What is Colonialism?

The town of Suchitoto in El Salvador was colonized by the Spanish in the 17th century.
The town of Suchitoto in El Salvador was colonized by the Spanish in the 17th century.

From 1870s to 1900s, parts of the world were subjected to colonialism. It started with European aggression, diplomatic pressures, forceful invasion, and eventually colonization of those places. The societies that faced this form of imperialism put up resistance to deny the Europeans the chance to impose their domination.

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is the practice of establishing territorial dominion over a colony by an outside political power characterized by exploitation, expansion, and maintenance of that territory. The indigenous people suffer in the hands of the colonizer where they are subjected to hard labor and restriction in trading.

Contributing Factors

Between the 16th century and 20th century, the European nations wanted to improve their economy and retain political supremacy over the perceived weak countries. Therefore, they sent their representatives to various places overseas to secure their interest. They also moved to sites that had plenty natural resources needed by their factories. After the raw materials were processed Britain, Germany, France, and Belgium, among others had to secure markets for their goods. All the above interests forced the need of having colonies overseas.

The Origin of Colonialism

Colonialism was a borrowed term to differentiate it from other types of expansionism. The word “colony” is borrowed from the Latin word colonia which means “a place for agriculture.” From the eleventh to eighteen centuries, the Vietnamese people founded colonies outside their place which they later absorbed through a process called namtien.

The ancient type of colonialism gave birth to the modern colonialism which came into effect during the “Age of Discovery” where the Spain and Portugal discovered the South and Central Americas during their sea traveling. They established trading centers and amassed the surrounding areas as a way of expanding their control. This establishment of colonies away from their home continent differentiated other forms of expansionism from colonialism. Subsequently, during the 17th century other nations were motivated to move overseas to establish their rule. France created the French colonial empire, Britain formed British empire, and Germany established Dutch empire.

Types of Colonialism

Colonizers had the main reason that led them established colonies overseas. Those goals were used to differentiate the types of colonialism: settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, and surrogate colonialism. Settler colonialism is when settlers migrate in large numbers to colonies for a political, economic, or religious purpose. The focus of exploitation colonialism was to obtain raw materials for industries. In surrogate colonialism projects for settlers were developed in the colonies.

Effects of Colonialism

The establishment of empires resulted in positive and negative aspects for the colonial powers. Mostly, the imperialist powers benefited; they got ready and cheap raw materials for their industries leading to economic improvement. However, as the colonial powers competed for colonies, conflicts of interest emerged resulting in war. Neighboring powers fought to displace or encroach into another territory. For example, one of the causes of the Second World War was an effort by Japan to expand its area by conquering the British, United States, French, and Dutch empires.

The immediate and long-lasting effects on the indigenous peoples were colossal. Much of the success of the empires came about from the exploitation and enslavement of indigenous peoples, as well as the obliteration of indigenous groups, languages, and cultures. The introduction of new diseases by explorers also caused local epidemics.

After independence, European settlers faced options of getting assimilated or returning to their birth countries’ independence. Many chose the latter and led to establishment of bodies that helped in cooperation between the former colonies and their colonizers, for example, Commonwealth of Nations by Britain.


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