting relations, and to specify the cultural configurations and discourses fashioned out of their changing identities, consciousness, interactions, and negotiations.

Postcolonialists brought into sharper focus issues previously ignored or misconstrued in structuralist and social scientific analyses of colonialism, especially those concerning sexuality, subjectivity, psychology, and language. Besides the textual notions and readings of colonial culture, analyses have increasingly come to stress the nonverbal, tactile dimensions of social practice and the corporeal regimes of bodies, clothing, and performances. Particularly influential have been Frantz Fanon's acclaimed work on the psychology of colonialism and his crucial insights that "blackness" and "whiteness" were mutually constitutive ideological constructions. Building on Fanon's insights, scholars of Africa have highlighted the construction of colonial mentalities, madness, and medicine as mechanisms for inscribing and policing racial and sexual boundaries. Kwame Appiah has shown how the ideas of race in Africa were socially constructed and how colonial and anticolonial discourses reinforced each other to fix racial essences on bodies.

The Feminist Intervention

Many of the approaches used to analyze African colonial politics, economies, societies, and cultures were often gender-blind and tended to ignore women's lives, experiences, contributions, voices, perceptions, representations, and struggles. This began to change following the rise of the feminist movement, which emerged out of both localized and transnational trajectories and intellectual and political struggles within and outside the academy. While the struggles to mainstream women and gender are far from over, African women have become increasingly more visible in histories of colonialism, which has disrupted the binaries and chronologies that tend to frame colonialism in Africa.

As the field of women's studies has expanded, African women have become more differentiated in terms of class, culture, and status, and their complex engagements, encounters, and negotiations with and contestations against the wide range of forces described as colonial are now clearer. From the large and diverse body of theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical literature that has been generated in the last three decades, vigorous debates are evident. One of the most intriguing is on the validity of the term gender itself, with writers such as Ifi Amadiume stressing the relative flexibility of sex/gender relations in precolonial Africa, and Oyèrónké Oyewùmí denying the existence of gender categories altogether.

In the early twenty-first century it has become well established that colonialism had a contradictory impact on different groups of women, although the dominant tendency was to undermine the position of women as a whole. Colonialism combined European and African patriarchal ideologies to create new practices, relations, and ideologies. Earlier work on colonial gender regimes focused on women in productive and commercial activities in the rural and urban areas and the acute tensions in gender relations that were created, to which the colonial state responded by tightening already restrictive customary law, leading to important changes in family structure and new forms of patriarchal power. The topic that attracted by far the most attention was that of women's resistance to colonial rule. Studies ranged from those that examined specific activists and events to general analyses of women's involvement in nationalist struggles in various countries that demonstrated conclusively women's political engagements and contributions.

More recent work has focused on issues of sexuality, constructions of gender identities, and colonial representations. According to Zine Magubane, African sexuality and its control and representations were central to ideologies of colonial domination. In colonial discourse, female bodies symbolized Africa as the conquered land, and the alleged hyperfecundity and sexual profligacy of African men and women made Africa an object of colonial desire and derision, a wild space of pornographic pleasures in need of sexual policing. Sexuality was implicated in all forms of colonial rule as an intimate encounter that could be used simultaneously to maintain and to erode racial difference and as a process essential for the reproduction of human labor power for the colonial economy, both of which demanded close surveillance and control, especially of African female sexuality.

Feminist studies on the construction of gender identities and relations have helped spawn a growing literature on the creation and transformation of colonial masculinities. Writing on Southern Africa, Robert Morrell argues that the colonial divisions of class and race produced different masculinities, some of which were dominant and hegemonic, and others, subordinate and subversive, although the latter received a patriarchal dividend over women of their class and race. These masculinities were produced and performed in different institutional contexts, each with its own gender regime and power relations, from the state, church, and school to the workplace and the home. Needless to say, masculinities changed over time and manifested themselves differently in rural and urban areas, where different gender and associational systems existed and patterns of political, social, and political change took place.

The Demise of Colonialism

Conceptions and analyses of colonialism in Africa have been affected quite considerably by how the demise of colonialism is understood. This in turn has centered on how two processes are examinednamely, decolonization, and African nationalism or resistanceand the connections between the two. Nationalist historians contend that nationalism was primarily responsible for the dismantling of the colonial empires, while to imperialist historians decolonization was largely a product of metropolitan policy and planning. Others seek to place decolonization in the context of changes in the international relations system. Clearly, a process as complex as decolonization was a product of many factors. It involved a complex interplay of the prevailing international situation, the policies of the colonial powers, and the nature and strength of the nationalist movements, which in turn reflected internal conditions both in the metropoles and the colonies and the ideologies and visions of the postcolonial world. There were also variations in the patterns of decolonization among regions and colonies, conditioned by the way in which these factors coalesced and manifested themselves. Furthermore, decolonization was affected by the relative presence and power of European settlers and the perceived geopolitical strategic importance of each colony.

Similarly, the nature and dynamics of African nationalism were exceedingly complex. Not only were the spatial locus and social referent of the "nation" imagined by the nationalists fluid (they could be ethnic, national, regional, and continental), but multiple secular and religious visions of the postcolonial state vied for supremacy. Moreover, nationalism was articulated and fought on many fronts (political, economic, social, cultural, religious, and artistic) through different organizational forms (from political and civic organizations to cultural and religious movements) and in different terrains (rural and urban). The development and impact of nationalism also varied between different colonies even among those under the same imperial power, depending on such factors as the way the colony had been acquired and was administered, the presence or absence of settlers, the traditions of resistance, and the social composition of the nationalist movement and its type of leadership.

Two key questions dominate African scholarship on de-colonization and nationalism. The first is the social content and composition of anticolonial resistance. By the 1980s the old accounts of elite politics and heroic resistance had been abandoned in favor of analyses of resistance by peasants, workers, and women, and from the early 1990s more attention was paid to everyday forms of resistance by various subaltern groups, including youth. In short, the challenge was to write resistance with a small "r" rather than a capital "R" without losing, as Frederick Cooper (1994) insisted, the connections between the subaltern resistances and the larger and fluid constructs of colonialism. The second question centers on the continuities and discontinuities marked by decolonization. In the 1960s, nationalist scholars were inclined to see decolonization as ushering a radical break with colonialism. From the 1970s, the revolutionary pessimism of Fanon, who had pronounced decolonization false in his searing treatise of 1963, The Wretched of the Earth, gained adherents among radical scholars who stressed the structural continuities of colonialism. For their part, the postcolonialists, with their fixation on colonialism, recentered colonialism in African history.

See also Africa, Idea of ; Anticolonialism: Africa ; Empire and Imperialism ; Internal Colonialism ; Nationalism .


Ajayi, J. F. Ade. "The Continuity of African Institutions under Colonialism." In Emerging Themes of African History: Proceedings, edited by T. O. Ranger, 189200.

Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1968. Allman, Jean, Susan Geiger, and Nakanyike Musisi, eds. Women in African Colonial Histories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands. London and Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Zed Books, 1987.

Amin, Samir. "Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa: Historical Origins." Journal of Modern African Studies 10, no. 4 (1972): 503524.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Cooper, Frederick. "Conflict and Colonialism: Rethinking Colonial African History." American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994): 15161545.

Cooper, Frederick, and Ann Laura Stoler. Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Translated by Mercer Cook. New York: L. Hill, 1974.

Diouf, Mamadou. Historians and Histories: What For? African Historiography between State and the Communities. Amsterdam and Calcutta: Sephis and CSSSC, 2003.

Ekeh, Peter P. "Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A Theoretical Statement." Comparative Studies in Society and History 17, no. 1 (1975): 91112.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove, 1963.

Hegel, G. W. F. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree with a new introduction by C. J. Friedrich. New York: Dover Publications, 1956.

Hopkins, Anthony G. An Economic History of West Africa. London: Longman, 1973.

Jewsiewicki, Bogumil. "African Historical Studies: Academic Knowledge as 'Usable Past' and Radical Scholarship." African Studies Review 32, no. 3 (1989): 176.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Magubane, Bernard. "A Critical Look at Indices in the Study of Social Change in Colonial Africa." Current Anthropology 12, nos. 4/5 (1971): 419445.

Magubane, Zine. Bringing the Empire Home: Race, Class, and Gender in Britain and Colonial South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Mazrui, A. A., ed., and C. Wondji, assistant. ed. Africa Since 1935. Vol. 8 of General History of Africa, UNESCO International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Mkandawire, Thandika. "The State and Agriculture in Africa: Introductory Remarks." In The State and Agriculture in Africa, edited by Naceur Bourenane and Thandika Mkandawire. Dakar, Senegal: Codesria, 1987.

Morrell, Robert. "Of Boys and Men: Masculinity and Gender in Southern African Studies." Journal of Southern African Studies 24, no. 4 (1998): 605630.

Oyewùmí, Oyèrónké. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Ranger, Terence O. "The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa." In The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Rev. ed. Postscript by A. M. Babu. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1981.

Wolpe, Harold. "The Theory of Internal Colonialism: The South African Case." In Beyond the Sociology of Development: Economy and Society in Latin America and Africa, edited by Ivar Oxaal, Tony Barnett, and David Booth, 229252. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

Young, Crawford. The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.

Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe. Manufacturing African Studies and Crises. Dakar, Senegal: Codesria, 1997.

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza


views updated May 11 2018



The term colonialism encompasses all of the diverse efforts by which colonizers seek to maintain their rule over colonized territory and to benefit from this exercise of power. Colonialism entails the reduction or elimination of autonomy for colonized people and the concomitant extension of control by the colonizers. These developments, almost by definition, take place in terms of political independence. In the narrowest possible sense, this means that one state (called the metropole) legally defines a territory it has taken over as a colony, claims sovereignty over it, and administers it. However, events since 1914—the beginning of World War I—demand that the term include diverse policies and practices by which the government of one state exercises its sovereignty to impose limitations on the actions of the elites and inhabitants of another territory. Alongside explicitly political questions of self-rule, the ways in which modern Europeans, in particular, pursued colonialism require that the concept include not just political domination but also the domination of economics, education, culture, and language. What distinguished modern colonialism from the empires or forms of domination exercised in other times and by other cultures, to quote the historian David Abernethy, was "the persistent effort of Europeans to undermine and reshape the modes of production, social institutions, cultural patterns, and value systems of indigenous peoples" (p. 10). Closely related to that was the role that sharp and institutionalized distinctions between colonized and colonizers played in European overseas colonialism.


Whether it is judged by the narrowest or the broadest definition, twentieth-century colonialism was inextricably linked to the existence, expansion, and then almost total disappearance of the overseas empires that a number of European states acquired as part of the "new imperialism." The late nineteenth century saw the reinvigoration of assertions by political leaders and pundits throughout Europe that their state should seek to control and govern other areas of the globe. This process of building or expanding an empire is called imperialism. By 1914 the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal—along with the non-European latecomers the United States of America and Japan—together had divided up and were ruling almost all of Africa and South, Southeast, and East Asia, along with most of Oceania. In addition to territories that they had conquered under the ideological promptings of the new imperialism, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal also continued to control and govern previously conquered overseas territories. The most notable were areas where large-scale European settlement had taken place, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, andSouth Africa (the so-called white dominions of the British Empire), French Algeria, the Dutch East Indies (in present-day Indonesia), and Portuguese holdings on the African coast.

The growth, maintenance, and eventual decline of these modern empires not only shaped the world outside of Europe, the practices and certainties of colonial rule also helped form the institutions that connected modern European states to their own people, including nationality, citizenship, parliamentary rule, and popular sovereignty. As the twentieth century opened, all Europeans struggled to navigate the conflicts that the institutionalization of liberal ideas such as individual rights, rational debate, the will of the people, representative government, and universalism provoked. In the overseas colonies, governments that at home embraced liberal principles (to varying degrees) ruled over people who had little access to citizenship or its attendant rights. The existence of large empires offered various ways to defuse such tensions (above all through nationalist mobilization at home), terrains from which resources to support metropolitan ambitions could be drawn (whether Indochinese rubber, Congolese precious metals, or colonial conscripts and recruits), and laboratories where solutions to metropolitan problems could be tried out (in areas ranging from urban design in French-ruled Morocco to legal reform and crowd control in British India).

Beginning at the end of World War I and accelerating after World War II, the resistance of colonized peoples to their limited options and lack of autonomy received international attention. Their struggles both suggested that Europeans had betrayed their ideals in the pursuit of empire and, more radically, that the practice of empire revealed many of the contradictions inherent in European modernity.


As the twentieth century opened, colonialism continued to enjoy a largely positive reputation among European statesmen and among most of the writers who paid attention to it. Discussions centered less on exploiting the economic and military potential that empire offered than they had in previous decades. The concept of careful and respectful colonialism now overshadowed that of openly ambitious and rapacious imperialism. Most arguments for maintaining European control in overseas territories asserted that it was good for all involved and that it both offered proof of and contributed to the dynamism, vision, and strength of the colonizing society. They pointed to economic and strategic concerns and claimed that colonialism increased patriotic unity and moral regeneration at home.

For the British, whose control of some one-fourth of the world's habitable territory dwarfed that of its competitors, the empire often appeared as a structure that, if the right men ran it according to proper rules, could reinforce traditional hierarchies at home. Most of the men whom the Colonial and India Offices recruited to run imperial affairs were members of the aristocratic and Oxford- and Cambridge-trained elites; their practice of colonial governance helped ensconce powers and privileges that the extension of capitalism, popular democracy, and mass culture were undermining within the British Isles. Despite the intense struggles within Britain for female suffrage, for example, women were barred from virtually all posts in the India Office.

The colonizers' "civilizing mission" provided the most popular moral explanation for colonial rule. Some advocates couched their arguments in terms of obligations—what the British writer Rudyard Kipling identified as the "white man's burden" to assist the darker, and supposedly lesser, peoples of the world. Others, such as French defenders of the mission civilisatrice, insisted that their nation, thanks to its universalist values, was willing and able to reshape and improve other peoples and societies by making the colonized more like their colonizers. Colonialists were certain that Europeans alone could bring the building blocks of progress to the backward people whom they, through conquest, had made their wards. At the most basic level, colonialists pointed to the benefits of modern technology and European-imposed order—what a British medical official in Kenya called "the railroad and the hall of justice."

The pursuit of truth, and particularly of scientific knowledge, offered another justification of colonial rule. Its proponents spoke in terms of the interest of all humanity. European governments and businesses, eager to exploit the economic potential and consolidate political control of their overseas possessions, supported scholars and scientists whose work facilitated these endeavors. In this way, colonialism directly shaped the questions that ground modern Western universities, while, fortuitously, the universities in return lent it scientific authority. Studying the colonized world catalyzed the formation of new disciplines such as anthropology and revitalized others, including orientalism and geography. The flourishing field of imperial history, as the British historian Dane Kennedy notes, although often rigorous in its research methods, had as its main purpose "to contribute historical insights into past exercises in overseas power that could be used to inform and inspire contemporaries to shoulder their obligations as rulers of a world-imperial system" (p. 345).

Through analogies drawn from the natural sciences, European scholars created a systematized depiction of the world that explained why those countries that ruled were, in virtually every domain, superior to those whom they ruled. For example, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, both social Darwinism and a pseudoscientific form of racism proposed and espoused the recognition of hierarchies among racially distinguished populations, hierarchies that they claimed were anchored in nature and demonstrable by science. Most other social models inspired by scientific methods also offered strong support for European colonialism.


