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- "Colonialism. The enforced spread of the rule of reason. But who is going to spread it among the colonizers?"
- –Anthony Burgess
- "Remember that politics, colonialism, imperialism and war also originated in the human brain."
- –Vilayanur Ramachandran
Historical Context Edit
Colonialism is a historical phenomenon that spans millennia and the globe. Both the Phoenicians and the Greeks planted colonies all around the Mediterranean, and the first step in becoming part of the Roman Empire was often for a land to be colonized by conquest. But it is during the mid- and late-16th Century AD that European powers – driven by rapid population growth, technological progress, constrained economies, military competition, religious fanaticism, and sheer curiosity – launched a concerted effort to explore and colonize new lands.
It was little Portugal, a unified kingdom since 1385 and relatively free from internal strife (unlike the bigger nations), that kicked off the age of colonization. Looking to find wealth by sailing around the continent to reach the fabled Far East, it established colonial settlements and forts along the African coasts. But it was Spain that would undertake the first great land grab. Columbus managed to underestimate the circumference of the Earth by about one-fourth and so thought he could reach the Far East by sailing 2400 miles westward. Instead, he stumbled into a couple of large, rich and relatively uninhabited continents – although he insisted until his death that he had reached Asia. For over a century the Portuguese and the Spaniards were the only ones with New World colonies, but in time the Netherlands, French and English were grabbing bits as well.
So profitable and satisfying was colonizing the Americas that the “great” powers didn’t stop there. They turned their individual attention to the known world as well, colonizing Africa, India, Southeast Asia and islands across the Pacific. Thanks to the Royal Navy and lots of good guns, the British were particularly adept at it. Eventually even former colonies (the United States) and late bloomers (Germany and Japan) busied themselves creating colonial empires. Whatever the justification – financial, religious, moral (the “White Man’s Burden”), political – every nation that could managed to find some hapless natives to “civilize” through colonization.