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.
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.
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 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.