How was the expansion of European influence in the nineteenth century similar to expansion in the early modem period as well as what set it apart?

Expert Answers
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

European expansion during both periods was augmented by superior European weaponry and technology. Both also were implicitly based on perceived Western European culture to others, and both were based on the search for materials not readily available in Europe. The primary difference is that early modern expansion was based to some extent on the expansion of Christianity to areas where it was not prevalent. Although the desire to spread Christianity was also present during nineteenth century expansion, it was not as interwoven with exploitation as was the case earlier.

Early European expansion was in search of gold and spices, and ostensibly was also based on a desire to spread the Gospel. When he landed in India, Vasco da Gama told the Pasha whom he met that he came for "Christians and spices." Catholic priests destroyed many artifacts of the Inca and Aztec cultures as idolatrous. Although disease was a primary factor in overcoming native peoples, Europeans also possessed superior weaponry, sometimes in the form of steel swords, other times in the form of cannon and other firearms. Christopher Columbus commented in his dairies about his first encounter with the people of the Caribbean basin:

Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends....I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.

Nineteenth century expansion was based on the search for raw materials other than spices, primarily copper, rubber, even diamonds. There was an expressed desire to "Christianize" the people whom Europeans encountered, but this was a separate effort, independent of exploitation of natural resources. Those who came to Christianize came for no other purpose, other than perhaps to transmit European "civilization." Again, technology and weapons were a decisive factor, particularly the steam boat, telegraph, and more especially the machine gun. Winston Churchill, at the time an officer serving under Gen. H.H. Kitchener at the Battle of Omdurman commented on the futility of resistance by native peoples:

These extraordinary foreign figures…march up one by one from the darkness of Barbarism to the footlights of civilization…and their conquerors, taking their possessions, forget even their names. Nor will history record such trash.

In this battle, twenty eight British soldiers died compared to eleven thousand tribesmen whose primitive weapons could not compete.

Further Reading:

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question