• John Darwin
Part of the The Making of the 20th Century book series (MACE)


The absence of large overseas colonial empires is one of the most striking features of the contemporary world. For the first time since the sixteenth century the regions under the direct colonial rule of Europeans form an insignificant portion of the world’s surface — with the exception, that is, of the continental empire of Russia, last and most ruthless of imperial powers. From the sixteenth century to the twentieth the expansion of Europe proceeded with apparently glacierlike inevitability, defeating, absorbing or subjugating one civilisation after another. European settlement, trade and investment steadily thrust their way into the remoter corners of the world. Of course, this great expansion took a variety of forms: the creation of settlement colonies; the carving out of dependencies where an indigenous population was ruled by a thin stratum of European officials; and the development of semi-colonies or ‘informal empire’ where states that remained technically independent enjoyed so little economic and political freedom as to be almost in the position of a colony. The independence of most of North and South America from metropolitan control by 1830 modified this picture, but not significantly, since the new states merely served with varying degrees of efficiency as agencies of European economic and demographic expansion. Here were societies with an anti-colonial tradition but, for all that, with an underlying sympathy for the fundamental assumptions of European expansion.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    For the nineteenth century, see the seminal article by J. Gallagher and R. Robinson, ‘The imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review 2nd Series, vol. VI, 1 (1953);Google Scholar
  2. for the inter-war and post-war years, J. G. Darwin, ‘Imperialism in decline?’, Historical Journal 23, 3 (1980)Google Scholar
  3. and J. G. Darwin, ‘British decolonisation since 1945: a pattern or a puzzle?’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History XII, 2 (1984).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Charles Wentworth Dilke, Greater Britain (London, 1869) p. 397.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See Darwin, ‘Imperialism in decline?’ p. 667.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    The main point of Gallagher and Robinson, ‘The imperialism of free trade’.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    J. P. Halstead, Rebirth of a nation: origins and rise of Moroccan nationalism, 1912–44 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    J. Duffy, Portuguese Africa (Cambridge, Mass., 1961).Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya (London, 1938).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    J. Nehru, An autobiography (London, 1936, new edn, 1942) p. 574.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    This was the implied conclusion of the Kenya Land Commission’s report, 1934. See C. G. Rosberg and J. Nottingham, The myth of ‘Mau Mau’: nationalism in Kenya (New York, 1966) pp. 155–160.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    J. K. Fairbank (ed.), The Cambridge History of China, vol. XII, Part 2 (Cambridge, 1983) ch. 3;Google Scholar
  13. J. Ch’en, China and the West (London, 1979). In 1921 there were some 240,000 foreign residents in China: 144,000 were Japanese, the rest from the principal European states and the U.S.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    C. Dewey, ‘The end of the imperialism of free trade’ in C. Dewey and A. G. Hopkins (eds), The imperial impact (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    See B. R. Tomlinson, ‘Britain and the Indian currency crisis 1930–32’ Economic History Review 2nd Series, vol. XXXII, 1 (1979) pp. 88–99.Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    A fascinating study of the development of the concept of civilisation in international law is G. W. Gong, The standard of ‘civilisation’ in international society (Oxford, 1984).Google Scholar
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    See J. W. Burrow, Evolution and society (Cambridge, 1966).Google Scholar
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    R. Cruise O’Brien, White society in black Africa: the French of Senegal (London, 1972);Google Scholar
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    See A. G. Hopkins, An economic history of West Africa (London, 1973) chs 5–7;Google Scholar
  21. D. Seers, The political economy of nationalism (Oxford, 1983).Google Scholar
  22. 17.
    For example, by restricting the commercialisation of land ownership and protecting tenant cultivators against eviction.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    For the changing conditions in which foreign enterprise operated, see an excellent recent study by Charles Lipson, Standing Guard (Berkeley and London, 1985).Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    For this view, see especially R. F. Holland, European decolonisation 1918–1981 (London, 1985).Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    H. Macmillan, Pointing the way (London, 1972) pp. 116–117.Google Scholar
  26. 21.
    H. D. Hall, Mandates, dependencies and trusteeship (London, 1948).Google Scholar
  27. 22.
    W. D. McIntyre, Commonwealth of nations: origins and impact (Minneapolis and London, 1977) p. 341.Google Scholar
  28. 23.
    Examples of this approach are: C. Leys, Underdevelopment in Kenya: the political economy of neo-colonialism (London, 1974);Google Scholar
  29. P. Gutkind and I. Wallerstein, The political economy of contemporary Africa (Beverley Hills and London, 1976). There is a vast literature along these lines.Google Scholar
  30. 24.
    As in the Anglo-American trade agreement, 1938.Google Scholar
  31. 25.
    See M. Howard, The continental commitment (London, 1972).Google Scholar
  32. 26.
    Following the Statute of Westminster, 1931.Google Scholar
  33. 27.
    A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, ‘The thin white line: the size of the Colonial Service in Africa’ African Affairs 79, 314 (1980) pp. 25–44.Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    S. Constantine, The making of British colonial development policy 1914–1940 (London, 1984) is the most authoritative study.Google Scholar

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© John Darwin 1988

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