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Colonialism And Imperialism Essay Questions

Imperialism and Colonialism Essay

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Imperialism Imperialism is the policy or practice of a country extending its control over a foreign country’s land, economic life, or political system. The ruling country usually does this through conquest, and the native people of the nation being taken over are often suppressed. If a nation takes over the government of another territory militarily or through political means, then this is called direct imperialism. Indirect imperialism is when a region is self-governing but another country takes over through economic processes.
Colonialism is when a nation extends its authority over another territory by establishing colonies in which the native people are either moved out or ruled over. Some people believe colonialism…show more content…

The word colonialism comes from the Latin word colonus, which means “farmer”. When a country has been colonized, usually people from the ruling country are transferred to the new territory being colonized. These people now live permanently in the colonized country, but they maintain a political allegiance to their home country. The word imperialism comes from the Latin word imperium, which means “to command”. In imperialism, one country expands its authority over another, but it can exist without actually creating formal colonies. Using colonialism is an imperialistic act. However, imperialistic acts do not necessarily have to be colonial. Forming colonies would require military force, but you don’t have to use military force to have imperialism. Another difference would be that in imperialism there aren’t always sharp distinctions between those who are ruling and those being ruled, while in colonialism there are.
Two Examples Colonialism has been going on for a very long time. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Moors, and Ottomans are just some examples of countries that have colonized. A more famous example of colonialism is the European colonization of the Americas. The first people who reached the Americas were actually the Vikings. They started to colonize, but then stopped. Later on, there were explorers from European countries that began to make journeys to America. Some of these explorers include Christopher Columbus (from

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I think I’ve hit on a catchy structure for a modest reshuffling of my Honors seminar in Colonial Africa. Much of my reading list will remain the same, but this restructuring is designed to make the way I look at the historiography much more concrete and transparent to the students. Basically, I want to organize the syllabus in terms of what strike me as the Big Questions that sustain historical and anthropological study of the colonial and postcolonial periods. I’m not sure that for each week there’s a single major book or article that will frame an answer to the question: these questions operate at different scales and with different degrees of historiographical density.

I’m curious to hear whether there are other questions you’d add to the list, or variant formulations of them that you prefer.

Keep in mind that one thing I really want to explore in my seminar is the metaquestion of whether colonialism per se was important or powerful in shaping 20th Century Africa. I want to stay open to the school of thought that suggests that there are other transformative influences that have been far more powerful (capitalism, “modernity”), to the school of thought that suggests that it’s actually the prior integration of African societies into global structures between 1450 and 1850 that’s more powerful, and to the school of thought that suggests that deep indigenous structures (political, environmental, social, cultural) remain more determinative of daily life and social outcomes in contemporary African societies than influences from the past century.

A lot of these questions can be answered well with skeptical reformulations. E.g., you could say in response to the question, “Why were European societies able to subject African societies to formal colonial rule with such rapidity?” that they weren’t able to do so, that the colonial state had little real authority outside of administrative centers for twenty or thirty years after lines were drawn on the map in Berlin, save for occasional displays of spectacular violence.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this list would also make a great premise for a catchy short book of essays. I’m feeling kind of pulled by the idea. This is kind of my worst habit, thinking of ideas for books rather than finishing almost-done ones, but I can’t really help myself.


What was the state of African societies in 1860? Are there any useful generalizations to be made in response to that question? What was the relationship between African societies and larger global economic and political systems in 1860?

Why did the “Scramble for Africa” happen? Why were European societies able to subject African societies to formal colonial rule with such rapidity?

Did the activities and character of global capitalism within Africa change markedly after the Scramble for Africa, and was that a consequence of colonialism if so?

Did colonial authorities exercise meaningful political and social control over African societies after 1880, and if so, what kind of control? How did colonial administration actually work, and to what ends did it work? Did the purpose or function of colonial rule change over time?

How did the social structure of African societies change during the colonial era? How much of that change was directly attributable to colonialism itself?

How comparable were the experiences of different African societies during the colonial era? Did the nationality of the colonizer make a significant difference? Did the nature of colonial authority vary for other reasons? Did African societies become more alike or similar in the first half of the 20th Century?

Does the nature of colonial rule in Africa pose special historiographical or methodological problems for historical study?

How did the content and character of cultural practice and everyday life change during the colonial era, and how much was colonialism responsible for that change?

How did Africans think about or understand colonialism? How important was it to them? What social and political developments in African societies were primarily a response to or critique of colonial authority?

What are the social and political origins of African nationalism? How did it relate to other social and political movements in Africa during the “high imperial” era from 1919-1945?

Why did formal colonial rule in Africa come to an end after World War II?

What primarily shaped the evolution of the postcolonial state and postcolonial African societies in the first two decades of independence? (1960-1980)? Did the relationship between African societies and the global system change significantly during that period?

Why has much of postcolonial Africa suffered a series of recurrent political, economic and social catastrophes since 1980? Are all of those problems and failures in fact linked or connected?

Are colonial and postcolonial useful or meaningful periodizations of African history?

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