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I think that the overall historic time period for Conrad's novel is the basic idea of Western European expansion into other nations and the colonization of these nations. Essentially, the age of exploration that broadened European reach all over the world is the time period for the novel. It is this period where the themes of the novel can be explored such as the idea of civilization and savagery and where those lines are. At the same time, it is where we can see how Europeans viewed the indigenous people of the lands they colonized. If you are looking for one other historic period that might have applicability to the themes in the novel, I would check out the film, "Apocalypse Now" which places Conrad's ideas in the setting the Vietnam War. This would be another historic time period where the novel's full reach can be explored. If you are going this far, perhaps you would be able to go a bit farther. I would check out the documentary, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" which details the making of the film, "Apocalypse Now." This documentary about the making of the film captures even more of Conrad's themes. Both films are very good historical applications of Conrad's work.
Colonization of the African continent began in the early 1800s--mostly begun by Christian missionaries--and reached fever pitch after the mid-1800s, leading to the 1884-1885 West African Conference in Berlin organized by Otto von Bismark, the German chancellor, which initiated the era of New Imperialism. If your first time period is "where they colonize Africa," then you've covered a goodly span of the 19th century and early 20th century.
A second time period would be when Joseph Conrad wrote and published Heart of Darkness. Conrad wrote the short novel in 1890 and it was published in Victorian England in 1899 in London in Blackwood's Magazine. Conrad, a naturalized English citizen originally having Polish citizenship, was sent on a mission up the Congo to rescue a colony agent just as he relays in his story, which was structured with an innovative narratorial technique.
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