The raw materials that European empires in the New World, Africa, India, the Caribbean, and so on discovered opened up enormous possibilities for industrial development. The discovery of New World sugar, tobacco, silver, gold; copper, coal in India and Southeast Asia; rubber in Africa and Asia; and other raw materials accelerated the European Industrial Revolution. The dynamic that quickly emerged between Europe and its colonies was one of reciprocal resource exchange: colonists overseas would extract the materials that European factories needed to produce finished goods. In return, valuable commodities would be shipped from major European cities to those colonies that needed them the most. In addition, European empires were encouraged to colonize more and more places, as the increasing surplus of natural resources, especially coal, that they acquired from distant parts of the world allowed them to develop their domestic industries to an unparalleled level of complexity. Imperialism went hand-in-hand with the evolution of the European industrial economy.
Nationalism was in many ways a reaction to the rise of imperialism, and especially the resulting battle over the West’s putative “civilizing mission.” Western European nation-states engaged in a competition over who was best suited to civilize the “savage” peoples of the globe. This competition over cultural hegemony took on tremendous significance in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The breakdown of the old aristocratic order in France demonstrated to the rest of Europe that nation-states had their own unique histories, languages, traditions, and customs, and that each was uniquely situated to export these things to their colonies overseas. This was evident, for example, with respect to the Spanish Revolution in 1812, the Neapolitan Revolt of 1820 in Italy, the Greek revolt against the Ottomans, and so on. Each of these revolutions represented the emergence of a national consciousness, one that was directly tied not only to liberal values and constitutionalism but also a firm belief in the superiority of one’s own national culture. During the Age of Empire, such preconceptions had a significant influence on shaping the way European nation-states thought about their role in the larger world as exemplars of the colonizing mission.