From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search


The pith helmet, an icon of colonialism in tropical lands. This one was used during the Second French Colonial Empire.

Colonialism is the policy of a foreign polity seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country and of helping the colonies modernize in terms defined by the colonizers, especially in economics, religion, and health.

The European colonial period was the era from the 15th century to 1914 when European states established empires. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Imperial Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the United States also acquired colonies, as did Chinese imperialism.

At first, European colonizing countries followed policies of mercantilism, in order to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, so regulations usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the powerful British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the colonies. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84%. The archetypal European colonial system practically ended between 1945–1975, when nearly all Europe's colonies gained political independence.

Selected article

Duyfken replica, Swan River

Willem Janszoon made the first recorded European landing on the Australian continent in 1606, sailing from Bantam, Java in the Duyfken. As an employee of the Dutch East India Company, Janszoon had been instructed to explore the coast of New Guinea in search of economic opportunities. He had originally arrived in Dutch East Indies from the Netherlands in 1598 and become an officer of the VOC on its establishment in 1602. In 1605, he sailed from Bantam to its south coast and continued down what he thought was a southern extension of New Guinea, but was in fact the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. He travelled south as far as Cape Keerweer, where he battled with the local aboriginal people and several of his men were killed. As a consequence he was obliged to retrace his route up the coast towards Cape York and then returned to Banda. A reference to the outcome of the expedition was made as a result of Willem Schouten’s 1615 voyage on behalf of the Australische Compagnie from the Netherlands to the Spice Islands via Cape Horn.

Janszoon failed to discover Torres Strait, which separates Australia and New Guinea. Unknown to the Dutch, the Spanish or Portuguese explorer Luis Váez de Torres, working for the Spanish Crown, sailed through the strait four months later, although Torres did not report seeing the coast of a major land mass to his south and is therefore presumed not to have seen Australia. As a result of these oversights, Dutch maps did not include the strait until after James Cook's 1770 passage through the Torres Strait, while early Spanish maps showed the coast of New Guinea correctly, but omitted Australia.


Selected biography

Queen Victoria photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was the sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837, and the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1 May 1876, until her death. At 63 years and 7 months, her reign lasted longer than that of any other British monarch, and is the longest of any female monarch in history. Her reign is known as the Victorian era, and was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom.

Victoria was of mostly German descent; she was the daughter of the fourth son of George III, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. Both the Duke of Kent and George III died a year after her birth, and she inherited the throne at the age of 18 after her father's three elder brothers died without surviving legitimate issue. She ascended the throne when the United Kingdom was already an established constitutional monarchy, in which the king or queen held relatively few direct political powers and exercised influence by the prime minister's advice; but she became the iconic symbol of the nation and empire. She had strict standards of personal morality. Her reign was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire, which reached its zenith and became the foremost global power. Her 9 children and 42 grandchildren married into royal families across the continent, tying them together and earning her the nickname "the grandmother of Europe". She was the last British monarch of the House of Hanover; her son King Edward VII belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.


Did you know...

John Horden

Selected images

Colonialism's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


This map shows Colonization's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


Click the "►" below to see all subcategories:


Main topics

Things to do

Related Portals

Associated Wikimedia

The following Wikimedia Foundation sister projects provide more on this subject:






Learning resources