15.1 The New Imperialism

During the Industrial Revolution, the Western world was transformed. Advances in science and technology, industry, transportation, and communication strengthened the West, making it more powerful than any society in history.

Painting of a fleet of ships on the ocean flying under the Dutch flag.

The Netherlands played a leading role in the first phase of imperialism, from 1500 to 1800. The Dutch East India Company protected Dutch trade in the Indian Ocean and even had the right to make treaties and maintain its own armed forces.


  • Explain the political, economic, and social causes of European imperialism.
  • Understand how technology and other factors contributed to the spread of imperialism.
  • Describe the characteristics of imperial rule.
  • Summarize the cultural, political, and social effects of imperialism.

Key Terms

  • imperialism
  • protectorate
  • sphere of influence

Motivations for the New Imperialism

Armed with new economic and political power, Western nations set out to expand their overseas empires. Between 1870 and 1914, European nations brought much of the world and its people under their control.

European Expansion During the Age of Discovery

European imperialism did not begin in the 1800s. Imperialism is the policy of one country's political, economic, or cultural domination over other lands and territories. During the Age of Discovery from the 1400s to the 1600s, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and France set up colonies in the Americas. Spain also seized control of the Philippine Islands.

Elsewhere, European nations gained only small outposts overseas. Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands won footholds in Southeast Asia. The British and French were fierce rivals for trading rights in India. Europeans built trading forts on the coasts of Africa and negotiated limited trade with China and Japan.

Between 1500 and 1800, Europe had relatively little influence on the lives of the peoples in China, India, or Africa. Europeans traded with merchants in these lands but did not control any large territory, except in the Americas.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments