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What motivated European acquisition of African colonies between 1880-1914?

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Three primary motivations for European expansion into and subsequent colonization of Africa were industrialization, commerce, and religion. European agreements about how best to proceed with colonization were also motivated by the desired reduction of violent conflict. Land and naval access and the protection of ports through established military bases were also crucial elements. The desire for political power and the prestige associated with a vast overseas empire also fueled the so-called “scramble for Africa.” The idealistic but paternalistic desire to extend the benefits of “civilization” through the “White Man’s Burden,” along with Christian commitments to converting indigenous African peoples, included large-scale missionization efforts that often included schools and clinics.

During the 1880s through World War I, the rapid industrial growth and the expansion of consumerism in Europe generated increased demand for resources. The accompanying need to sell the goods produced fueled the establishment of overseas markets. The European nations that participated at the 1884 Berlin Conference authorized their own rights to expand into Africa, but agreed not to interfere unduly with other countries.

Numerous libraries, archives, and museum have online resources available that will provide original documents, including many photographs, to consult on this topic. Stanford University’s David Rumsey Center, for example, has an online map exhibit. The King’s College London Special Collections Exhibit, “I Speak of Africa,” includes a German treaty.

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