What are the similarities and differences between the terms "colonialism" and "imperialism?"

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Colonialism refers to a national policy of taking over and administering distant territories. Usually, colonialism describes a situation like that of the British American colonies, where thousands of British people settled the region, bringing their culture and institutions with them. Other times, it can refer to a situation like Belgium's control of the Congo region in Africa in the late 19th century, where only a very small group of European people went to the region despite the fact that it was a formal colony.

Imperialism is more of an ideology. Historically, it has often entailed colonialism or the acquisition of territories around the world, but this is not necessarily always the case. For example, most would agree that the involvement of the United States and many European nations in Central America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was imperialistic. American and European corporations invested heavily in the region—buying up mines, timber, and productive lands. When political strife threatened their investments, American troops intervened to secure affairs. Similarly, American and European efforts to force access to Chinese trade markets were imperialism at work, even though they took over only a minimum of actual territory. Despite these differences, imperialism and colonialism are so close in meaning that they can often be used in the same ways.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These two terms have a great deal in common, but also have real differences.  Both of them refer to the practice of one country dominating another.  In both, the dominant country has political and economic control of the country or region that it is dominating.  In this sense, the two are very much the same thing.

The main difference is that colonialism generally refers to a situation in which a large number of people from the dominant country move to the dominated country.  This was, for example, the situation with British colonization of what is now the United States.  By contrast, when the United States took possession of the Philippines, it was much more of an example of imperialism because there was no large movement of Americans going to the Philippines to make their fortunes there.

clarix2011 | Student

Colonialism: A “policy” by which a country decides to “take, steal, etc.” things from another country or region of the world for the purpose of benefiting the country who created the policy. 

Imperialism: The “carrying out” of the “colonial policy” of extending a nation's authority by “territorial acquisition” or by the establishment of economic and political “domination” over other nations.

rubinakk | Student

Colonialism and imperialism means political and economic domination of one country to another. Simply colonialism as practice and imperialism is the idea driving the practice.

Colonialism is the implanting of settlements on a distant territory. Colonialism is where one nation assumes control over the other and imperialism is economic and political control,either formally or informally. Colonialism means a country conquers and rules over the region while imperialism means creating an empire and expanding into the neighbouring regions.

In Colonialism, one can see great movement of people to the new territory and living as permanent settlers. Imperialism is just exercising power over the conquered regions either through sovereignty or indirect mechanisms of control.