Fall 2001 – Lehigh University                         Email: amsp@lehigh.edu

English 11                                                                                           

Amardeep Singh                                                                                 


Colonialism/Imperialism: The simple way to distinguish these two is to think of colonialism as practice and imperialism as the idea driving the practice. Colonialism is the implanting of settlements on a distant territory.

Colonialism in its modern form first began to take shape about 400 years ago, and it changed the economic landscape of the world forever. For one thing, it enabled Europe to get fabulously rich on the trade it produced. The foundations of what we now think of as free-market capitalism were invented during the colonial era, partly to handle trade.

It’s an undecided question in academic circles (amongst historians for instance) as to whether colonialism is important purely for its economic consequences, or whether cultural factors (such as missionary Christianity or a sense of racial superiority) also plays a part.


Imperialism is a word with a long history. It was first associated with ancient Rome (a fact that is borne out quite emphatically in the first pages of Heart of Darkness, where the presence of the Romans gives a sense of history). It didn’t begin to be used much in the English-speaking world until the late 1800s. Imperialism has a specifically expansionist connotation.


Globalization generally refers to the period since 1989, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the break-down of the Cold War system. In contrast to the earlier, colonial era, globalization is characterized by the decay of national boundaries and state institutions in favor of transnational economic activity. The “globalization” era has also been characterized by intensified cross-cultural interactions (facilitated by technology), as well as an explosion in migrations of various peoples in many different directions.

There is considerable debate amongst historians and economists as to when the elements that we now think of as constituting “globalization” first appeared. Some say the most important moment was 1970, when the “gold standard” was dropped. Others see the structure of the global political hierarchy, as well as the patterns of economic growth and development (where some countries have grown fabulously rich while others have largely languished, or been exploited for low-level labor) as roughly similar to that achieved in the high imperialist era of the 1890s. For these scholars, “globalization” is simply “imperialism” with a different name.


1492-1650: Period of exploration and early European colonization of the new world and some African and Asian territories. Birth of the new mercantile commodity economy (driven by “cash crops” such as sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea, textiles, etc.)

1607: British foundation of a colony at Jamestown.

1757: The Battle of Plassey – the beginning of British military superiority in India

1885: Congo Conference. Europeans carve up Africa into slices.

1914: World War I begins (largely a European war in fact). It’s seen by many as a war that puts a halt to the rampant territorial acquisitiveness of the preceding 40 years. European nations are forced to confront the consequences of their penchant for “gobbling” up colonies when they apply the same principles against their own neighbors.

1939: World War II begins, involving nearly the entire world. Not only are there dozens of sites in which battles occur, but people from the colonies fight for the major powers (we’ll see this in The English Patient, where an Indian soldier is in Italy fighting for the British army).

1945: End of World War II – the beginning of the Cold War, which will largely polarize the world into two “camps” (this is the origin of the language of “first world,” “second world,” and “third world”)

1947: Indian/Pakistani independence. The beginning of the steady decline in the British empire.

1960-1963: Most British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean become free nations, generally peacefully. Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago are some of the most important on this list. Most become

1961: Marxist Revolution in Cuba; Fidel Castro comes to power. Before the revolution, Cuba had been largely a U.S. protectorate, and was heavily dominated by parasitical industries like gambling, with a strong Mafia presence.

1964: Civil rights legislation passed in the U.S. brings changes to the racial hierarchy of the U.S. economy.

1965: New laws encourage the immigration of skilled laborers from the

Late 1960s: Alongside the emergence of the counter-culture in the U.S., the first moment at which African-Americans develop relationships with newly independent African states. 

1970: At an international conference, the major economic powers of the (non-communist) world abolish the “gold standard,” thus initiating a new period in economic speculation.

1979: Islamic revolution in Iran. Before the revolution, Iran had been a kind of U.S. protectorate, ruled by a U.S. supported dictator (the Shah).

1983-4: Beginnings of “glasnost” (opening) in the Soviet Union.

1989: Berlin wall falls – start of the period of contemporary Globalization by most accounts.

1991: Failed Coup in the Soviet Union leads to the break up of the USSR. The collapse of the Cold War system.

1997: Hong Kong becomes independent from England, and is returned to China.

1996-2000: Explosion of the Internet changes the rules and accelerates the pace of global interaction.