Colonialism

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How did European empires attempt to transform colonized places in the early twentieth century, and what effects did these attempted changes actually have?

Major European empires in the early twentieth century such as the British, French, and Germans took different approaches to transforming their colonies. The British were paternalistic and saw themselves as a positive civilizing force. The French tried to make their colonies an extension of France, forcing colonized people to speak French and adopt French culture. The Germans were much more heavy-handed, using repressive violence to make colonized people into obedient subjects.

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The ways in which European empires colonized various territories during the early twentieth century varied quite a bit. It may be best to briefly view the largest imperial powers one at a time.

Great Britain had long had technological and economic dominance in the realm of imperialism. It was able...

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The ways in which European empires colonized various territories during the early twentieth century varied quite a bit. It may be best to briefly view the largest imperial powers one at a time.

Great Britain had long had technological and economic dominance in the realm of imperialism. It was able to use its strong navy to establish colonies in far-flung parts of the world. Once British colonies were established, they were seen as resources to further fuel the British economy. The British also saw themselves as having a "civilizing" mission in their colonies. They built numerous schools and missions and put their own legal and political systems into practice. While they still saw their colonial subjects as "less than," they also wanted to Anglicize them to a certain extent. This had huge social and political implications; for instance, India's current legal system is a direct descendant of the one the English instituted. Furthermore, English is still widely spoken in most former British colonies. However, despite the benevolent intentions of many English imperialists, governments tended to be very paternalistic and allowed local rulers to become exploitive and abusive of civil liberties.

France's colonies during this period were mostly in West Africa and Southeast Asia. The French took the approach of trying to transform their colonies into an extension of the French state. They wanted to change the way that their colonial subjects lived in such a way that they would live nearly identical to the French themselves. This meant making the French language the only officially recognized one. While some colonized people did assimilate, most rejected the French cultural intrusions. They held on to their own cultural traditions and maintained them in overt, covert, and subversive ways.

The Germans sought to exert their superiority over their colonial subjects with a strong hand. They built an image of their colonial subjects as "the other". They often used repressive violence to subjugate their colonies and to transform the people there into obedient subjects. This was often justified through the psuedo-science of Social Darwinism. Unlike other European imperialists, the Germans left less of a lasting impact on their colonies: none of them continue to use the German language and few German colonial institutions remain.

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