The ways in which twentieth-century metropoles ruled their colonial holdings varied within empires as well as between them. A key concern was how to define the land in question. The diversity of colonial legal frameworks can be explained less by the exigencies of rationality or efficiency than by the metropolitan powers' efforts to convince their own citizens that colonial suzerainty was natural and necessary. Other noteworthy factors included the need to convince colonial subjects of the same and tensions between different government bureaucracies over who had the authority to exercise colonial control. Existing legal frameworks ranged from annexation to diverse forms of protectorate status. France proclaimed the area around the North African port city of Algiers, which it had seized from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, to be an extension of France, and after 1848 French governments managed Algeria through domestic ministries. However, the French designated other holdings as colonies, including Cochin China, the Indochinese provinces that the Second Empire conquered in 1862 as part of Emperor Napoleon III's efforts to re-create Napoleonic glory. The British Empire defined many of its possessions as crown colonies, which gave the British government, through the Colonial Office, control over all areas of government. The French eventually governed most other parts of Indochina as protectorates, in which the colonizers had legally guaranteed privileges concerning, for example, religion and economics and controlled foreign affairs.

Protectorate status entailed leaving established local rulers in place, as France did with the sultan of Morocco after 1912; it also meant that the authority of the colonial power, although usually great, did not include actual sovereignty. The British used the protectorate model both in areas long under their control, such as Biafra (in present day Nigeria), and in more recent colonial possessions, such as Zanzibar (off the coast of southeast Africa). With the transfer by the British Foreign Office of authority over Zanzibar to the Colonial Office in 1913, its previous role in governing protectorates came to an end. Sudan, the only territory where the Foreign Office still governed after 1913, was called a condominium, meaning that the British shared sovereignty with Egypt, which itself was under British domination after 1882, and became a protectorate in 1914.

Well into the twentieth century, British privileges in some protectorates continued to be managed by royal chartered companies, such as the British South Africa Company, which officially governed Southern Rhodesia until 1922, when it became a colony. Chartered companies were given the right to exploit any sources of profit they could find and in return were expected to exercise effective administrative control over the territory. Through this mechanism, metropolitan officials sought to avoid having to spend money while still holding onto ultimate control. By the early twentieth century, the failure of these efforts had become apparent: in order to squeeze out profits, the companies had proved willing to engage in the violent brutalization of local populations, which metropolitan public opinions were no longer ready to support.

A final type of colonial domination arose after World War I, when the new League of Nations established a system of mandates, which assigned sovereignty over territories formerly ruled by Germany and the Ottoman Empire to states in the victorious alliance. For example, Belgium took over governance of the former German colony Rwanda-Burundi, and Britain became the mandatory power for the former Ottoman province of Palestine. Unlike protectorates, where the colonizing power simply assumed control of another polity's sovereignty, the mandate system assigned the mandatory power formal responsibility for the subjects or citizens of its mandate but assigned ultimate responsibility over the territory to the League of Nations. In practice, however, the mandatory powers treated their mandates as they did their other colonies.


However the colonizers defined the lands in question, the two most important models under which European states claimed to govern their colonial possessions were direct and indirect rule. Under the direct model, officials in the metropole determined the approaches and rules used to govern the colonies and colonial officers worked to displace traditional local authorities. Direct rule was most often associated with the French Empire, but in the early twentieth century it was also proclaimed by the Netherlands in the Dutch East Indies; Belgium after it transformed the Congo Free State into the Belgian Congo in 1908; Germany until it lost its colonies after 1918; and Portugal, which defined its African colonies as overseas provinces. Germany and Portugal both used direct rule in hopes of transforming their southern African colonies through settlement. In Portuguese Angola and Mozambique, white settlers had almost feudal powers over the administration of justice, administrative and police powers, and taxation. France, however, claimed to embrace direct rule in order to transform inhabitants in its new colonies either into French people or into people who would be like the French. In protectorates, such as Laos or Tonkin (in Indochina), France left in place some traditional authorities as figureheads but filled all administrative jobs with French functionaries. In the Belgian Congo, under the guise of a deeply paternalistic policy of direct rule, a combination of Belgian government officials, the Catholic Church, and Belgian private companies established the most extensive colonial administration in sub-Saharan Africa.

British leaders proclaimed that the principle of indirect rule underwrote their relationship with the inhabitants of their empire. Distinct but overlapping administrations—the Colonial Office, the India Office, and the Foreign Office—oversaw such policies in specific territories around the world, and each had its attendant corps of civil servants. To manage the empire's "crown jewel," India, the British had established a viceroy, called the raj, with an associated India Office and India Service, which governed India, Ceylon, and Burma, and later much of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean territories. Britain directly administered substantial parts of the Indian subcontinent while leaving roughly one-third of the territory under the control of some five hundred princely states. Relying on what imperialist scholars identified as "traditional" social structures, indirect rule both made local leaders into crucial elements of imperial government and placed groups of the local population into rigidly defined and distinct groups. As in the United Kingdom, the British imposed a strict hierarchy among people in India. In South Asia, this meant taking an existing but spottily and unevenly applied form of social organization, the caste system, and strengthening and generalizing its workings. An official warrant of precedence assigned dozens of strictly hierarchized ranks to everyone in the Raj, British or "native." At the top of this hierarchy, the British monarch held the title of emperor (or empress) of India. In this way, the British proclaimed that their rule was the legitimate continuation of the Mughal Empire, which they had conquered and ousted. The belief that they were strengthening traditional forms affirmed legitimacy among the colonized and reassured the British elites that respect for status played a crucial role in the superiority of Britain over other countries.

The varied models under which colonizing powers claimed to govern did not reflect significant differences in how the colonized experienced their colonization, or in the extent to which colonial officials interfered in the affairs of local peoples. Both had far more to do with the colonial power's interest in a given area, with how many Europeans were there, and with who those Europeans were. Administrative and academic efforts to define both the policies used and the people ruled in colonial possessions had as much, if not more, to do with the debates and developments within Europe than with actual practice or existing reality in the colonies. The idea that there was a stark opposition between direct and indirect forms of colonial rule resulted, above all, from competition between European states as each sought to identify the strengths and weaknesses of its colonial system, and thus its version of European modernity, by comparing them to others.


The European conquest of power had been relatively easy, especially during the massive late-nineteenth-century expansion into Africa, since machine guns, telegraph lines, other forms of technology, and a disregard for African lives allowed European armies and their local allies to kill or devastate everyone who stood in their way. In most new colonies, however, very few Europeans actually remained in place to maintain control, and so the colonizers relied on local collaborators to exercise sovereignty. Divide-and-rule policies proved a particularly efficient way to maintain colonial dominance. At a basic level, the boundaries that European countries agreed upon between their colonies often both lumped mutually hostile groups together into one territory and split up communities who previously had enjoyed close connections. A dramatic example of the latter phenomenon took place in the Horn of Africa, where the Somali people found themselves divided among British, Italian, French, and Ethiopian control.

The Belgian claim that two elements of the social structure of Rwanda-Burundi were distinct "ethnic groups," Tutsis and Hutus, highlights a slightly more subtle form of divide and rule. The Belgians celebrated the Tutsis as natural rulers, just as French republicans in Morocco and Algeria considered the Berbers more democratic, more egalitarian, and less imbued with Islamic religiosity than the Arabs. In each case, the colonizers took popularly recognized traits and created a stereotype that would legitimize stark differences in treatment, privileges, and possibilities between groups. Members of privileged groups who decided to participate had special access to the benefits that colonial administrations offered, including education, entry into the administration or armed forces, and economic opportunities.

Peoples who, on the contrary, sought to resist colonial rule, or even just unfair decisions, suffered directly and brutally. In German Southwest Africa (Namibia), the 1904 revolt by the Herero people against the favoritism shown to colonial settlers was met by massive violence, in which some two-thirds of the population died, the state seized all Herero lands, and the surviving Herero were banned from owning livestock. The British, as they sought to impose their League of Nations mandate in Iraq, responded to violent resistance by first Arabs and then Kurds with history's first large-scale use of aerial bombing in 1920–1921. The number of victims, and in particular the number of civilians killed and mutilated, led even British officials who wholeheartedly supported the takeover of Iraq (for example, Gertrude Bell) to protest the tactics' inhumanity. Even nonviolent protest could inspire harsh retribution, as it did, for example, when British troops killed 379 of Gandhi's followers who had dared to demonstrate for home rule in Amritsar, India, in 1919. Such tactics gave support to complaints that colonialism, by turning nonwhites into lesser forms of humanity, did not bring civilization but undermined it.


World War I brought to bear on Europeans the troops, the tools (such as machine guns), and the tactics (in particular the targeting of civilian populations) that had contributed so much to European colonial expansion. Even more dramatically, the competition between different European economic and political systems, which had often been invoked to explain the necessity for imperialism abroad to European publics, was now used to explain the need for total victory at any cost. Types of devastation and violence that had occurred in the colonial world on a smaller scale, and that remained largely out of the metropolitan public eye, were applied to and decimated Europeans. Oddly, one of the war's effects was to reinvigorate colonialism. Most obviously, the Versailles Treaty brought the Arab lands of the now defunct Ottoman Empire under the control of France and Great Britain, expanding European colonial practices into the Near and Middle East and turning Germany's overseas empire in Africa and Oceania over to the control of the victorious alliance's members. Also important was the use the victors made of their overseas empires during the fighting, in particular the participation in combat of colonial troops from Britain's "white dominions" and from French West and North Africa.

Their colonial subjects' role in the war reaffirmed for European politicians the importance of their empires, but the conflict also catalyzed resistance to colonialism. Both colonized elites and hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the colonies witnessed the disconnect between colonialist propaganda about European civilization and the war's savagery. Germany's defeat and Britain and France's near-defeat gave encouragement to their critics in the colonies. More directly, the minimal recompense that French and British politicians offered for the blood debt of colonial troops vitiated any hope in the colonies for an extension of British liberty in India, or assimilation as equal members into the French Republic. These three understandings played key roles in catalyzing subsequent criticism of colonial rule.

At the same time, by leading to the disappearance of the Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires, World War I seemed to sound the death knell for land-based empires and affirmed the triumph of the nation-state model of governance. U. S. president Woodrow Wilson's 1917 and 1918 proclamations of peoples' right to self-determination helped guarantee that one of the most durable effects of modern colonialism would be the extension of the nation-state model of government throughout the lands that Europeans had colonized. National independence became the rallying cry of anticolonial militants across the globe.

Other goals and ideals also mobilized critics of colonial rule, although nationalism eventually overshadowed them. Christianity, Islam, pan-Africanism, and trade unionism, among others, catalyzed various groups to protest imperial abuses or to reject colonial rule altogether. In 1919, for example, African American activists and intellectuals brought together a Pan-African Congress in Paris. In Africa, and notably in South Africa and Kenya, labor movements played increasingly crucial roles in nurturing anticolonial thinking. The organizational model and the message of the Bolshevik revolution (1917) also offered inspiration. More concretely, the Third International, or Comintern (founded in 1919), provided guidance, training, and connections, which allowed communists to invigorate, take over, or lead many anticolonial movements, particularly in Asia. Until the mid-1930s, communist activists within Europe also worked aggressively to advance critiques of overseas colonialism.


In the 1920s and 1930s, as Britain and France continued to expand their empires, they also sought to consolidate them. In the 1920s they did this by privileging arguments about the beneficial effects of colonial rule on the colonized. These arguments took on new importance when the Great Depression, which hit colonized territories exceptionally hard, made it clear that, despite claims that European rule uplifted backward native societies, colonialism had done little to modernize the colonial economies.

The British embrace of the concept of developmentalism sought to counter evidence that colonial rule was impeding both economic and political progress. The French proclaimed that their efforts aimed to "realize the potential" (mise en valeur) of their overseas possessions, not just economically, but through the establishment of new infrastructures, such as schools, transportation networks, and hospitals, and by bringing enlightenment through education. The British had extended substantial autonomy to the settler-controlled governments of their "white dominions" and, under pressure from anticolonial nationalists, now moved to extend limited versions of autonomy to India and elsewhere. By the 1930s, the end of colonialism was the acknowledged goal of both the British and the French empires, the former imagining a distant future when Britain would husband the independence of all of its colonies, the latter evoking an equally distant future when all its subjects would become citizens of Greater France. To these ends, in all the French and British colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, forced labor continued to be used in order to pursue the "development" (or mise en valeur) of the colonial societies.

In the early 1930s, in the midst of international economic catastrophe, metropolitan discussions of colonialism celebrated the benefits it provided for everyone involved. This was spread through many films and novels and by political decisions such as the publicity campaigns trumpeting the new British Commonwealth or "one hundred million Frenchmen," and the costly promotion of Colonial Expositions in London (1924) and Paris (1931). The latter both gloried in the rainbow of peoples within Greater France, from the reproduction of Angkor Wat to the "African" village complete with villagers, and depicted the empire as a harmonious society that saved its subjects from violence and brought them into progress.

The rise of fascist powers in Europe partly explains the urgency with which the French and British embraced their empires in the 1930s. In the same context, European Communist Parties dropped their commitment to ending colonialism immediately in favor of antifascist mobilization to defend democracy and the Soviet Union. Across the world, Japan's conquest of Manchuria in 1931 began a stunning series of colonialist expansions by what would become members of the fascist Axis: Japan conquered most of China after 1937; Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1935 and 1936; Germany conquered central, western, and then eastern Europe after 1939; and Japan expanded into Oceania and Southeast Asia after December 1941. These years marked the farthest extension of colonial rule in modern times. Fascist ideological explanations for their expansion, which combined depictions of each state's colonial designs as preordained—the Nazi Lebensraum; the Italian Fascist Mare Nostrum; the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere—and highly elaborate definitions of racial hierarchies, affirming the racial superiority of the colonizer, pushed to their extremes preexisting justifications for European colonialism.


In the twentieth century, arguments for continued European domination constantly referred to supposedly scientific racial categories. Race also became the most important marker of difference between people within the colonial world. Even critics of colonialism participated in affirming racial difference. One of the best known depictions of the horror associated with European overseas rule is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), based in part on the author's experiences on the Congo River in 1890. Conrad's novella undeniably sought to reveal the evil inherent in colonial rule. As the Nobel Prize–winning Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe pointed out in 1977, however, it was also typical of the wildly popular genre of colonial travel narratives and follows the genre's convention of presenting the colonial world as a space where the white protagonist could come to terms with greater truths. Conrad's narrative depends on his readers' identification with Marlow, the narrator, whose struggles and moral enlightenment occur against a background provided by dehumanized black bodies—often just black limbs glimpsed at the edge of the river. Although explicitly critical of colonial practices, The Heart of Darkness inevitably celebrated the new possibilities for growth and reflection that colonialism offered to the colonizers and wholly dismissed any possibility that the colonized Africans could be historical actors.

Other forms of difference, such as status, continued to matter intensely in the colonies, and in the metropoles race was often less important in shaping popular thought and legal categorization than class or gender. After 1900, however, all empires witnessed the growing importance of racial thinking. One immediate and self-reinforcing result was that the number of interactions across the legal categories dividing colonizers from colonized declined. Sexuality was one of the most important areas where the need for separation could be staked out, a situation the English writer E. M. Forster captured well in his 1930s novel A Passage to India, with its miscommunications, its sexual tensions, its obscure caves, and its hint of rape. In societies such as the Dutch East Indies, official and elite acceptance of marriages and sexual relationships across racial lines receded. Forms of white solidarity also increased as connections and shared concerns among Europeans in diverse colonies increasingly overcame divisions of class, status, gender, or ethnicity. In British settler colonies, such as Kenya and Rhodesia, as well as in India, fears, often overwrought, about the potential for anticolonial violence—with sexual attacks against white women the primary fantasy—led British authorities to distribute guns to white men and women and to organize basic training in armed self-defense.

The interwar period saw the role of race and European-ness consolidated by both the increasing certainties of racist political movements within Europe and the growth of nationalist movements that rejected the domination of Europeans in the colonies. By working to overcome ethnic and language differences among citizens of the same European state and emphasizing a struggle for survival between nations, imperialism had in part created the possibility for European nationalist ideologies to become attached to racial communities. The flourishing of British identity is the best known example: In the metropole, nationalist propaganda fomented popular support by presenting imperial rule as a natural trait of all British—rather than English—people, at the same time that Scottish, Welsh, and Irish people played a disproportionate role in the overseas military, economic, and settlement activities that formed the second British Empire. As they emerged to dominate political life within Europe, fascist and right-wing nationalist organizations gained in popularity among Europeans overseas. In Java, the Dutch colonial community, long mocked by racists because racially mixed children and marriages were widespread at all economic levels, saw the growth of Fatherlands Clubs and of membership in the National Socialist Union. In French Algeria, anti-Semitic bile targeting indigenous Jews, who had gained full French citizenship in 1870, offered fertile grounds for racist nationalist groups born in the metropole and provided arguments that blocked reform projects, such as the Blum-Violette Bill of 1936, aimed at giving French citizenship to more Muslims.


In the years after World War II, official European colonialism sought to distance itself from any reliance on racism. To leaders in Britain and France, their empires were crucial to claiming an important role on a world stage, which increasingly appeared to have room for only two principals: the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Although most British and Dutch colonies across Asia almost immediately gained independence (1947–1949), the French in Indochina and all colonial powers in Africa sought to hold on to their possessions. The British and especially the French aggressively sought to introduce limited forms of democracy and provide social welfare possibilities as the anchors for a new, deracialized colonialism. The French in sub-Saharan Africa extended full social rights to people who all were now citizens of the new French Union. This meant that African labor unions were able to obtain minimum wage rates and family allowances for their members at the same levels as metropolitans.

Such reforms did not quell demands for the end of colonialism, however, but neither the French nor the British gave up easily and the chilling number of colonized people who died as a result highlights the continued importance of racist presumptions. In the best known exercise of brute force, the French killed at least 250,000 Muslim Algerians in failed efforts to crush the Algerian Revolution (1954–1962). Early-twenty-first-century work suggests that British repression against the Kikuyus in Kenya, pursued under the guise of defending British civilians against Mau Mau depredations (thirty-two white settlers died), led totens of thousands of Kikuyu deaths. But by 1963, with Kenya's independence, some forty-two former colonies had entered the United Nations.

In contrast, the Portuguese continued to embrace racist explanations, and to hold Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau until 1974, and white minority regimes maintained and strengthened colonial-era racial policies in Rhodesia until it became Zimbabwe in 1979 and in South Africa, which the African National Congress finally freed from apartheid in 1991. With the British departure from Hong Kong in 1997, all of the most significant European colonies had been decolonized.


The Cold War put an end to twentieth-century colonialism, in part by creating a new context and in part by redefining what colonialism meant. In order to affirm its anticolonial bona fides and pursue its international aims, the United States intervened to force its British and French allies (along with the Israelis) to end their 1956 takeover of the Suez Canal and to convince the French to sign a treaty with Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam in 1954. The Soviets, particularly under Nikita Khrushchev, moved to embrace Third World struggles and numerous postcolonial regimes in order to consolidate their own revolutionary claim to be on the side of the oppressed. It was also the Cold War that narrowed the general understanding of colonialism, focusing on formal independence, as the Americans and Soviets both sought to claim victory with each transfer of power in the former colonies.

Left-wing analysts subsequently argued that the continued influence of the former colonial powers amounted to neocolonialism. Examples of this included the presence of large numbers of troops in former colonies, French control of the currency of most in its former African colonies, as well as the economic and military activities of the United States in Latin America and Indochina. Liberal and right-wing politicians and writers targeted Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, which the 1956 invasion of Hungary consolidated as an empire in the same months as the Suez Crisis erupted. It was not until the Cold War ended that the latter claim, at least in institutional terms, was widely accepted. Indeed, as the post–Cold War world continues to develop, we may see a redefinition of colonialism. Already, scholarly work on Russian expansion in the nineteenth century emphasizes the need to think more rigorously about whether there was something distinct about overseas imperialism. As some scholars take up the tasks of the earlier imperialist historians—providing material to support, for example, the extension of American control over Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003—while others interrogate the continued influence of colonialist thinking, new questions will certainly arise.

See alsoAlgeria; Algerian War; British Empire; British Empire, End of; Cold War; Communism; Fascism; French Empire; German Colonial Empire; League of Nations; Portuguese Empire; Russian Revolutions of 1917; Suez Crisis; Versailles, Treaty of; World War I; World War II.


Abernethy, David B. The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980. New Haven, Conn., 2000.

Adas, Michael. Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology and Ideologies of Western Dominance. Ithaca, N.Y., 1989.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Vol. 2: Imperialism. New ed. New York, 1973.

August, Thomas. The Selling of Empire: British and French Imperialist Propaganda, 1890–1940. Westport, Conn., 1985.

Betts, Raymond. France and Decolonization, 1900–1960. New York, 1991.

Blue, Gregory, Martin Bunton, and Ralph Crozier, eds. Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies. Armonk, N.Y., 2002.

Burton, Antoinette, ed. After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation. Durham, N.C., 2003.

Chafer, Tony, and Amanda Sackur, eds. Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France. New York, 2002.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Clancy-Smith, Julia, and Frances Gouda, eds. Domesticating the Empire: Languages of Gender, Race, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism. Charlottesville, Va., 1998.

Conklin, Alice. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930. Stanford, Calif., 1997.

Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley, Calif., 2005.

Cooper, Frederick, and Ann Laura Stoler, eds. Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World. Berkeley, Calif., 1997.

Kennedy, Dane. "Imperial History and Post-Colonial Theory." Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 24, no. 3 (1996): 345–363.

Lebovics, Herman. True France: The Wars over Cultural Identity, 1900–1945. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.

MacKenzie, John M. Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Popular Opinion, 1880–1960. Manchester, U.K., 1984.

Osbourne, Michael A. Nature, the Exotic, and the Science of French Colonialism. Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

Sherman, Daniel J. "The Arts and Sciences of Colonialism." French Historical Studies 23, no. 4 (2000): 707–729.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley, Calif., 2002.

Wesseling, H. L. Imperialism and Colonialism: Essays on the History of European Expansion. Westport, Conn., 1997.

Todd Shepard

Colonialism and Neocolonialism

views updated May 08 2018

Colonialism and Neocolonialism

Edward M. Bennett

Traditionally, colonialism is understood to refer to an area of the world acquired by conquering the territory or settling it with inhabitants of the nation holding it in control, thereby imposing physical control over the region and its population. There are two ways this condition may be terminated: the area may be freed of the control of the colonial power by allowing it to become an independent nation, or if the area is absorbed into the borders of the controlling nation.

The United States began its history as a colonial possession of Great Britain and confronted two other colonial powers in contiguous areas during its infancy and contested France and Spain for control of that territory. After the American Revolution, gradually the European powers were expelled, and the new United States expanded its influence by absorbing the contiguous territories until it controlled the area it occupies today. (Later, Russia was one of those powers expelled.) A debate has ensued concerning whether in this process the United States became a colonial power by its absorption of these areas. This discourse continues, but by the traditional definitions of colonialism, the American experience is quite different from that which characterized the European colonial tradition, as it was not until the late nineteenth century that the United States entered the race for noncontiguous colonies.

With the elimination of colonialism per se in the twentieth century, there emerged a new form, called neocolonialism, which may be defined as the establishment of a form of sovereignty or control without the encumbrance of physical possession or actual colonial rule. Here, the United States may be defined as a neocolonial power because it influences less powerful or Third World nations by its economic authority exercised through its control or preeminent influence on such agencies as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When this new colonialism began is another debatable question, but there can be no argument with the assertion that it was certainly in place shortly after World War II and may have begun with the Marshall Plan.


Colonialism began as a descriptive term and subsequently assumed a pejorative connotation. In recent times, most studies of the subject have focused attention on attacking both the idea and its practitioners but have also tended to confuse it with imperialism to such a degree as to blur the lines of distinction between the two. (Some people have argued that neocolonialism is a form of imperialism, but this is a specious argument because each has a distinct and separate existence.) It is necessary to discuss imperialism in the context of colonialism and to make the differences clear. For example, it is possible to be imperialistic without having colonies, but it is not possible to have colonies without being an empire. Thus, in the case of the Soviet Union, which exercised rigid controls over the economies of its small neighbors and forcefully absorbed within its structure Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, the Soviets practiced imperialism but not colonialism. If Stalin had succeeded in holding Manchuria under his control at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union would also have become a colonial power. The United States, however, must be judged a colonial power because it holds American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, the latter formerly held as part of the strategic Trust Territory of the Pacific. Some of the islands of the trust area were not inclined to move toward independence and sought instead territorial status, while one large area, Palau, sought first a compact of free association with the United States and in 1994 became completely independent. In exchange for military base rights, which have not been exercised, the United States agreed to give Palau $700 million in what was called "compact money" over a period of fifteen years.

A state possessing territories not incorporated within its borders, the native inhabitants of which are not granted the full rights or privileges of citizenship of the possessing state, is a colonial power. There is, however, a difference between colonizing an area and colonialism per se. For example, in the American experience colonialism did not exist while the United States was annexing contiguous areas on the continent of North America, for the areas being colonized were recognized as territories destined to be incorporated into the United States as an integral part of the nation.

While there were numerous efforts by various presidents and secretaries of state to make the United States a colonial power in the nineteenth century, none succeeded in permanently adding territory not destined for statehood until the United States formally annexed the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean on 28 August 1867, after their discovery in 1859 by the American N. C. Brooks. This was not, however, a true colonial venture, because the American purpose was to provide a way station and fueling stop en route to the Far East. The United States made no effort to develop the islands economically or politically or to populate them with colonists. Therefore, another definition of colonialism is that there must be a conscious effort on the part of the possessing power to develop or exploit the area in the interest of the possessor and to provide some form of government or control through colonial administrative machinery. This does not mean that the colonial power must necessarily neglect or abuse the interests of the native inhabitants of the territory taken as a colony, although more often than not such neglect and abuse does occur. It does mean, however, that the colonial nation has the power to impose its rule over the area and to assert its economic preeminence without resistance from the inhabitants of the area.


Probably no region under colonial administration received more considerate treatment by the mother country than Great Britain's colonies in North America, partly because they were peopled in the main by British subjects transplanted for the purpose of developing raw materials and markets for England. Where a colonial administration was imposed on an already existing and alien population, treatment of the native residents was less benign and generally considered more degrading by those thus possessed, depending on their level of civilization and organization at the time of conquest or occupation. For example, in the areas where Islamic or Asian culture, religion, and laws had existed for a thousand or more years there was often fierce resistance to being subjected to colonial status, whereas in parts of Central Africa, New Guinea, and Borneo, where the native inhabitants were less developed in an economic and material sense, the resistance was less prolonged or nonexistent.

If the American colonists were treated more as equals than most, they also resented more than most that they were not accorded exactly equal status with Englishmen who had not emigrated to the colonies. Therefore, when they rebelled and gained their independence, they had a particular dislike for the very concept of colonialism. Representatives of the new United States wrote their prejudices into the Constitution in 1789, insisting that new acquisitions must become states after securing sufficient population and complying with the laws of the land. This anticolonialism continued as the preeminent view of Americans and their government until the end of the nineteenth century when the new manifest destiny seized the popular imagination and propelled the United States into the race for colonies.


When John L. O'Sullivan coined the term "mani-fest destiny" in 1845, it referred to the "destiny" of the United States to occupy and develop the American continent because of its superior institutions and form of government. Relative to its later counterpart, the "old" manifest destiny provided a modest program for the development and population of contiguous areas to the then existent United States. The new manifest destiny at the end of the nineteenth century bespoke a certain arrogance, since it claimed for Americans a superior system of government, a superior culture, and a superior race destined to carry mankind to the highest pinnacle of achievement. Many of the adherents of this philosophy extolled Yankee capitalism as part of the superior culture.

A man worthy of the task of educating the nation to the needs of expansion appeared in the form of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose major work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 16601783 (1890), extolled the virtues of a big navy as the route to national greatness which required colonies to extend the defense perimeters of a great nation, and a merchant marine to carry trade to and from the colonies that would be defended by the navy. Mahan's great fear was a forthcoming contest with a rising China, and by means of its navy he wished to put the United States in a position that would keep China confined to the Asian continent. In numerous books, articles, speeches, and through his classes at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Mahan bombarded Americans with his perception of the need for colonies. Ironically, while his impact was great in the United States, before World War I it was possibly even greater in Germany and Japan. Mahan was not nearly as interested in colonies for their commercial value as for their strategic value, but commerce became a selling point to attract a broad segment of the American public.

Social Darwinism added a sinister bent to the American urge for colonial expansion. American exponents of this pseudoscientific philosophy espoused by the Englishman Herbert Spencer adapted the concept of the survival of the fittest to the new manifest destiny, urging the spread of the Anglo-Saxon race and system of government to the less fortunate peoples of Asia and the Far Pacific. Such proponents of expansion for security motives as Theodore Roosevelt might stress the strategic value of port facilities in the Philippines, but they were drowned out by the more flamboyant spokesmen like Senator Albert Beveridge, who demanded annexation of the whole Philippine archipelago. Roosevelt warned President William McKinley that it was feasible to hold a military naval base to protect American interests in Asia, but possession of the whole of the Philippines would be a commitment that the American people would not support in the long run. His advice was ignored. Again in 1907, Roosevelt referred to the Philippines as an Achilles' heel, which should be given at least nominal independence at the earliest possible moment.

Various answers have been proposed for why Americans, with an anticolonial bias deeply ingrained in their political system, turned to colonialism, or, in other words, what the cause was of the development of the new manifest destiny. Obviously, social Darwinism and the hold that it established on the opinion makers in the United States provide one of the many answers. Richard Hofstadter ascribed America's outward thrust for colonies to what he called the psychic crisis. In The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1965) he argues that the severity of depressions of the period created fears about radicalism that caused the upper-middle and upper classes in the United States to look for some diversion from internal crises, and they found relief by focusing on the expansionist issue. Restless energies, which had concentrated on internal development in the first century of American history, turned in some degree to external adventures, such as Frederick Jackson Turner feared they would with the closing of the frontier in 1890. Missionary enthusiasts saw fields available for the spread of Protestant doctrine. Idealists dreamed of lifting the yoke of European monarchists from the Western Hemisphere and then also from Asia. Some proponents of the Spanish-American War hoped to reunite the North and the South through this uplifting national endeavor. A search for markets motivated some enthusiasts for annexation of the Philippines. A desire to be included among the nations of great powers, which required colonial possessions in the late nineteenth century, proved yet another component to the expansionist movement. But Hofstadter's main emphasis in the psychic crisis rests on internal stimuli for external policy, not the least of which was the contest for political position as each of the major parties struggled to become the repository of public confidence.


In a perceptive study of Sino-American relations pertaining to Manchuria in the period 18951911, Michael H. Hunt examines the forces that worked toward American involvement in China. He stresses the misperceptions that guided both powers' views of one another and their vital interests. He sees racism or ethnocentrism along with excessive provincialism as contributing factors on both sides, keeping the Chinese and Americans from seeing their true interest. Contrary to a number of writers who attempted to discover a carefully developed imperial plan underlying American moves in Asia at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, Hunt found American imperialism to be ill-defined or haphazard in its goals. Many policymakers dreamed of cooperation with China in preserving and developing Chinese nationalism and of profiting by trade with this emergent nation. Opportunities for such cooperation existed but foundered on mis-trust and misunderstanding.

An important conclusion that emerged from this study was Hunt's observation that while imperialism was in part a motivating force for a number of Americans promoting U.S. involvement in Manchuria, with some even demanding territorial concessions, the government dragged its feet on implementing imperial plans, did not stand firm on economic penetration, laid its faith in the open door, and criticized China for the failure of American policy. The Americans asked why the Chinese did not stand up to the powers trying to carve out spheres of influence, especially when the Americans gave them the Open Door policy to use as a weapon to deny special rights, while the Chinese asked why the Americans did not help to enforce the open door with more than words. Hunt also reinforced much of Hofstadter's argument concerning the importance of the psychic crisis as an influence on American foreign policy and the impetus to "look outward" as an escape from domestic problems.

George F. Kennan, the historian-diplomat, argued cogently for the idea that the legalistic-moralistic tradition of the United States accounted for adventures in imperialism without commensurate understanding of the burdens or responsibilities of empire by most Americans and some policymakers, especially President McKinley and his third secretary of state, John Hay. Hay, who assumed office on 30 September 1898, the day before the peace commission met in Paris to determine the settlement of the Spanish-American War, spoke the language of the new manifest destiny: "No man, no party, can fight with any chance of final success against a cosmic tendency; no cleverness, no popularity avails against the spirit of the age." Hay was a determined annexationist, but more significantly he was the author of the Open Door policy, proclaiming the need and obligation of the powers involved in Asia to maintain the open door to trade in China and the maintenance of China's territorial integrity. Later historians accused Hay of fomenting through the Open Door policy a kind of imperialism, one that denied the need for territory and promoted instead economic exploitation of areas not strong enough to resist it.

Kennan said Hay did not understand the far-reaching commitments assumed under the Open Door policy. It was part of the effort to ensure U.S. participation in the external world by legalism and appeal to the moral conscience of Americans defending China against the assault of the great powers at no cost save legal definition of the obligations of the powers. This is probably true as far as it goes, but it also was intended to guarantee the entrance into the Asian world of American power and influence through a door Hay and others considered to have been opened by the acquisition of the Philippine Islands. That he became disillusioned by the inability and ineffectiveness of the United States to win support for the open door does not in any way diminish his responsibility for it. Hay opened not a door but a Pandora's box with his policy, which the United States was to pursue through a tortuous maze to participation in the Pacific phase of World War II.

Marilyn Blatt Young, in her study of U.S. China policy from 1895 to 1901, corroborates much of Kennan's viewpoint on the inefficacy of open door diplomacy, the difficulties inherent in the legalistic-moralistic perspective that permeated the Department of State, and the tendency to be more concerned with chauvinistic interests than national interests. In addition, she points out the difficulties that plagued both China and the United States because of the view each held of the other as barbarians and the attendant implications of racism stemming from the perception of social Darwinism, which gained credence in the late nineteenth century. If imperialism was the American objective, it was so poorly contrived and so reliant on rhetoric and half-baked schemes failing of genuine government support as to be ineffectual.

Kennan was one of the early and chief spokesmen for the realist perspective in assessing right conduct in America's foreign relations and ascribing colonial expansion to a lack of realism in the formulators of the policy. Hay, Beveridge, Henry Cabot Lodge, and others who promoted the idea of empire for the United States failed to take into consideration, according to Kennan, the pervasive influence of anticolonialism in the United States, and failed to advertise the cost of empire to the American people, who were unwilling to bear the expense of defending what they had won by war or annexation. Believing that the Filipinos would welcome them with open arms, Americans were flustered and embarrassed when they were greeted instead with open rebellion. As soon as the empire had been acquired, agitation began to get rid of it, with mixed results. Incorporated territories (Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico) were retained without much question. Where there was a desire to adhere to American protection (for example, American Samoa), responsibility was ultimately accepted (February 1929); but the Philippines demanded independence, and by means of the Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934) were promised independence in 1944, which was postponed until 1946 because of Japanese occupation of the islands during World War II. The Virgin Islands, purchased from Denmark in 1917, became a U.S. territory, while other islands, too small for incorporation but important strategically, continued as possessions, such as Wake and Johnston islands. At the end of World War II, various Pacific Islands south of Japanthe Bonin Islands, the Volcano Islands, which included Okinawa, and the Daito Islands, which were captured from Japan during the warwere later returned, the first three groups in 1968 and the rest in 1972. But during that time span they were under American rule. The last territories considered for annexation by an incorporation agreement were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific, under U.S. supervision as a United Nations trusteeship, including the Marshall, Caroline, Mariana, and Palau islands. Parts of the Caroline and Mariana islands asked for incorporation in 1975. It was determined in 1986 to grant the Caroline and Marshall islands sovereignty in 1986 and, as noted earlier, the Palau Islands in 1994.


Realist and traditionalist historians have usually judged that the United States entered the colonization business by the back door at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries and could not wait to exit by the same route because being a colonial power was embarrassing and outside the American tradition. For example, in the traditional school, Samuel Flagg Bemis, Thomas A. Bailey, and Julius W. Pratt held such views, while among the realists Norman A. Graebner and George F. Kennan agreed to the extent that colonialism was not and did not become a part of the American tradition. Another group of historians, the New Left, argued that colonialism was a conscious expression of American capitalism, which had always been the determining force in American foreign policy and merely reached a conscious level of expression in colonialism. William Appleman Williams argued that colonialism was merely one phase of American imperialism, which became passé when it was discovered that economic imperialism that penetrated other areas by the force of dollars was superior to the actual possession of the territories that the United States wished to dominate. According to Williams and those of his persuasion, dollar diplomacy became the preeminent source of imperialism because it was easier to maintain, less embarrassing, and made it possible to eliminate the bother of colonial administration. But colonialism itself was merely an extension of the American experience and not an aberration.

One of the most respected historians associated with the New Left, Walter LaFeber, argued that there was no break in tradition. While he emphasized the economic forces behind the new manifest destiny, he recognized that other forces played a part in promoting it. He insisted that colonialism was part and parcel of the American experience, all of which was preparing the way for the surge to overseas colonial possession as a natural extension of the colonial spirit developing from the outset in America. One of the few historians normally classed in the realist tradition, Richard W. Van Alstyne, agreed with at least part of the New Left assessment that there was no break in the American pattern of expansion. According to Van Alstyne, the westward movement itself was an imperial endeavor preparing the way for further imperialism when the continent was filled or occupied.

These examples could be extended to include a number of other prominent diplomatic historians who have sided with the innocent victim-of-circumstances view of American colonial expansion versus the concept of the planned and persistent imperial thrust. Thus, the debate over how and why the United States became a colonial power at the end of the nineteenth century rages on, with definitive answers lying in neither camp.

It seems prudent to assume that like all significant events in the world's development there were many causes for American colonialism. Economic determinists assess greed or material benefits deriving from colonial possession as the determinate cause. This does not explain the correspondence of such advocates of the colonial experiment as Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, who laid stress on the importance of prestige and great-power status for the United States resting on the needs of security, which is or should be the primary consideration underlying the motivation for formulators of foreign policy.

Realist historians tend to examine colonialism as the result of some elements of the psychic crisis, the security motives, the spread of American industry and commerce, emotional appeals to liberal humanitarian objectives, social Darwinism, nationalism, and "egoistic nationalism," a term applied by the political scientist Robert E. Osgood to explain positions taken by Lodge and Beveridge, who flamboyantly expressed American national destiny without carefully examining the consequences. The traditionalists have been more inclined to focus on the idea of the aberration of anticolonial liberal democratic ideals. In some degree they are all correct, but because the realists take into account a multiplicity of factors arguing for colonial expansion and the retreat from colonialism that followed, they would appear to provide the most complete explanation.

Of course, there are also Marxist interpretations carried to the level of prediction by Lenin, who argued that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, which would lead to the most flagrant exploitation of proletarians and to the ultimate collapse of capitalism as imperial rivalries led to struggles for markets terminating in enervating wars. What Lenin did not foresee was the Soviet Union's entrance into the imperial grouping through such practices as the economic exploitation of the states under its sway. While condemning the United States and other Western powers, historians of the Marxist persuasion first rationalized Soviet behavior and claimed there was not exploitation, or else dropped Russia as the exemplar of communist or Marxist principles and raised Communist China as a new model. Marxists and other economic determinists have also tended to lump together the Western colonial powers in defense of one another's interests and in support of racism, as in the case of American support of France in Algeria and Indochina, and of South Africa and Israel. This ignores Franklin D. Roosevelt's frequently expressed anticolonialism. It also overlooks such changes in position as the Department of State's shift concerning American support of South Africa until the apartheid regime was overthrown and replaced by an electoral process that allowed enfranchisement of blacks, permitting Nelson Mandela to become the first black leader of South Africa.

Ironically, while racism or ethnocentrism has undeniably played a determinant role in both colonialism and imperialism and the powers that practiced them have been justly criticized for the practice, those who were its victims have generally not illustrated a much better record in their treatment of other races or ethnic groups over whom they have been able to establish control. Fostered by the efforts to break free of colonial domination, virulent nationalism has led to extremist attitudes on the part, for example, of Arabs toward Jews, and Jews toward Arabs; of neighboring African tribes struggling to achieve preeminence over other tribes inside the borders of new states; of Chinese toward Tibetans and Indians; and of Indians toward Pakistanis and Pakistanis toward Indians. While this list is incomplete, it is still impressive of the evidence that the power to abuse is confined to no particular race. Perhaps the problem lies not in racism per se so much as in the corrupting influence of absolute power over another people. Some historians have attempted to identify racism as a phenomenon of one socioeconomic group exclusively or to whites versus other races, as though the problem would be eliminated if the world were socialist or the whites lost influence to the other races. They have not met the real challenge, which is that abuse rests with unrestrained power.

Ethnocentric behavior is a form of racism, which has permitted the Japanese to treat others of the yellow race as inferior when they held imperial control of the Chinese and the Koreans, and the Chinese to do the same when they have held similar power over Tibetans. The same phenomenon has permitted various tribal groups in Africa to persecute other tribes and the others to retaliate in kind. Ethnocentrism permitted Great Russians to maintain that their "little Slav brothers" inside and outside Russia's borders have needed special tutelage by their betters. Often ethnic bias is combined with religious bigotry, which accounts in part for the atrocities of the 1990s in Yugoslavia and the continuing contest in Ireland. What made racism identifiable with colonialism and imperialism was the unrestrained power of the colonial and imperial nations to abuse those over whom they held dominance. The decline of colonialism has not eliminated the problem, for the nationalism that grew in a virulent strain in the places formerly under colonial control has bred a similar virus.

Admittedly there are still areas that may be defined as colonial possessions, but generally, at the beginning of the twenty-first century they are headed for either incorporation within the possessing state, autonomous status within some sort of confederation like the British Commonwealth, or independence. For example, in some cases there is the fiction of independence or autonomy, as in the continued possession of Samoa by the United States; French colonial administration of Martinique, St. Pierre, and French Guiana; and British control of such places as the Falkland Islands. There are, however, very few vestiges of colonialism left.

This, however, does not mean the end of imperialism, which has taken many forms. Economic penetration of underdeveloped areas has become a competitive replacement for colonialism and is absorbing the energies of the former colonial powers. Added to this form of exploitation of resources and capital control is a new elementthe oil-rich Arab states that have emerged from colonial status and exhibited all the symptoms of nationalism and desires for political power they condemned in their former imperial masters. Colonialism is virtually dead, but imperialism continues as those nations with the economic or military power to perpetuate it have refused to give up the practice.


There is one more area which must be considered and that is neocolonialism. What this is depends on who is defining it. Socialist or communist writers have defined it as the efforts of the former colonial powers to maintain colonial control by other means. This definition lacks precision, as some of the neocolonial powers were in fact previously colonies, such as the United States. A largely accepted definition of neocolonialism is as follows: it includes retention of military bases, exploitation of resources, preferential trade treaties, imposed unification of colonies, conditional aid, and defense treaties. It also includes artificially created countries or combining countries into a group or federation. However, this grouping of countries is ill-defined in terms of whether they represent neocolonialism or not, as some of the Third World countries created in such combinations contend they are not dependencies in any way, although they may retain economic ties with the metropolitan power that previously held sway there.


Easton, Stewart Copinger. The Rise and Fall of Western Colonialism: A Historical Survey from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present. New York, 1964. Examines the motives and processes of colonial expansion and development in the nineteenth century and traces the reasons for the decline of colonialism and what happened to the colonial areas through 1964.

Graebner, Norman A., ed. Ideas and Diplomacy: Readings in the Intellectual Tradition of American Foreign Policy. New York, 1964. Argues that the new colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century was as much motivated by a quest for prestige as for economic advantages and that strategic position for security was always a part of the American strategy.

Hunt, Michael H. Frontier Defense and the Open Door: Manchuria in Chinese-American Relations, 18951911. New Haven, Conn., 1973. Focuses on the attempts of the Chinese to use the United States to bolster defense of China's frontiers.

Kennan, George F. American Diplomacy: 19001950. Chicago, 1951. Expanded edition, Chicago, 1984. A series of lectures for the Walgreen Foundation at the University of Chicago in 1950; provides a realist viewpoint on the development of American foreign policy at the turn of the century.

Kupchan, Charles A. The Vulnerability of Empire. Ithaca, N.Y., 1994. Examines the structure of empires and in the case of the United States gives security motives for the foundation of American neocolonialism.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 18601898. Ithaca, N.Y., 1963. The author is more inclined to credit motives other than economic as contributing factors to America's colonial experiment, but argues that the empire was consciously acquired as a part of the traditional role of expansionism in American history.

Morgan, Dan. Merchants of Grain. New York, 1979.

Obadina, Tunde. The Myth of Neo-Colonialism ( Provides a very perceptive assessment of the arguments for and against colonialism in its influence on African nations.

Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands. Baltimore, 1936. The first important study that submitted the war and the imperial thrust to a multicausationist analysis.

Stuart Peter C. Isles of Empire: The United States and Its Overseas Possessions. Lanham, Md., 1999. Clearly defines the continuing debate over whether the United States is or has been a true colonial power and concludes it is and was but not without internal dissent over the issue.

Tompkins, E. Berkeley. Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate, 18901920. Philadelphia, 1970. A careful tracing of the debate over whether the United States should assume an empire.

Van Alstyne, Richard Warner. The Rising American Empire. New York, 1960. Argues that imperial expansion was part of American historical development and disagrees with the traditionalists that it was a departure from tradition.

Verlinden, Charles. The Beginnings of Modern Colonization: Eleven Essays with an Introduction. Ithaca, N.Y., 1970. Translated by Yvonne Freccero, this is a good description of the beginnings of colonialism in the fifteenth century and offers some explanations for its development in Western civilization.

Williams, William Appleman. The Roots of the Modern American Empire: A Study of the Growth and Shaping of Social Consciousness in a Marketplace Society. New York, 1969. Presents the United States as imperialistic from its inception and the colonial expansion at the end of the nineteenth century as a further expression of the traditional posture of an economically oriented society.

Young, Marilyn Blatt. The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 18951901. Cambridge, Mass., 1968. Does not believe the Open Door policy was effective, in part because the Department of State did not limit application of the policy to the extent that the United States was willing to enforce it.

See also Anti-Imperialism; Continental Expansion; Imperialism; Isolationism; Mandates and Trusteeships; Open Door Policy; Race and Ethnicity .

