Digital Passport

Chapter 25: World Imperialism

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Compare and Contrast

Both America and Britain were similar in that business and trade played an important role in their empire's expansion of imperial possessions, but differed in the size of land acquired through imperialistic expansion. The growing American economy led the United States to pursue economic interests in the Pacific, including Hawaii and the Philippines. Britain's growing dominance of world commerce was due to its investments in colonial plantations, railroads, mines, and long-distance ocean shipping. This new commercial expansion was closely tied to the needs of Britain’s growing industrial economy and reflected a new philosophy of overseas trade. Even though Britain's aim centered more trade than territory, Britain colonized much larger areas of land than the United States did, as seen in the maps above. In addition to colonies in Africa, North and South America, and Europe, it had gained nearly complete control of India by the year 1857. The United States only succeeded in annexing Hawaii and in result of the Spanish-American war, colonizing Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Overall, both America and Britain had similar motives in expansion, which were focused on overseas trade, but they differed in the amount of land each empire successfully colonized.
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Between 1757-1857, Britain gained nearly complete control of India. The British frequently conducted durbars, as seen in the picture above. Theses were elaborate displays of political power and wealth in British India. Another show of Britain's power was in the creation of the Indian Civil Service. This was an elite professional class that administered the government of British India. To show Britain's power and superiority, it was composed exclusively of well-educated British men. Eventually, Britain gradually added a few qualified Indians.


Trade underwent major changes in Africa after European imperialism. In 1807, Britain outlawed slave trade and freed slaves in their colonies. The British became the world's most aggressive abolitionists and sent naval fleets to patrol the Atlantic seas. As the Atlantic slave trade was shut down, Africa expanded their legitimate trade(exports that did not include newly outlawed slave trade). The most successful new export was palm oil. This was used by the British for soap, candles, and lubricants.

Change and Continuity

During the period that Britain ruled India (1765 to 1947), new British policy and reforms changed society by benefitting the middle and upperclass, while a large part of the population still remained in poverty. At the beginning of this time period, new British policies substituted private property for traditional Indian landholding which worked to the advantage of large landowners. In 1858, Queen Victoria of Britain guaranteed all Indians equal protection of the law and freedom to practice religious and social customs. Although this was a major breakthrough for Indian society, these reforms failed to improve the poverty of Indian masses. This was a continuing problem throughout the time period that British occupied India. Indian society changed due to many new British policies and reforms, but the poor experienced few benefits from these and continued to be oppressed by taxes and British and Indian upperclass rule.