Few periods of history are as controversial among scholars and casual observers as the era of imperialism. To defenders of the colonial enterprise like the poet Rudyard Kipling, imperialism was the ‘‘white man’s burden,’’ a disagreeable but necessary phase in the evolution of human society, lifting up the toiling races from tradition to modernity and bringing an end to poverty, famine, and disease.


Critics took exception to such views, portraying imperialism as a tragedy of major proportions. The insatiable drive of the advanced economic powers for access to raw materials and markets created an exploitative environment that transformed the vast majority of colonial peoples into a permanent underclass, while restricting the benefits of modern technology to a privileged few. Kipling’s ‘‘white man’s burden’’ was dismissed as a hypocritical gesture to hoodwink the naive and salve the guilty feelings of those who recognized imperialism for what it was---a savage act of rape.


Defenders of the colonial experiment sometimes concede that there were gross inequities in the colonial system but point out that there was a positive side to the experience as well. The expansion of markets and the beginnings of a modern transportation and communications network, while bringing few immediate benefits to the colonial peoples, laid the groundwork for future economic growth. At the same time, the introduction of new ways of looking at human freedom, the relationship between the individual and society, and democratic principles set the stage for the adoption of such ideas after the restoration of independence following World War II. Finally, the colonial experience offered a new approach to the traditional relationship between men and women. Although colonial rule was by no means uniformly beneficial to the position of women in African and Asian societies, growing awareness of the struggle for equality by women in the West offered their counterparts in the colonial territories a weapon to fight against the long-standing barriers of custom and legal discrimination.


How, then, are we to draw up a final balance sheet on the era of Western imperialism? Both sides have good points to make, but perhaps the critics have the best of the argument. Although the colonial authorities sometimes did provide the beginnings of an infrastructure that could eventually serve as the foundation of an advanced industrial society, all too often they sought to prevent the rise of industrial and commercial sectors in their colonies that might provide competition to producers in the home country. Sophisticated, age-old societies that could have been left to respond to the technological revolution in their own way were thus squeezed dry of precious national resources under the false guise of a ‘‘civilizing mission.’’ As the sociologist Clifford Geertz remarked in his book Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia, the tragedy is not that the colonial peoples suffered through the colonial era but that they suffered for nothing.


By the first quarter of the twentieth century, virtually all of Africa and a good part of South and Southeast Asia were under some form of colonial rule. With the advent of the age of imperialism, a global economy was finally established, and the domination of Western civilization over those of Africa and Asia appeared to be complete.


Defenders of colonialism argue that the system was a necessary if painful stage in the evolution of human societies. Critics, however, charge that the Western colonial powers were driven by an insatiable lust for profits. They dismiss the Western civilizing mission as a fig leaf to cover naked greed and reject the notion that imperialism played a salutary role in hastening the adjustment of traditional societies to the demands of industrial civilization. In the blunt words of two Western critics of imperialism: ‘‘Why is Africa (or for that matter Latin America and much of Asia) so poor? . . . The answer is very brief: we have made it poor.’’


Between these two irreconcilable views, where does the truth lie? This chapter has contended that neither extreme position is justified. Although colonialism did introduce the peoples of Asia and Africa to new technology and the expanding economic marketplace, it was unnecessarily brutal in its application and all too often failed to realize the exalted claims and objectives of its promoters. Existing economic networks---often potentially valuable as a foundation for later economic development---were ruthlessly swept aside in the interests of providing markets for Western manufactured goods. Potential sources of native industrialization were nipped in the bud to avoid competition for factories in Amsterdam, London, Pittsburgh, or Manchester. Training in Western democratic ideals and practices was ignored out of fear that the recipients might use them as weapons against the ruling authorities.


The fundamental weakness of colonialism, then, was that it was ultimately based on the self-interests of the citizens of the colonial powers. Where those interests collided with the needs of the colonial peoples, those of the former always triumphed.


by Mitch on March 15, 2013 0 Comments

Afghan Highlanders, 1879. During the Second Anglo-Afghan War, Afghan soldiers wore kilts in imitation of British Highlander troops from Scotland, whose skills the Afghans admired.

In 1874 a new government in London, led by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), adopted a more aggressive stance in India and appointed a strong-minded governor general. In an atmosphere of growing tension, a Russian delegation, apparently uninvited, visited Kabul in July 1878. The British issued an ultimatum asking for equal rights of access to Kabul. When this ultimatum was rejected, the British crossed the border and thereby started the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1879).


The Afghans were quickly defeated, and the war was concluded with the Treaty of Gandamak (May 29, 1879). The treaty included the stipulation that Afghanistan would remain an independent nation, but would conduct its foreign policy via the British rulers in India in lieu of regular subsidies and a British guarantee regarding the ...