Colonialism: Southeast Asia

views updated May 08 2018

Colonialism: Southeast Asia

Studies detailing the nature of colonial policy and practice in Southeast Asia have all acknowledged its disparate nature and overwhelming range of characteristics. While many European powers shared the desire to establish colonies overseas, the manner in which this was accomplished was more random than regular. Factors contributing to this variance include differing philosophies of administrative governance, differing levels of indigenous resistance, and differing periods of influence in the region. For instance, Spanish colonial projects in Southeast Asia began in the 1560s, nearly two hundred years earlier than the efforts of the British, French, and Dutch, resulting in a much longer and more enduring history of colonialism in the Philippines (originally a Spanish colony) than in Malaya (a British colony). The Dutch employed a more indirectly ruled system (using indigenous elites to initiate their policies) than the British, who in Burma, for example, deposed the sitting monarchy in favor of ruling more directly through an impersonal civil service administration. In French Vietnam, there was a mixture of both systems, resulting in corresponding levels of resistance in areas more intensively encroached upon by colonial authorities. In general, polities that had achieved sophisticated levels of cultural, political, and economic integration tended to resist European powers more vigorously than polities in more decentralized areas. Some polities in insular Southeast Asia, whose political relations were more tenuous because of geographical constraints, competitive economies, and personal ties, offered less sustained, organized, or intensive resistance than in the mainland kingdoms whose populations were linked by common religious, economic, and historical worldviews. Simply put, the shape of colonialism in Southeast Asia was in large part determined by the nature of precolonial regional dynamics and the ability of the local communities to interact and respond to the differing policies, attractions, and challenges of colonial governance. Yet the idea of colonialism in Southeast Asia has also been understood and considered through approaches suggested by scholars of both Southeast Asian and colonial studies. This entry, after first providing a brief historical overview of colonialism in the region, discusses the ways in which Southeast Asian studies was constructed and shaped by scholars who were writing about or reacting to colonialism, producing works that revealed the complexities of that encounter as well as the epistemological links between the two branches of study.

Historical Overview

While this article is not concerned with the history of the colonialism in Southeast Asia per se, a brief overview highlighting some of its key points is necessary. The history of Southeast Asia's encounter with Europe begins as early as the first decades of the sixteenth century, an occurrence that is indeed one of the earliest episodes in the history of colonialism as a global phenomenon. In many respects, some of the "classical" features of colonialismsuch as territorial conquest; the intervention and disruption of local socioeconomic networks; and the introduction of new cultural regimes and models through various missionary and educational activityfirst came into play in Southeast Asia before they appeared later elsewhere. All major colonial European powers (as well as, later, the United States and Japan) took part in the long history of colonialism in the region: In the twentieth century the Netherlands was in control of Indonesia; Portugal, of East Timor; the United States, of the Philippines (taken from Spain after 1898); France, of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (so-called French Indochina); and Great Britain, of Malaya and Myanmar (Burma). The region also provides the unique example of Thailand (Siam), which was never colonized, though institutional and cultural changes were significantly connected to European diplomatic pressures along its borders. During World War II most of these territories were occupied by Japan, whose imperial designs, cultural sensibilities, and economic initiatives disconnected Europe and America's hold on the region, which indirectly contributed to the tensions of a nationalist sentiment and Cold War competitions within the former colonies. Most of the European powers, weakened by the war, would lose their colonies after the war, though attempts were made (in varying degrees) to regain their original foothold within the region.

As the cases of the Mayla Emergency, the Indonesian Revolution, the Indochinese War, and, later, the Vietnam War show, the response to colonialism in Southeast Asia continued in the form of anticolonial resistance movements, though external observers tended to regard these wars in the context of the Cold War.

Trends in the Study of Colonialism

The story of Southeast Asia's encounter with Europe spans several centuries, leaving a long and complex record of exchange, negotiation, and domination. Colonialism in Southeast Asia might be considered one important chapter in that much larger story of global interaction. Within the region's early colonial historiography, colonialism pertained to the transformation of "traditionally" defined polities into dependent states modeled along European definitions of organization and administration. Because this approach to colonialism was significantly linked to the perspective of those who were immersed within the colonial service, it was no surprise that this understanding of colonialism was expressed through studies of administrative changes and their effects on local societies, economies, and cultures. Equally important was the overarching representation of the colonial encounter in binary terms: all that was "modern" was inherently European and became the standard to which Southeast Asian culture and history would be measured. Interestingly enough, these studies formed the foundations for the area studies disciplines, as many of the earliest doyens in the fields were from the ranks of the scholar-administrator. Early linguists, anthropologists, and historians, working within the colonial administrations, set the paradigms and agendas that later scholars would either confirm or contest, creating important but imposing discussions that would dominate the course of scholarship. Their views of the peoples and cultures they encountered set into motion a whole genealogy of scholarship that responded in various ways to their findings. For example, reports that discussed the despotic nature of Southeast Asian leadership not only reveal the way in which colonial agendas colored early documentation, they also identify why writing about "Southeast Asian kingship" was important in the first place. While these early writings relate something about Southeast Asia, they also reveal important insight into how colonialism was perceived by those working within it. Thus, the propagation of colonialism in Southeast Asia by these officials was partially responsible for the emergence of Southeast Asian studies as a field of study.

Thematically, colonialism has come to refer to a variety of processes that contributed to a fundamental change in identity, worldview, and consciousness. These institutional and cultural transformations were initiated at different levels and in varying intensities by many groups within the European community, indigenous elites, and rural populations. The complicated and complex nature of this interaction has been decoded by a variety of interpretations, affecting the many understandings and forms of colonialism. Colonial administrator-scholars referred to colonialism in terms of its policies and practices that contributed to the administrative formation of the colonies, whereas nationalist historians treated the subject as the processes of interaction, subjugation, and control that enabled the peoples and societies of Southeast Asia to come under colonial authority. Another manifestation of colonialism took its shape (although indirectly) through studies of indigenous forms of resistance and protest, whereas others explored colonialism through the multitude of indigenous social institutions it encountered and affected. More recent trends position colonialism through its relationship to the nation and the forming of national cultures; criminality, counterinsurgency, and prisons; and its forms of knowledge and various modes of representation. In addition, it has also been illustrated through technology, literature, and film. In short, the shape of colonialism has been fashioned through a variety of approaches, reflecting trends in the study of colonialism as a thematic category and through the interdisciplinary guilds within area studies.

Colonialism since 1970

Conceptions of colonialism in Southeast Asia have developed significantly since 1970, though scholarship began widening its historical gaze of the region's history and colonialism's place in it nearly a decade earlier. In response to colonial and nationalist-oriented histories of the colonial past, in which the attention was directed toward colonial administrators, policies, and interests in the region, scholars began shifting their focus, creating histories that told the same stories from internal, local, or indigenous perspectives. One of the most significant interventions was offered by John Smail, who saw a lingering problem in the historiography of modern Southeast Asian history. He concluded that both colonial and nationalist scholarship seemed to privilege the same European contexts, events, and narratives about the "colonial period" even when their political sympathies tended to diverge in analysis. In addition, the very conception of "modernity" in the region's history was automatically being associated with the trends, institutions, and ideas that emerged during the colonial period. According to Smail, modern history tended to focus on colonial narratives, concerns, and priorities that signaled a deep disjuncture with the precolonial past, whose own narratives, cultural forms, and terminology were being neglected by the grand narratives of empire, development, and modernity. In order to challenge the prevailing fixtures of colonial and nationalist historiography, Smail called for a writing and periodization of modern Southeast Asian history that applied indigenous categories of analysis, reconstituting the way in which modernity and colonialism would be defined, interpreted, and chronicled. Identifying these cultural forms that could structure the writing of an "autonomous" history of Southeast Asia during this period of intense Eurasian exchange became the overarching paradigm for scholars of the late 1960s and 1970s. This approach aimed to address the imbalance in scholarship, which had tended strongly toward European-oriented histories (which emphasize fundamental changes in society), by favoring histories that engaged the possibility of regional cultural continuities. To Smail, colonialism would no longer mark the arrival of modernity; it would merely mark a stage within the long-term patterns and processes of the region's history.

These adjustments lifted the idea of colonialism from the confines of European studies and placed it within the framework of Southeast Asian studies, which shifted attention that previously privileged the study of history through colonial categories to studies that investigated the nature of indigenous culture during the colonial encounter. While early studies might have explored the ways in which ideas of leadership, agriculture patterns, community organization, and kinship relations were affected by colonial policies and practices, the new interest in an "autonomous" perspective urged scholars to prioritize local institutions, patterns, and terms as the main subject of inquiry, so that the study of colonialism would become integrated into the cultural history and anthropology of Southeast Asia. One example could be found in the work of Emanuel Sarkisyanz, who demonstrated through his study of Burmese Buddhism that Southeast Asians reacted and responded to colonialism through local terms and concepts inherent to their worldview. The dismantling of the monarchy, subsequent rebellions, and nationalism were all considered through the prism of Buddhism in Burma, suggesting that it was possible to view the colonial period from a more Southeast Asian perspective. At the same time, effort was directed toward the ways in which global, regional, and local forces bound and interacted with peasant societies outside state or religious institutions, shifting the terms of engagement of colonialism to everyday life and practices. Seminal works such as James C. Scott's The Moral Economy of the Peasant directed attention to the ways in which global market economies affected the everyday life of the peasant in Southeast Asia, fundamentally challenging local conceptions of legitimacy, economy, and authority. In addition, such approaches stretched the legacy of precolonial traditions, which were often labeled as "traditional," into an epistemological space that previously scholarship had neglected to consider. Indigenous religion, ritual, and customary laws, and other modes of the precolonial conceptual world, became categories of analysis that were now used to study the role and nature of colonialism in Southeast Asia.

Colonial Dichotomies

While the terms of the colonial encounter were being reconfigured and though scholars were seemingly decolonizing the epistemology of Southeast Asia, others began to question the direction the field had taken and the perspective in which colonialism was being discussed. Smail's "autonomous" history had fundamentally edged the scholarship toward a fresh course of research, but there were still some lingering issues that needed to be resolved. The field's leanings toward supposed indigenous categories as modes of analyses might have fallen a bit short in providing a total picture of colonialism in Southeast Asia by underestimating the impact of colonial influences on society. Scholars had merely swung the pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other, extending a little too much enthusiasm for the continuities and unchanging nature of Southeast Asian cultural forms.

Following the important arguments in Edward Said's Orientalism, scholars such as Ann Laura Stoler questioned the essential nature of these categories while at the same time challenging the "European versus Southeast Asian" perspective upon which studies of colonialism continued to rest. Although important writers such as Franz Fanon and Albert Memmi had developed their seminal arguments about those who lay between the "colonized" and "colonizer," applying these types of questions to the study of colonial society in Southeast Asia remained in its infancy. With these new callings, the study of "mixed-bloods" in Dutch Indonesia, the "métisse" in French Vietnam, "mestizos" in the Spanish Philippines, and "Eurasians" became an important challenge to the idea that colonial society and its study could be divided into simple binary categories of analysis. These studies also suggested that colonialism in Southeast Asia (and beyond) was much more complex than previously imagined, pointing to a variety of situations and scenarios in which ideas, institutions, and technology were exchanged in different and often complicated ways. Colonialism in Southeast Asia could no longer be viewed as a neat and simple process, the colonial encounter could no longer be approached through binary framings, and it became clear that the categories that had been considered intrinsically "European" or "Southeast Asian" were no longer tenable.

The realization that colonialism was a much more complicated process that occurred at different intensities, at different times, and in different places also inspired scholars to look at other domains in Southeast Asia where such mixing and blurring of ideas might occur. Many scholars had been pondering this idea for some time, outside the contours of colonial studies but within the framework of Asian nationalism. Benedict Anderson's seminal Imagined Communities set the agenda by demonstrating that the nation-state was articulated through cultural forms that enabled peoples to bridge the conceptual gap between kin and citizen. Many of these forms of community bonding were those introduced by colonial authorities, adopted by urban nationalists, and localized by grassroots leaders. These patterns of exchange were shown to have occurred at every level of society, and consequently colonialism's shape became influenced by the concerns and mechanics of nationalism.

Colonialism's relationship to Southeast Asian nationalism developed significantly following the important insights of Anderson. One of his students, Thongchai Winichakul, extended the connections between colonial statecraft and nationalist identity by demonstrating the influence of map-making and the creation of Thai identity in his exceptional work, Siam Mapped. Though his emphasis was on the notion of "Thainess" and its relationship to boundaries, Winichakul's study reinforced the idea that colonial notions of space, measurement, ethnicity, and history were being actively engaged by Southeast Asian eliteseven from those who were not formally colonized. Colonial knowledge was not something that was strictly part of the European conceptual world, it was constantly being reshaped, modified, and localized to fit the needs of Southeast Asians, who in many cases used these new ideas to emulate as well as resist European hegemony. Along the same lines, Maurizio Peleggi's Lords of Things demonstrates how the Thai monarchy embraced different forms of European material culture in an effort to redefine itself in the style of European monarchies, changing its public image through colonial ideas of modernization. Studies exploring the nature and origins of Southeast Asian nationalism indirectly contributed to the changing understanding of colonialism by continuing to challenge the terms and situations that characterized that encounter. Writing against the pervasive grain that had kept Southeast Asians locked in their temporal and spatial limbo, scholars began to investigate the ways in which technologies were disseminated and more often appropriated to transform the Southeast Asian conceptual world. Print culture, education, social engineering, and advancements in communication were actively being adopted to fit the needs of new and old elites alike, while at the same time these modes of colonialism were also being used to reify and remake "traditional" forms of Southeast Asian culture.

Trends in the Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Scholarship from the late 1990s and early 2000s has made provocative connections between the history of colonialism and the production of knowledge in Southeast Asia. Many of the categories and approaches used to conceptualize the region's contoursits cultures, institutions, languages, ethnicities, and historieshave been shown to be largely conceived, organized, and textualized by colonial administrator-scholars seeking to make legible the vast territories, societies, and peoples that had come under their authority. This legacy has not always been recognized, though active measures were taken by scholars in the 1960s and 1970s hoping to decolonize the epistemology of Southeast Asia by referring to categories and terms thought to be "autonomous" to the region. Although this scholarship produced the bulk of Southeast Asian knowledge, research from the late 1990s and beyond is noticing that some of these studies relied on categories and perspectives that emerged through colonial understandings of Southeast Asia. Turning to indigenous language sources or traditional perspectives was not enoughthe evidence for what was considered traditional, indigenous, or autonomous was often based on the documents of officials who wrote into these sources their own agendas, concerns, and priorities.

One such example might be found in Laurie J. Sears's path-breaking study Shadows of Empire, which reconstructs the way in which Dutch views of traditional wayang kulit (shadow-puppet theater) were adopted by scholars and Javanese alike. Not only is the role of the Dutch in the "inventing" of tradition explored, but Sears also charts the way in which the meanings of these cultural symbols were contested by officials, scholars, and performers throughout history. This approach recast the way in which colonialism was being considered: Elements thought to be distinctly Southeast Asian were now being reevaluated as products of colonialism, revealing the unsettled nature of "traditional" culture and revisiting European influence on the epistemological landscape of the region.

The picture of colonialism was that its reach was far more penetrating than once held and that through the study of more benign forms of authority, the actual extent of that influence might be perceived. Leading scholars such as Vicente L. Rafael, author of White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, and Rudolf Mrázek, author of Engineers of Happy Land, have revealed how colonial photography, roads, language policy, architecture, electricity, and travel literature reflect the relationship between colonial technology, knowledge, and power. Moreover, Mrázek's work employs an important and provocative approach by suggesting that it is possible to "read" colonial society and its forms like a text. In a sense, his unique "translation" of Dutch buildings, roads, and magazines applies approaches to colonial society that are usually reserved for studying Southeast Asia's deep past. Panivong Norindr's Phantasmatic Indochina addresses the ways in which French colonial ideology can be gleaned from its films, exhibitions, and architecture. More importantly, the studies contained within this work address how the very idea of "Indochine" was a concept that was invented, reified, and articulated to justify political-economic policies on the one hand and how cultural forms contributed to that imagining on the other. Ironically, colonial studies has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other; while early colonial administrators tried hard to textualize the boundaries and contents of their imagined colony, scholars today are disassembling those constructs by relying on the very sources those early officials produced.

