Modules for History Lessons
Edited By Uta Fenske, Daniel Groth, Klaus-Michael Guse and Bärbel P. Kuhn
Understanding Overseas Colonialism as a Process: An Introduction
Much of Europe’s modern historical period, from roughly the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, has been defined by the rise and fall of empires – Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and British. Connected with each one of these empires was colonialism, a process that shaped and defined the experiences of millions of people both within Europe and far beyond its shores. According to Nicholas B. Dirks, a leading academic in the field of colonialism, it can be defined as “signifying domination and hegemony, classically in the form of political rule and economic control on the part of a European state over territories and peoples outside of Europe”.1 While the meaning of colonialism involves political rule and economic control, in the historical European context it also incorporated overseas expansion that was characterised by distinctive features such as the exploration of territories beyond Europe, the establishment of colonies on other continents, and the idea that colonies would specialise in certain commodities. Population change, the exploitation of natural resources, symbolic expressions of superiority in the built environment, Christian missionary activity, imperial competition and the erosion of pre-existing political, cultural and social systems that belonged to indigenous populations are other features. Essentially, overseas colonialism revolved around the acquisition of territory and the extension of European economic systems and political processes to non-European peoples.2
When thinking about overseas colonialism and the activities associated with it, it is important to see it as a process that influenced national self-perceptions, helped to create...
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