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by Mitch on March 15, 2013 2 Comments

Battle of Kandahar 1880

As the British prepared to withdraw their army from Afghanistan, a column was ambushed and wiped out at Maiwand. The survivors fled back to Kandahar where they and the British garrison were besieged by an Afghan army under Ayub Khan. The British high command feared that the defeat and impending disaster at Kandahar could turn the planned British withdrawal into a rout. Therefore Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Roberts was ordered to take a column of British and Indian troops from Kabul and relieve the garrison in Kandahar. On 8 August 1880 Roberts began an epic march in which he covered 480km (300 miles) in three weeks. Just before the arrival of Roberts at Kandahar, the Afghans raised their siege and retired to a strong defensive position along a ridgeline to the west. On 1 September Roberts began his attack with a diversion against the Baba Wali Pass ...

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by Mitch on March 15, 2013 1 Comment

Royal Horse Artillery fleeing Afghan attack in the battle of Maiwand, Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1880. 

From the British perspective, Russian plans for territorial expansion toward the south threatened to destroy the ``Pearl of the Empire,'' India. When Russian troops set out to subdue khanate after khanate, British observers expressed concern that Afghanistan might become the base for a Russian advance into India. The British therefore initiated the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842), in which Britain tried to impose a puppet regime in Afghanistan. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and the attempt to annex Afghanistan to British India failed. Instead, rival Afghan tribes join forces to fight the British, and Dost Mohammad returned to the throne in 1843.


Dost Muhammad expanded Afghan territory by adding Balkh and Baldakhshan in 1855 and Heart in 1863. Nevertheless, Russia continued to advance steadily toward Afghanistan, formally annexing Tashkent in 1865 and Samarkand in 1868. Although ...

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Author's announcement: new book: Occupying Syria under the French Mandate

by Mitch on September 13, 2012 1 Comment

Dear colleagues,

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my new book:

Daniel Neep, Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Insurgency, Space, and State Formation (Cambridge University Press, 2012). http://www.cambridge.org/us/knowledge/isbn/item6817923/?site_locale=en_US


The publisher's description and table of contents are below. You can also read the introduction at http://cbrl.academia.edu/DanielNeep/Books/1604471/Occupying_Syria_under_the_French_Mandate_Insurgency_Space_and_State_Formation [2]

Best wishes,


Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Insurgency, Space, and State Formation

What role does military force play during a colonial occupation? The answer seems obvious: coercion crushes local resistance, quashes political dissent, and consolidates the dominance of the occupying power. However, as this discerning and theoretically rigorous study suggests, violence can have much more ambiguous consequences.

Set in Syria during the French Mandate from 1920 to 1946, the book explores a turbulent period in which conflict between armed Syrian insurgents ...

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Algeria: War of Independence, 1954-1962

by Mitch on August 30, 2012 0 Comments

Young Harki in uniform, summer 1961. The so-called Harkis, from the Algerian-Arabic dialect word harki (soldier), were the indigenous Muslim Algerians (as opposed to European-descended Catholics or indigenous Algerian Mizrachi Sephardi Jews) who fought as auxiliaries on the side of the French army


The Algerian War for Independence began on November 1, 1954, when the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale, or National Liberation Front), a group advocating social democracy with an Islamic framework, called upon all Algerians to rise up against French authority and fight for total independence for Algeria. The FLN had been created the same year by the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action (Comité Révolutionnaire d’Unité et d’Action, or CRUA), in an attempt to unite the various nationalist factions in Algeria and to formulate a plan of action for resistance to French rule. Resistance was to include two specific tactics. At home, the rebels were ...

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Angola: MPLA, FNLA, UNITA, and the War of Liberation, 1961-1974

by Mitch on August 30, 2012 0 Comments

Portuguese troops on patrol in Angola

In many respects, Angolan history forms part of the history of southern Africa. While most states in the rest of Africa became independent, in many southern African countries a reverse trend was visible: white rule became more entrenched. South Africa’s apartheid system, Rhodesia’s settler government, and Portuguese investments to expand their administrative and military system in the colonies were all aimed to prevent African independence. To interpret Angola’s past in a southern African context, however, runs the risk of promoting reasoning from within a colonial framework. For the Angolan nationalist parties involved, relations within the central African context may have been just as important. Apart from contact with leaders from nations such as Tanzania, North African states, and other Portuguese-speaking colonies, the ties with independent Congo, Zaïre, and Zambia were crucial for the Angolan nationalist movements. These regional aspects can hardly ...

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Interview with Historian David Silbey

by Mitch on August 26, 2012 0 Comments

Northern China in the summer of 1900 was the scene of the Boxer Rebellion, one of the most spontaneous, disorganized, violent and downright peculiar uprisings of that or any other century. Vividly described and detailed by Cornell University historian David J. Silbey in his new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, the rebellion was at once a peasants' insurgency, an attack on modernism, a clash of cultures and a game changer in the nascent international struggle for power in the Pacific in the new century. Based on letters, diaries and memoirs of many participants, Silbey's brisk narrative traces the root causes, the wild and bloody clashes between the ill-armed Boxers (who mystically believed themselves invulnerable) and the combined military units of Japan, Russia, Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy and the United States, and the global consequences of this hitherto-bewildering struggle.

What was the origin of ...