Finally, advancement in gender and identity studies has also reworked the manner in which scholars have approached the relationship between colonialism and social policies. Just as the categories of colonizer and colonized were once problematized to reveal those communities lying "in-between," approaching colonialism through gender-inspired scholars to consider how European notions of womanhood transformed sexual relations and expectations of "native" women within colonial communities. These studies have explored the role and symbol of European motherhood in the colony and the manner in which this image affected policy toward the maintenance of white communities. By doing so, they have directly confronted the image of the colony as a site for "unfettered economic and sexual opportunity" through policies that attempted to curb men from racial intermixing and "going native."


Scholars continue to add to this discursive body of colonial knowledge, which has only recently and sporadically been problematized. Exploring the contexts in which much of this knowledge was produced has led to new questions about what is actually known about the region and new perspectives in which the scholarly understanding of colonialism in Southeast Asia might be expanded. These sentiments suggest that colonialism and colonial society can be studied from colonialism's cultural formsits institutions, languages, ideas, economies, and literary representationsto reveal new perspectives about the processes of change and continuity. Proponents for this anthropology of colonialism suggest that by understanding how Southeast Asia was made through "scholarship," one can get a sense of colonialism and the effects of that encounter with the peoples and cultures of the region.

At the same time, considerable effort has been spent on delineating the actual conditions on the ground, which were much more complicated than perhaps official documents or earlier studies attempted to convey. Scholars have shifted their emphasis on rebellions as the sole sign of protest to show that resistance, subversion, and circumvention was occurring in an everyday fashion in everyday settings. Inconsistent policies toward Southeast Asians in rural and urban settings intensified incoherency, mismanagement, and competition among colonial officials while exacerbating tensions between metropole (European capitals) and colonial capitals. It is with this last trend where the idea of colonialism has taken its most current shape. Scholars within Southeast Asian studies are beginning to examine how competing interests, agendas, and concerns within colonial communities produced different boundaries in colonial society, while the contestation of categories has led to the understanding that the differences between European and Southeast Asian were created, defined, and maintained. Hybridity has not hidden the scholarly reemphasis on European colonialism within a Southeast Asian world, but if historiography repeats itself as much as history seems to, one can anticipate further studies of "Southeast Asian" hybridity in the colonial setting to emerge in the future.

See also Anticolonialism: Southeast Asia ; Empire and Imperialism: Asia ; Westernization: Southeast Asia .


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London: Verso, 1991.

Cohn, Bernard S. Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Cooper, Frederick, and Ann Laura Stoler, eds. Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997.

Dirks, Nicholas B., ed. Colonialism and Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

McHale, Shawn Frederick. Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

Mrázek, Rudolf. Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Norindr, Panivong. Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Peleggi, Maurizio. Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002.

Rafael, Vicente L. White Love and Other Events in Filipino History. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000.

Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 14501680, Vol. 1: The Lands below the Winds. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 14501680, Vol. 2: Expansion and Crisis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Sears, Laurie J. Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra's Plantation Belt, 18701979. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Tarling, Nicholas, ed. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Vol. 2: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Thongchai Winichakul. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Zinoman, Peter. The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 18621940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.

Maitrii Aung-Thwin


views updated Jun 27 2018


COLONIALISM. European powers and persons representing them undertook a vast program of overseas colonization extending throughout the early modern period, which had the effects of energizing a world economy by encompassing the New World within it and of stimulating a massive emigration of Europeans.


In the course of the fifteenth century, the Portuguese and the Spaniards discovered, conquered, colonized, and administered a series of island possessions that became early experiments in imperialism. In the 1480s and 1490s, the Spanish crown conquered Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma, the richest of the seven Canary Islands. The administrative apparatus set up to govern the colony anticipated aspects of the administration of the future empire. First there was a survey and apportionment of land in a repartimiento; there was no dividing up of nativesthe form that repartimiento later took in the New World. Each island was considered a municipality, administered by a cabildo, or 'city council'. The islands were settled by soldiers and by immigrants from Castile and Andalusia, many of them single men who married indigenous women. The economy of the Canaries in the sixteenth century was based on sugar, a monoculture.

The Portuguese had a papal grant to settle Madeira, an uninhabited island, in 1425. Its prosperity after the middle years of the fifteenth century was based on the production of sugar, wheat, and wine good enough to be exported. Henry the Navigator (13941460) was authorized to settle the Azores in 1439, by which time the Portuguese had already placed sheep on several islands to provide food for passing ships. By the end of the 1440s, the island of Santa Maria was already exporting wheat to Portugal. The colonization of the central and western isles took longer. Foreigners, particularly Flemings, were recruited to settle there in the 1460s and 1470s. Pico, one of the westernmost islands, became a leading wine producer and was important in the three-cornered trade with North America and the West Indies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the key products of which were New England barrel staves, Caribbean molasses, and Atlantic Island wine.

Italians in the service of the Portuguese crown sailing off West Africa discovered the arid Cape Verde islands. The Portuguese established a plantation and pastoral economy run by slaves from Africa and a small group of white colonists as landlords, merchants, and civil and church officials. After the discovery of the New World, the Portuguese islands served as nodal points in the great web of interoceanic shipping routes that soon developed.


The Spaniards' strategy of colonization in the New World was to found cities: They founded 190 towns and cities by 1620. These were built uniformly on a Roman grid plan. They were self-governing entities governed by cabildos, had scant commercial functions, were populated by plantation owners and an Indian underclass, and had no industry to speak of. The most important cities were viceregal capitals such as Mexico and Lima. In 1630, 58 percent of the Spanish population of the Audiencia of New Spain lived in Mexico City, and 55 percent of the population of the Audiencia of Lima lived in Lima City. Exploration and settlement of the interior regions were organized from viceregal capitals such as Mexico, Lima, and Bogotá. The Spanish New World colonies were hypercentralized because the crown ruled the territories directly and created appropriate institutions of control, issuing some 400,000 decrees pertaining to American colonial affairs between 1492 and 1635, or around 2,500 annually. In an administrative sense, they were not colonies but kingdoms; hence they were governed by viceroys.

This urban colonial network required large numbers of settlers. A total of at least 150,000 persons moved from Spain to America before 1550. Throughout the sixteenth century, between 250,000 and 300,000 Spaniards emigrated. The Amerindians were forced, through the repartimiento system, to work in enterprises (either farming or mining) called encomiendas, feudal estates that were inheritable. Africans came as slaves, first from Europe, then, by the mid-1550s, imported directly from Africa for service on sugar plantations or in the mines.

Spanish colonization efforts in Asia centered upon Manila, the center both of trade with China and Japan and of the effort to Christianize the Filipinos. Evangelization was made easier by the political decentralization of Philippine society, which made armed resistance to Spain all but impossible. The Spanish colonists, a few thousand people in the seventeenth century, lived off the Manila galleon trade and left the direction of the country mainly to missionaries and a few bureaucrats.


The most striking aspect of the Portuguese seaborne empire was its extreme dispersion in chains of forts along various continental coastlines and islands. By the time of Prince Henry's death in 1460, the Portuguese had reached Sierra Leone, which was 1,500 miles down the west African coast. There they established fortified trading posts, feitorias, close to the sea, guarded by caravels bearing canons. This style of settlement, which the Portuguese later introduced into Asia, required few settlers and was designed to facilitate trade.

Brazil was settled in the sixteenth century (after 1530) by a mixed feudal-commercial system wherein coastal lands were placed under the control of hereditary proprietors. Settlers were taken there and introduced cattle raising and sugar cultivation. Sugar was the ideal crop for coastal Brazil, which had quick access to Europe and the capacity to outprice the Atlantic islands. Thousands of Portuguese arrived as settlers, attracted by quick money in the sugar industry. When the Amerindians of the coast, who had been conscripted to work on sugar plantations, perished, they were replaced by African slaves who were already resistant to most Old World diseases.

The Portuguese crown began to take back governance of Brazil from the hereditary landholders as early as 1549, when it reacquired the Bahia captaincy and named a governor general. Settlements were widely dispersed, with a Portuguese population of only 30,000 in 1600, scattered among fourteen captaincies along 4,000 miles of coastline.

The Portuguese empire in Asia was established between 1509 and 1515 by capturing the sea passages leading to and from the Indian Ocean. Goa, on the Malabar coast of India, was the main naval base, followed in importance by Macão, off the Chinese mainland near Canton. The Portuguese empire in Asia was tiny in extent, consisting of only a few strategic islands and coastal trading posts that controlled most Asian trade routes. The territory of a trading post was negotiated with local authorities to achieve a form of colonization, but one of a purely commercial nature. The Portuguese settled near the centers of production and markets and at the intersection of trade routes, taking advantage of trading networks already established before their arrival. This system could run efficiently with few settlers, who did not require an infrastructure of public services, and it left local trade in the hands of the indigenous communities. The majority of Portuguese settlers in Asia were soldiers, while the Spanish empire, after the conquests of Mexico and Peru, was by and large a civilian empire.


Europeans of different origins established colonies of different styles. Spanish settlements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo were based on ranching, mining, and, in the seventeenth century, sugar. The English and French established plantations on their islands to produce labor-intensive crops like sugarcane, worked by indentured servants and, later, African slaves. The Dutch established trading posts, such as Curaçao. In 1600, all New World settlements were still Spanish. The English and French begin to colonize in the first quarter of the seventeenth century in part because the Dutch Navy in the Caribbean protected them from the Spanish. At the same time, the British began to colonize the outer islands, starting with St. Kitts and Barbados, which served as bases for further expansion. The French then established a Compagnie des Isles d'Amérique and settled Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1635. It was easy (both for French and English settlers) to obtain grants because the islands were thought fairly worthless before sugar was introduced. In the first phase of settlement, tobacco and cotton were the main crops.


British colonial development in the New World was focused both on the Caribbean and the North American mainland. The disinterest of the English government in direct management of the colonies was matched by the penchant of settlers in the thirteen colonies for self-government, inasmuch as distaste for central authority had played an important role in their decision to emigrate. The economic life of the colonies was differentiated early on, with plantations in the south, which grew cereals, cotton, and, later, tobacco, and a more varied economy in the north, characterized in New England by commercial shipping, fishing, and timber. In the eighteenth century, large numbers of immigrants, first from Germany and later from Ireland, were attracted by the prosperity of the British colonies, only to submit to the lure of the frontier once they had arrived.

The British had a colonial stake in Asia since the formation in 1600 of the East India Company, a trading organization whose business grew steadily at the expense of the Portuguese. In the eighteenth century the company had its own army; its rapacious rule in Bengal stimulated Parliament to appoint a governor general in 1773. Over the next half century the British steadily occupied the whole of India, but the company continued in an administrative capacity until it was finally dissolved in 1858.


In 1534, Jacques Cartier (14911557) established a fort on the site of what is now Quebec City. The French settled Acadia in 1604 and Quebec in 1608. The entire early French enterprise in Canada was based on a single product: fur. Beaver pelts, the best material for hat felt, could not be found in France, were light in weight, had a high value relative to bulk, and were easily transported. Quebec was organized along feudal lines, divided into huge rural estates, or seigneuries, many of which persisted after the British absorbed the colony in 1763. Further south the French established plantations along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, a colony that prospered from the late seventeenth century (with an interval of Spanish rule) until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. A number of French efforts to establish trading colonies in Brazil (Fort Coligny/Rio de Janeiro in 15551560, Ibiapaba in 15901604, and São Luis do Maranão in 16121615) were all squelched by Portugal.


Dutch expansion was slow, steady, and on the whole peaceful. The Dutch East India Company, chartered in 1602, acted like a state within a state and imposed sole control over Holland's Asian interests. The first solid Dutch base was obtained in 1605 with the capture of the Portuguese fortress at Amboyna in the Moluccas. In 1619, the Dutch founded the city of Batavia (now Jakarta, on Java), which became the center of Dutch power in Asia. The Dutch also acquired a series of factories on the Indian coast and in 1638 a foothold in Ceylon, which they called the "Cinnamon Isle." By 1661 the Dutch were effectively in control of the entire island. The Dutch empire, like the Portuguese one it largely replaced, was protected by its very size and the way it was scattered all over the map.

Between 1624 and 1664 the Dutch established a colony in the Hudson Valley, called Nieuw Netherlands, with its capital at Nieuw Amsterdam, on Manhattan island; it was a shipping and farming colony whose total population reached 10,000 persons. In 1657, the Dutch established Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa, to protect its seas lanes to Asia. It was a tiny colony, reaching a population of 15,000 only in the eighteenth century. Less successful was the colony of New Sweden along the South River in Delaware, which had been established by a joint stock company in 1632 and was overrun by the Dutch in the early 1650s. In 1624, the Dutch Company temporarily acquired a huge empire in the Brazilian "bulge" when they captured Bahia, which they held for thirty years.


In comparative perspective, British and Dutch empires were decentralized and heavily privatized. Companies were the preferred form of colonization. The Spanish empire, whose colonial administration was highly centralized, was just the opposite. The Portuguese liked the centralization model but lacked the administrative infrastructure to overcome the problems created by distance (Asia) and scale (Brazil). The French were unsuccessful for political reasons and because of the weakness of their navy compared to those of the English and Dutch. Where possible, they established plantations (Louisiana, the Caribbean) or feudal-like domains (the Quebec seigneuries ). They were out-maneuvered in North America and lost the richest of their Caribbean islands, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), to a revolution. In economic terms the Spanish colonies constituted a kind of experiment in mercantilism whereby colonies were to become productive entities that trade with the motherland. The Portuguese and Dutch colonies were purely economic outposts, with only a few exceptions like Brazil or the Cape Colony. The southern colonies of the future United States were, in their inception, plantation economies organized by companies; the northern colonies were increasingly drawn into commercial shipping networks of the New World economy.

See also British Colonies ; Columbus, Christopher ; DutchColonies ; Europe and the World ; French Colonies ; Magellan, Ferdinand ; Missions and Missionaries ; Portuguese Colonies ; Spanish Colonies ; Sugar ; Tobacco ; Trading Companies .


Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 16001800. London, 1990.

. The Portuguese Seaborne Empire. New York, 1969.

Gibson, Charles. Spain in America. New York, 1966.

Parry, J. H. The Spanish Seaborne Empire. London, 1966.

Véliz, Claudio. The Centralist Tradition of Latin America. Princeton, 1980.

Thomas F. Glick

Colonialism: Latin America

views updated May 23 2018

Colonialism: Latin America

Colonialism is all about the exercise of power and its consequences. Theoretically, the exercise of power entails the interaction of at least two parties negotiating (by various means or practices) their wills on one or more issues, as shown by their various actions or statements. This definition holds for interactions of both individuals and institutions. The imposition of one state's will over another is the essence of colonialism. This phenomenon can be observed in a formal sense, when, for example, a mother country dominates a colony, as Spain and Portugal controlled their kingdoms in the Americas. It can also be seen in an informal sense, when the British government pressured Argentine representatives to repay the Baring Brothers' loan in the nineteenth century.

The history of colonialism, which has been a ubiquitous part of the history of the Americas for centuries, can be divided into four parts: pre-Colombian native imperialism; early modern European colonialism; new colonialism (in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries); and neocolonialism, which came to dominate especially after World War II. Archaeologists and historians have described two major pre-Columbian empires in this hemisphere. In the first, the Nahuatl-speaking people, who called themselves the Mexica, dominated the far-flung "Aztec" empire, which was akin to a loose confederation of city-states under one dominant power. The second great indigenous imperial regime was that of the Inca in South America. Because the Inca required all peoples newly incorporated into the empire to add the Inca Sun god to their religious hierarchy, to learn to communicate in the Quechua language, and to serve the Inca state as requested, they established an empire that was more unified and homogeneous than their counterparts in Mexico.

The age of modern colonialism began in the fifteenth century with the rise of modern nation-states and the beginning of European exploration and discovery. Both of the pre-Columbian empires of the Americas were subsequently conquered and colonized by the Spanish. Representatives of the Spanish crown quickly reorganized the indigenous population to facilitate their rule. To anchor Spaniards in place, colonial authoritiesbeginning with Hernando Cortez in North America and Francisco Pizarro in South Americagave to their followers grants of native peoples and the rights to their laborcalled encomiendas. Thus imperial fiat created a new Spanish elite. The grantees or encomenderos ruled the native population at will until reports of misuse, exploitation, and the attendant demographic catastrophe motivated the king to establish a government to implement his law and will.

In Spain, the Council of the Indies (Consejo de Indias) was created to study and make policy for the New World, advise the king, and settle important court cases on appeal. The crown created the House of Trade (Casa de la Contratación) in Seville to regulate commerce, collect taxes, and license immigrants. In America, viceroys represented the monarch's person. Supreme courts (real audiencias ) and treasury departments (real haciendas ) were also established. Local representation of the king was entrusted to district governors, or corregidores. Each Spanish city had a town council (cabildo ) that was entrusted with overseeing the urban population, planning and growth, sanitation, and law and order. Because the overseas state remained relatively unelaborated and weak under the Habsburgs, the Spanish king relied on the church to help rule. The church provided education to a select few; kept the baptismal, marriage, and burial records; served as a source of capital; provided the moral underpinnings of order; oversaw charity; and proved a ready channel of communication for royal mandates.

Under the Habsburg kings, the colonies provided the mother country with agricultural commodities, precious metals, and exotic products, and proved a ready and profitable market for manufactured goods, which were increasingly made elsewhere in Europe but shipped in Spanish ships in exchange for Spanish civilization and culture (language, religion, and lifeways), manufactured goods, and law and governance. Because Habsburg bureaucratic jurisdictions remained blurred and overlapping, this partnership between church and state resulted in a flexible and long-lasting system of rule that, because of the distances and difficulties in communication, gave many American districts a measure of local autonomy.

In 1700, the Bourbons inherited the Spanish kingdoms. They realized that Spain's global power had waned since the late sixteenth century and that the American kingdoms were deficient in supplying the mother country with sufficient revenues to justify their new designation as colonies. Therefore the Bourbons set about reforming the colonial structure and its personnel (1) to defend the overseas kingdoms from the encroachment of the Dutch, the French, and the British, who all wanted footholds in the Americas and access to their raw materials and markets; (2) to rationalize the administration of the New World kingdoms; and (3) to maximize the revenues flowing into the royal treasury of Spain. The Bourbons did this in stagesworking on the reforms first at home in the peninsula, then in the Caribbean, next in New Spain, and finally in Peru. Among the reforms were (1) the expulsion of the Jesuit order on charges of disloyalty and sedition (teaching new and prohibited treasonous ideas associated with Enlightenment philosophers such as Locke and Montesquieu); (2) the creation of the two new viceroyalties of New Granada (1717, 1739) and La Plata (1776) from the viceroyalty of Peru, ostensibly to bring justice closer to the settlers; (3) the replacement of the creole corregidor system of local administration with that of an intendente system of peninsular-born royal officials who enjoyed higher status and broader jurisdiction; (4) the renewal of the tax system to increase some levies (e.g., the sales tax) and create new ones (e.g., the tobacco monopoly); (5) the creation of the first true military organization (for defense); (6) the promotion of new technology (for example, pumps and the Born process to increase the productivity of the mines); and (7) the passage of legislation opening up trade.

These reforms alienated (1) the church, because of the monarch's growing anticlericalism; (2) creole families, because the Jesuits had been the favored educators of elite sons; (3) creole corregidores, who were replaced with peninsular-born intendentes ; (4) people of mixed blood (i.e., the castas ), who were particularly hard hit by increasing taxes; (5) creole militiamen, who resented the fact that the new military organization allowed persons of mixed blood to join; (6) miners, who wondered why it had taken the crown so long to send them the pump that could solve their flooding problems; (7) large wholesale merchants, who lost their monopoly on import supply; and (8) provincial towns that lost the business from overland traffic of mule teams and llama caravans in the Andes as new seaports were opened up for freer trade.

In the short run, the reforms did improve security, administrative expediency, and tax revenues. But in the long run, the imposition of the will of the mother country stifled local autonomy and was interpreted as a threat to the sociopolitical and economic interests of the creoles, causing enough resentment to heighten the desire for independence. Independence, which split the Spanish-American colonies into more than twenty separate countries in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, ended the formal unequal exchange between Spain and its American colonies.

Portuguese colonization followed the same general outlines, with some notable differences. The Portuguese overseas government in Brazil was established in the middle of the sixteenth century in part to prevent the French and other foreign interlopers from taking control of selected areas. The flight of the royal family and its court from Napoleon in 1807 and arrival in Brazil in 1808 and the presence of the royal family in the early nineteenth century resulted in a controlled independence and rule by members of the royal family, Pedro I and Pedro II, as kings of a separate Portuguese kingdom. Pedro II ruled in a relatively enlightened way, but resentment mounted nonetheless, culminating with the issuance in 1888 of the "Golden Law," freeing the slaves, that fatally undermined support for his rule and led to his exile in 1889.

Independence, which foreshadowed the age of new imperialism, however, did not bring the new republican governments total control over their own affairs. The new nations were politically independent but became subject to foreign invasions and state-to-state pressures over debts and the maintenance of law and order. Europe's industries were eager to find sources of raw materials and new markets. Investors willingly exported capital. As mentioned above, the Argentine government defaulted on its first loan, subjecting it to years of informal British diplomatic pressure for repayment. Further north, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean nations faced invasion to collect similar debts, as when the Spanish, French, and British governments sent troops into Mexico during the rule of the constitutionally elected presidency of Benito Juárez to collect overdue moneys.

In the twentieth century, the term "neocolonialism" referred to informal economic ties and the growing predominance of the cultures and values of the former colonial powers by which they continued to influence the cultures and outlooks of Latin-American states. Unequal terms of trade exacerbated Latin America's relations with the rest of the world as more and more products (such as bananas, coffee, sugar, and tin) were needed to buy the same or equivalent imported products. Resentment at this situation stimulated a rich intellectual life across the continent in the twentieth century; in fields as varied as economics, political philosophy, literature, and art, anti-imperialism was a hallmark of a distinctively Latin American form of modernism.

Deteriorating terms of trade and dependency on other world powers have split the populations of the various countries. The elites support the foreign loans, aid, and close trading relations because they are importers and exporters who profit from such relations or the bankers, lawyers, and politicians who negotiate the loans, write the contracts, and collect the fees for their efforts. Nationalists, in contrast, are against such dealings, arguing that their nations export low-priced products to buy relatively high-cost manufactured goods that are often inappropriate technologically to the needs of the majority of their people. These nations also pay out more in principal, interest, fees, and patent and licensing costs than they take in, thus exacerbating inequality between countries and within their own nations, perpetuating their subordinate status, inequality, and poverty.

In addition, nationalists claim that the ruling elites colonize their own compatriots, in that provincial producers sell their local productsbe it oranges or potatoesat low prices and buy high-priced manufactured goods in return. In addition, the provinces send taxes to the capital and get much less back in the form of public works and services (such as schools)a form of internal colonialism.

Such unequal relations have left a legacy of inequality and growing suspicion of and covert and overt resistance to the rule-makers at home and abroad. Under the Habsburgs, colonial populations resisted, saying, "obedesco pero no cumplo " (I obey but will not comply), implying that they recognized that the king had the right to issue the law but that if he had been better informed, he would not have done so. While they informed him of their circumstances and the reasons why the decree is not wise, it was not locally enforced. Increasingly this practice has been replaced by the attitude summarized as "hecho la ley, hecho la trampa " (a law passed is a law bypassed [by cheating, trickery, cleverness, or deceit]). This shows the growing cynicism and intolerance of the general population to their governments, international agencies, and unequal relations with the more developed world.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the picture is mixed. The fall of the Soviet Union has undermined the sense of any alternative to U.S. capitalism; at the same time, however, the disastrous economic situation that has resulted from neoliberal reformsthe latest set of policies imposed by international creditors on Latin-American nationshas fueled a new sense of resentment. At the same time, a militant desire for functioning democracy, transparency, and an end to corruption has fostered the growth of a wide variety of grassroots political movements. But for many, the only solution is to migrate, legally or illegally, northinto what a previous generation of anticolonialist Latin Americans called "the belly of the beast."

See also Anticolonialism: Latin America ; Empire and Imperialism: Americas .


Bernecker, Walther L., and Hans Werner Tobler, eds. Development and Underdevelopment in America: Contrasts of Economic Growth in North and Latin America in Historical Perspective. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993.

Felix, David, ed. Debt and Transfiguration? Prospects for Latin America's Economic Revival. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1990.

Frank, Andre Gunder. Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution: Essays on the Development of Underdevelopment and the Immediate Enemy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.

Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Translated by Cedric Belfrage. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.

Johnson, John J. Latin America in Caricature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.

Keen, Benjamin. A History of Latin America. 4th edition. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Susan Elizabeth Ramirez

Colonialism in the Middle East

views updated May 17 2018


european control of middle east areas beginning during the nineteenth century and continuing until world war ii.

Between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I, most of the Middle East and North Africa either already was, or later came, under different forms of colonial rule. In North Africa, France began to conquer Algeria in 1830, conquered Tunisia in 1881, and (together with Spain) imposed a protectorate upon Morocco in 1912. All three were "colonial settler states" in that a substantial proportion of the population (12 percent in the case of Algeria in 1854) were Europeans, mostly French families, who came to live and work in North Africa, both on the land and in the cities. Some of their descendants remained there until forced out by the independence struggles of the 1950s and early 1960s. On a somewhat smaller scale, Libya was annexed by Italy in 1911 and attracted some 110,000 Italian settlers during the inter-war period.

Britain and France Take Leading Roles

In Egypt, following the rise of a nationalist movement that threatened to challenge the British and French administration of the public debt (put in place in 1876), British troops invaded in 1882 and occupied the country informally until the declaration of a British protectorate on the outbreak of World War I. Although large numbers of foreigners resided in Egypt, they were generally neither "settlers" nor colons in the French North African sense (since they lived mostly in the cities and engaged in commerce or in other service occupations) and a majority of them were not citizens of the occupying power.

On the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Britain's concern to keep the route to India safe and open led to the signing of a series of treaties with the rulers of Bahrain and of what are now the United Arab Emirates. In 1853 the rulers signed a Perpetual Maritime Truce; in 1892 Bahrain and the lower Gulf emirates, including Muscat and Oman, signed further agreements with Britain under which they agreed not to dispose of any part of their territories except to Britain, and to conduct their foreign relations exclusively through the British government. Britain concluded similar agreements with Kuwait in 1899 and Qatar in 1916. In 1839 Britain annexed Aden and turned it into a naval base; later, "exclusive" treaties were signed with the tribal rulers of the interior, and in 1937 the area was divided into the port and its immediate hinterland (Aden Colony) and the more remote rural/tribal areas (Aden Protectorate).

In the Levant, a form of colonialism of a rather different kind came into being after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France in 1918. The Ottoman Arab provinces were assigned to Britain and France as mandates from the newly created League of Nations, Britain taking responsibility for Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan, and France taking responsibility for Lebanon and Syria. The guiding principle of the mandate system was that the states concerned should remain under the tutelage of the mandatory power, until such time as they were able to "stand alone," a period that, although unspecified, was viewed as not being of indefinite length.

Of the five states, Palestine was unique among its neighbors in that it was a settler state, since the text of the Palestine mandate included the terms of the Balfour Declaration (1917), in which Britain undertook to facilitate the setting up of a "national home for the Jewish people." European Jewish migration to Palestine had begun during the last decades of the nineteenth century with the rise of Zionism, whose objective was the creation of a Jewish state, although the specific details were not to be formulated until the early 1900s. By World War I there were some 65,000 Jews in Palestine, some 8 to 10 percent of the total population. In 1922 there were 93,000 Jews and about 700,000 Arabs; in 1936, three years after the Nazis had come to power in Germany, there were 380,000 Jews and 983,000 Arabs; and in 1946, about 600,000 Jews and 1.3 million Arabs. Thus the Jewish population had increased from 13 percent to 31 percent over a period of twenty-four years. Arab opposition to Jewish immigration was focused at least as much on the Jews' perceived character as European settlers (as in, say, Algeria) as on their religious affiliation.

The rest of the Middle East never experienced direct colonial control, although the Ottoman Empire's borrowings from European sources, and its mounting trade deficit, led it to declare bankruptcy in 1875 and then to the imposition of financial controls by the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, a committee representing the interests of the European bondholders. After the collapse of the empire at the end of World War I, Anatolia was occupied by the French, Greek, and Italian armies, but a national resistance movement formed around the Ottoman general Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and an independent Turkish republic was declared in 1923. Iran had also been the object of external economic and political interest from the last decade of the eighteenth century; Britain wanted to control Iran because of its proximity to India, while Russia was expanding its empire in Central Asia and was also, or so Britain claimed, intent on gaining access to ports on the Persian Gulf. Iran achieved a certain degree of independence with the rise to power of Reza Khan, subsequently Reza Shah Pahlavi, who set up his own dynasty in 1925. Principally because of their remoteness and lack of major strategic importance, central Arabia and northern Yemen were never colonized. However, Ibn Saʿud, the ruler of central Arabia, gradually extended his rule over most of the rest of the Arabian Peninsula with substantial assistance from Britain, eventually establishing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Independence Movements

The states of North Africa were generally fairly quiescent until after 1945, although the colonial regimes, with their policies of widespread confiscation of tribal land for the benefit of the settler population, were deeply unpopular. In Morocco, the French generally were able to contain the movement for national independence, but they precipitated a major crisis by exiling the sultan, Muhammad V, to Madagascar in 1953. As a result, the rallying cry of the national movement became the return of the sultan from exile, which led to the sultan/king retaining his position as ruler after independence in October 1956. In Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba took over the leadership of the national movement after his release from prison in 1936; his Neo-Destour party had about 110,000 members in 1954 and was closely linked with the labor movement. After the war a guerrilla movement formed and attacked French farms and settlers. Probably because France could not take on anticolonial wars in both Tunisia and Algeria at the same time, Tunisian independence was negotiated fairly smoothly in April 1955.

Algeria's road to independence was far rockier than that of any other state in the region, largely because of the large numbers of French settlers in Algeria and of Algerian workers in France. Postwar French governments attempted to incorporate Algeria into France, a step that appealed to the settlers but was vigorously opposed by the great majority of the Arab population. In 1954 the Algerian resistance formed the Front de Libération Nationale under the leadership of Ahmed Ben Bella; after his capture in 1957, some of his colleagues set up an Algerian government in exile in Tunis. The "war of national liberation" lasted from 1954 until 1962; between a million and a million and a half Algerians were killed, and 27,000 French.

In Libya, Italian conquest and pacification between 1911 and 1932 had faced bitter resistance, involving major losses of life, but because of the country's sparse population, this general hostility did not produce a nationalist movement. The country's liberation in 1942 came about as part of the North Africa campaign; the British entered into a tentative alliance with the Amir Idris al-Sanusi, head of the Sanusi order, who was brought back from exile in 1944. After several years of negotiations, Libya became independent under United Nations auspices in 1952, and Idris became the new state's hereditary ruler.

In Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Syriathe situation in Palestine was of course uniquethe British and French set up monarchies and constitutional republics, respectively. This new political order was widely contested, and the mandate regimes were generally unpopular, especially in Syria and Palestine. After having set up a compliant government in Iraq, the British felt able to make a formal withdrawal in 1932, although real independence was not obtained until 1958. In Lebanon the French were welcomed by the Maronites and the other Catholic Christians but by few others. In Syria there was a major national rising between 1925 and 1927, which the French had considerable difficulty in controlling, although a notable-dominated group, al-Kutla al-Wataniyya, emerged as the voice of moderate nationalism, with whom, it seemed, the French might be persuaded to work. Expectations were raised in 1936 with the victory of Léon Blum's Popular Front government in France in 1936, but negotiations for independence ceased when it fell a year later, and Syria remained under French control until 1945.

Egypt, already under British tutelage since the declaration of the protectorate in 1914, escaped the formal structures of the mandate system. Late in 1918, some Egyptian politicians asked the British authorities for permission to send a delegation (wafd) to the Paris peace conference. When permission was refused, a widespread national uprising broke out in March 1919. Eventually, Britain conceded limited Egyptian independence in 1922; further agitation during the 1920s and 1930s led to the signature of an Anglo-Egyptian treaty in 1936 that enabled Egypt to enter the League of Nations as an independent state. Nevertheless, a substantial British military presence remained in the country until Gamal Abdel Nasser's seizure of power in 1952.

Palestine and Zionism

In Palestine, the special situation created by Zionist settlement led to increasing hostility and resentment on the part of the Arab population. The British attempted to act in an even-handed fashion toward the two communities, but in general the Arab political leadership was disinclined, for example, to participate in any British constitutional proposals that would imply recognition of the Zionist presence. The Jewish National Fund gradually bought up land in Palestine from (mostly absentee) Arab landlords. It amassed about a quarter of the cultivable area between 1920 and 1948 and settled Jewish immigrants on it in farming cooperatives. Jewish immigrants also settled in the cities: Between 1911 and 1929 the population of Tel Aviv grew from 550 to 38,500. For this and other reasons, there were serious outbreaks of rioting in 1921 and 1929, and a more sustained Palestinian rebellion between 1936 and 1939.

During World War II there was a considerable amount of illegal immigration to Palestine, but in spite of their obvious discontent with Britain, many Zionists fought in, or in units attached to, the British army. After the war Britain decided that it could not solve the problems of Palestine on its own and referred the problem to the United Nations. In November 1947 the United Nations voted that Palestine should be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state; the British began to evacuate and had left by May 1948. In January 1948 volunteer units from some of the surrounding Arab countries began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. The volunteers and the armies of the other Arab states proved no match for the Zionist forces, which outnumbered them about two to one. On 14 May 1948 the state of Israel was declared. Throughout 1948 large numbers of Arabs left Palestine, unaware that they would not be allowed to come back. By January 1949, there were some 730,000 Palestinian refugees, 280,000 in the West Bank (which became incorporated into Jordan in 1951), 200,000 in the Gaza Strip, and the rest in Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan.


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Anderson, Lisa. The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 18301980. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Botman, Selma. Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 19191952. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991.

Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 19541962. London: Macmillan, 1977.

Khoury, Philip S. Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 19201945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Leatherdale, Clive. Britain and Saudi Arabia, 19251939: The Imperial Oasis. Totowa, NJ; London: Cass, 1983.

Louis, William Roger. The British Empire in the Middle East, 19451951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism. New York; Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Meouchy, Nadine, and Sluglett, Peter, eds. The British and French Mandates in Comparative Perspectives/Les mandats français et anglais dans une perspective comparative. Boston: Brill, 2003.

Salibi, Kamal. A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. Berkeley: University of California Press; London: Tauris, 1988.

Sluglett, Peter. Britain in Iraq, 19141932. London: Ithaca Press, 1976.

Sluglett, Peter. "Formal and Informal Empire in the Middle East." In The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 5, Historiography, edited by Robin W. Winks. New York; Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Wilson, Mary C. King Abdullah, Britain, and the Making of Jordan. New York; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Zürcher, Erik J. Turkey: A Modern History. New York; London: Tauris, 1998.

Peter Sluglett


views updated May 29 2018


Colonialism is a type of imperial domination of the non-Russian peoples who inhabited the southern and eastern borderlands of the Russian Empire and who subsequently fell under the control of the Soviet Union. It refers specifically to policies to spread Western civilization (a "civilizing mission") among peoples in those territories, and to integrate them into the imperial state and economy. It extends as well to the colonization by Russian and Ukrainian peasant settlers of lands inhabited by pastoral nomadic tribes.


The Russian Empire's southern and eastern borderlands became its colonial territories. Russian expansion onto the plains of Eurasia had by the middle of the eighteenth century brought within the boundaries of the empire all the lands south to the Caucasus Mountains and to the deserts of Turkestan, and east to the Pacific Ocean. Much of the area consisted of vast plains (the "steppe") once dominated by confederations of nomadic tribes, who became the subjects of imperial rule and the empire's first colonized peoples. The grasslands where they grazed their flocks along the lower Volga River and in southern Russia (the Ukraine) attracted peasants from European Russia seeking new farmland.

The imperial government encouraged this southward movement of the Russian population (most of whom were serfs owned by noble landlords). Occasionally nomadic tribes fought to retain

their lands. Prolonged resistance came first from the Bashkirs, Turkic peoples whose tribes occupied lands east of the Volga and along the Ural Mountains. During the eighteenth century many clans joined in raids on the intruders and battled against Russian troops. They joined in the massive Pugachev uprising of 1772 to 1774 alongside Cossacks and rebellious Russians. But in the end Russian armed forces invariably defeated the rebels.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Russia's borders of the empire shifted further southeastward into Eurasian lands, bringing an increasingly diverse population into the empire. Peoples in these borderlands spoke many different languages, mostly of Turkic origin; practiced a wide variety of religions, with the Islamic faith the most widespread; and followed their own time-honored customs and social practices. Russia was becoming a multiethnic, multireligious empire.

the imperial civilizing mission

In the reign of Empress Catherine II (r. 17621796), the empire's leadership began to experiment with new approaches to govern these peoples. These policies drew upon Enlightenment concepts of government that redefined the object of colonial conquests. They became the basis of Russian colonialism. Previously, the Russian state had extended to the princes and nobles of newly conquered eastern territories the chance to collaborate in imperial rule. It had required their conversion to Orthodox Christianity, and had periodically encouraged Orthodox missionaries to conduct campaigns of mass conversion, if necessary by force. Before Catherine II's time, the state had made no concerted effort to alter the social, economic, and cultural practices of the peoples on its southern and eastern borderlands. This authoritarian method of borderland rule demanded only obedience from the native populations.

In the late eighteenth century, some educated Russians began to argue that their empire, which they believed a civilized Western land, had the duty to spread civilization, as they understood it, to its backward peoples. They had two principal objectives. By spreading Russian culture, legal practices, and opportunities for economic enrichment, the empire could hope to recruit a progressive group from these peoples who would become willing collaborators in Russian domination. Equally important was their belief that Russia's own historical development made the spread of its newly acquired Western culture among "savage" peoples a moral obligation.

Catherine II herself traveled among the empire's eastern peoples at the beginning of her reign. Impressed by what she described as the "differences of peoples, customs, and even ideas" in Asian land, she looked for new ways to win the loyalty of the population. Encouragement of trade, education, and religious toleration appeared to her desirable and useful tools to strengthen the bonds between these colonial peoples and their imperial rulers. These goals suggested practical guidelines by which she and her advisers could build their empire on modern political foundations. These also confirmed in their eyes the legitimacy of their imperial domination of backward peoples.

Catherine II shared the Enlightenment conviction that reason, not religious faith, lay at the core of enlightened government. She did not abandon the policy of maintaining Orthodox Christianity as the state religion of the empire, but ended forced conversion of Muslim peoples to Christianity. In 1773, she formally accorded religious toleration to Islam. Her successors on the imperial throne maintained this fundamental right, which proved a valuable means of maintaining peaceful relations with the empire's growing Muslim population. They encouraged the conversion to Christianity of peoples holding to animist beliefs, for they believed that their duty was to favor the spread of Christianity. They also promoted the commercial exploitation of colonial resources and the increased sale of Russian manufactured goods in their colonial territories. The Western colonialists' slogan of "Commerce and Christianity" described one important aspect to Russia's civilizing mission. Self-interest as well as the belief in spreading the benefits of Western civilization provided the ideological basis for Russian colonialism. This new policy never fully supplanted the old practices of authoritarian rule and discrimination against non-Russians, which had strong defenders among army officers on the borderlands. But it, too, enjoyed powerful backing in the highest government circles. In the nineteenth century, their vision of an imperial civilizing mission brought Russia into the ranks of great Western empires.

commerce and christianity in colonial alaska

Alaska was the first area where Russian colonialism guided imperial rule. In the late eighteenth century Russian trappers had appeared there, having crossed the Pacific Ocean along the Aleutian Islands from Siberia in their hunt for fur-bearing sea mammals. The sea otter, whose fur was so highly prized that it was called "soft gold," was their chosen prey. They forced native peoples skilled at the dangerous craft of hunting at sea (mainly Aleutian tribesmen) to trap the animals, whose range extended from the Aleutians along the Alaskan coast and down to California. In 1800, the Russian government created a special colonial administration, the Russian-American Company, to take charge of "the Russian colonies in America." Its main tasks were to expand the commercially profitable fur-gathering activities, and to spread Orthodox Christianity and Russian culture among the subject peoples of this vast territory.

"Commerce and Christianity" defined the Russian Empire's objectives there. It operated in a manner somewhat similar to that of the British Hudson's Bay Company, also established in colonial North America. And like other overseas colonies of European empires, the Russians exploited Alaska's valuable resources (killing off almost all the sea otters), in the process confronting periodic revolts from their subject peoples. Faced with these difficulties, the Russian government finally abandoned its distant colony, too expensive and too distant to retain. In 1867, it sold the entire territory to the United States.

colonial turkestan and imperial citizenship

In seeking to create a unified, modern state, the Russian Empire moved toward establishing a common citizenship for the peoples in its multiethnic, multireligious borderlands in the late nineteenth century. It began this effort in 1860s and 1870s, at the time when it freed its peasant serf population from conditions of virtual slavery to its nobility. Reformers in the government conceived of an empire founded on a sort of imperial citizenship, extended to former serfs and to native peoples.

That was the period of the empire's last major colonial expansion, when its military forces conquered a large part of Central Asia. The settled and nomadic populations of Turkestan (as the area was then called) spoke Turkic languages and were faithful Muslims who looked to the Ottoman Empire, not Russia, for cultural and religious leadership. The Russian colonial administration was deeply divided on the proper treatment of their unwilling new subjects. Some preferred to rely on the old policies of authoritarian rule, restrictions of the Muslim religion, and the encouragement of Russian colonization. Others took their inspiration from Catherine II's colonialist policies. The latter argued for progressive colonial policies including religious toleration of Islam, respect for the ethnic customs and moral practices of Turkestan's peoples, and the development of new crops (especially cotton) and commercial trade with Russia. They hoped that, as the powerful Minister of Finance Sergei Witte argued in 1900, full equality of rights with other subjects, freedom in the conduct of their religious needs, and non-intervention in their private lives, would ensure the unification of the Russian state.

This progressive colonialist program was notable by according (in theory) "equality of rights" to these imperial subjects. Colonial officials of this persuasion believed that they could extend, within their autocratic state, a sort of imperial citizenship to all the colonial peoples. They withheld, however, the full implementation of this reform until these peoples were "ready," that is, proved themselves loyal, patriotic subjects of the emperor-tsar. Opposition to their policy came from influential civilian leaders who judged that the state's need to support Russian peasants colonizing Turkestan territories had to come first. Their reckless decision led to the seizure from nomadic tribes of vast regions of Turkestan given to the peasant pioneers. Colonization meant violating the right of these subjects to the use of their land, which led directly to the Turkestan uprising of 1916. Coming before the 1917 revolution, this rebellion revealed that the empire's colonialist policies had failed to unify its peoples.

orientalism in the caucasus region

To the end of the empire's existence, colonialism rested on the assumption of Russian cultural superiority and often expressed itself in disdain for colonial peoples. Yet not all of these subject groups were treated with equal disregard. In the territories of the Caucasus Mountains (between the Black and Caspian Seas), imperial rule won the support of some peoples, but faced repeated revolts from others. Resistance came especially from Muslim mountain tribes, who bitterly opposed domination by this Christian state. They sustained a half-century war until their defeat in the 1860s, when many were forced into exile or emigrated willingly to the Ottoman Empire. The conquest of the region produced an abundance of heroic tales of exotic adventures pitting valorous Russians against barbaric, cruel, and courageous enemies. These tales created enduring images of "oriental" peoples, sometimes admired for their "noble savagery" but usually disparaged for their alleged moral and cultural decadence.

Russian colonialism had a powerful impact on the population there. The Christian peoples (Georgians and Armenians) of the region found particular benefits from the empire's economic and cultural policies. Armenians created profitable commercial enterprises in the growing towns and cities of the Caucasus region, and were joined by large numbers of Armenian migrants from surrounding Muslim states. Some Georgians used the empire's cultural window on modern Western culture to create their own national literature and history. These quickly became tools in the Georgians' nationalist oppositional movement. In the Muslim lands along the Caspian Sea where Azeri Turks lived, investors from Russia and Europe developed the rich oil deposits into one of the first major sources of petroleum for the European economy, a source of immense profit to them. The port of Baku became a boomtown, where unskilled Azeri laborers worked in the dangerous oil fields. They formed a colonial proletariat living among Russian officials and capitalists, and Armenian merchants and traders. The new colonial cities such as Baku were deeply divided both socially and ethnically, and became places in the early twentieth century of riots and bloodshed provoked by the hostility among these peoples. Nationalist opposition to empire and ethnic conflict among its peoples were both products of Russian colonialism.

colonialism in the soviet union

The fall of the empire in 1917 ended Russian colonialism as a publicly defended ideal and policy. The triumph of the communist revolutionary

movement in most of the lands once a part of the empire put in place a new political order, called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The communist leaders of the new Soviet state preached the Marxist-Leninist program for human progress. They persecuted all religious movements, and denounced imperialism and colonialism, in Russia as elsewhere in the Western world. Their promise was liberation of all colonial peoples. But they did not permit their own peoples, previously in the empire's colonial lands, to escape their domination. Their idea of "colonial liberation" consisted of organizing these peoples into discreet ethno-territorial units by drawing territorial borders for every distinct people. The biggest of these received their own national republics. Each of these nations of the Soviet Union had its own political leaders and its own language and culture, but the "union" to which they belonged remained under the domination of the Communist Party, itself controlled from party headquarters in the Kremlin in Moscow.

The empire's eastern peoples experienced a new, communist civilizing mission, which proclaimed the greatest good for backward peoples to be working-class liberation, national culture, and rapid economic development under state control. Colonization reappeared as well when, in the 1950s and 1960s, millions of settlers from European areas moved into Siberia and regions of Central Asia to cultivate, in enormous state-run farms, most of the remaining lands of the nomadic peoples. Colonialism within the lands of the former Russian Empire did not disappear until the Soviet Union in its turn collapsed in 1991.

See also: catherine ii; caucasus; christianity, colonial expansion; enlightenment, impact of the; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist


Brower, Daniel. (2003). Turkestan and the Fate of the Russian Empire. London: Routledge/Curzon.

Brower, Daniel, and Lazzerini, Edward, eds. (1997). Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 17001917. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Jersild, Austin. (2002). Orientalism and Empire: The North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 18451917. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Khodarkovsky, Michael. (2002). Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 15001800. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Layton, Susan. (1994). Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Slezkine, Yuri. (1994). Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Suny, Ronald Grigor, and Martin, Terry, eds. A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin. New York: Oxford University Press.

Daniel Brower