Modules for History Lessons
Why “colonialism” as a concept causes confusion, and exploration of alternatives within historiography
Introduction to the Module
In history as a discipline as well as in history education, key concepts are of great importance. They help to order the massive number of past events, and to structure the discipline of history. Key concepts attribute names to issues that are somewhat the same, although they appear in different phenomena and events. Colonialism is such a key concept, which tries to bring similar historical events under the same umbrella. During the last decades, however, it has become too broad and general, and therefore confusing as a key concept, used in overly diverging contexts and meanings. European overseas expansion, US and USSR Cold War interventionism, non-European imperialism, all inner-state or inner-continental relations of dependency, knowledge-power-relations etc.: all of these have been described by different scholars as “colonialism”, although they represent diverging phenomena, not only in themselves but also in terms of occurrence in time and space. Therefore, scholars nowadays recognize the problem accompanying the use of “colonialism”1, and have started a search for new concepts, to distinguish different phenomena from one another.
Three eminent and renowned scholars do so in their scientific overview works based especially on secondary literature, in comparing, and distinguishing, European overseas expansion since the 15th century from other colonialist- or imperialist-like phenomena. Odd Arne Westad, Norwegian historian specializing in the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history and director of the Cold War Studies Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, distinguishes...
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