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Japanese torpedo boats

by Mitch on August 19, 2012 0 Comments

Kotaka was a torpedo boat of the Imperial Japanese Navy. She was ordered in 1885 from the shipbuilder Yarrows in London, Great Britain, where she was built in parts along Japanese specifications, and then assembled in Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, Japan.


She participated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). She was decommissioned on 1 April 1908, to become a training ship. She was retired on 1 March 1916, but again reactivated in 1917, ending her career in January 1927.


When launched in 1888, the Kotaka, at 203 tons, was the largest torpedo boat in the world, and "was the forerunner of torpedo-boat destroyers that appeared a decade later" (Kaigun, David C. Evans). She was armed with four 1-pounder (37 mm) quick-firing guns and six torpedo tubes. In the following years, the Imperial Japanese Navy equipped herself with much smaller torpedo boats of French design ...

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Sino-Mongolian War

by Mitch on August 19, 2012 0 Comments

The Sino-Mongolian War of 1913 ended inconclusively, with the Mongolian army forced to withdraw from Inner Mongolia by Russian pressure. After the 1911 RESTORATION of Mongolian independence, eventually 35 of the 49 banners (appanages) of Inner Mongolia expressed some form of support. On August 20, 1912, after receiving arms from the Mongolian government, the eastern Inner Mongolian Prince Utai (c. 1859–1920) of KHORCHIN Right-Flank Front Banner (Horqin Youyi Qianqi) attacked Chinese towns in Jirim territory but by September 12 had retreated in disorder to Outer Mongolian territory. Togtakhu Taiji’s simultaneous attack on Chinese towns was also defeated.


After receiving a promise of immediate supply of Russian arms and trainers in January 1913, the Mongolian government on January 23 ordered the neighboring Inner Mongolian SHILIIN GOL and ULAANCHAB leagues to mobilize 2,000 troops, and in February the commanders set out from Khüriye (ULAANBAATAR). In summer 1913 the troops ...

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U.S. Naval Blockade of Cuba

by Mitch on August 5, 2012 0 Comments

Start Date: April 22, 1898

End Date: August 14, 1898

On April 25, 1898, the United States officially declared war on Spain. On April 21, in anticipation of certain war, President William McKinley ordered a naval blockade of key Cuban ports on Cuba’s northern coast to prevent Spanish reinforcements from reaching the island and to eliminate commercial trade with Cuba.


As early as March 23, 1898, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long produced a plan to close the ports along the western half of Cuba’s northern coast. On April 18, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, commander of the North Atlantic Squadron, issued a memorandum concerning ship dispositions for such a blockade. In early 1898, the U.S. Navy possessed 96 ships of varying qualities and capabilities. However, the navy’s ability to enforce a blockade of Cuba was augmented substantially by a $50 million emergency congressional appropriations ...

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Christmas Lunch by Lake Tanganyika, 2014 – Please Join Us!

If you are in the area, do join us for Christmas Lunch! And if you are not in the area – we ...

Thanksgiving Adventures – and A Military Coup – in Sudan

Sharing with you an earlier post about Thanksgiving, people and work conducted in western Sudan; ...

The Magicality of Cuisine 5 – A Spicy Warriors’ Stew, Gabon West Africa

Cuisine in premodern societies may contain a variety of ingredients that are meant to imbue the ...

Three Coptic tunics and a hat from Medieval Egypt

Originally posted on Miriam's Middle Eastern Research Blog:This textile is 64 cm long and 114 cm ...

The Magical House-Breaker of Gabon, West Africa – 19th. Century

The following story told to the Rev. Nassau contains several features that are characteristic of ...

Martyrdom and Terrorism

Originally posted on kateantiquity:One of the nicest things to arrive in the post recently: a ...

The Magicality of Cuisine 4: Feeding the Soil a Stew of Leaves and Bark to Guarantee Successful Gardening, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa

Just as people and spirits must be fed, so, too, is the case with the soils that are to be ...

The Magicality of Cuisine 3: A Dish of Fish and Plantains to Guarantee Successful Fishing, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa

While early travellers and explorers in Africa tended to ‘extract’ cuisine from its social and ...

The Magicality of Cuisine 2: A Recipe for a complicated Love Filtre for Men. 19th Century Gabon

Continuing our survey of pre-modern dishes with examples from the Gabon area of West Africa, I want ...

The Magicality of Cuisine 1: Meat Cooked in Plantain Leaves as a Love Philtre, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa

Pre-modern cuisine in many parts of the world can be more fully understood not simply as a ...

About Colonial Warfare 1880-1975

Colonial Warfare 1880-1975. The overseas empires of Western Europe shaped the history of all of the continents and peoples of the world during the half millennium from their origins in the mid-fifteenth century to their final dissolution in the mid-to-late twentieth-century. The colonial empires of the West—Portugal, Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the United States—claimed possession at one time or another all of the Americas and Australia, ninety-nine percent of Polynesia, ninety percent of Africa and nearly fifty percent of Asia. These Western colonial powers, which together constituted less than two percent of the surface of the world, created the first maritime empires that straddled the globe.

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