Relationship Between Technology and Imperialism 1880-1914

Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 05:07 pm
I have a little bit of lecture notes related to this particular subject, but on a list of possible essay topics for a test, this is one of the possible topics:

Discuss the relationship between technology and imperialism during the period 1880-1914.

I have absolutely no idea where to start with this possible essay. I know next to nothing about history in general. I am not looking for someone to give me ideas about the essay itself, but rather looking for someone to kind of explain the big picture for this topic. Some possible essay points would be much appreciated, but I want to be able to at least start with a more accurate interpretation for this topic.

Thank you.
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Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 05:47 pm
Google the following names:

Jackie Fisher
Alfred von Tirpitz
Frederick Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Hohenzollern (Kaiser Wilhelm II)
Winston Spenser Churchill
H. H. Asquith
Joseph Chamberlain
Théophile Delcassé
Bernhard von Bulow
HMS Dreadnought

and there are many, many more . . . if that topic and those dates don't point like a signpost to the naval arms race between Britain and Germany before the First World War, then i'm losing my touch . . .
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Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 07:28 pm
One point I plan to make in my essay is that the development of medicinal technology allowed European countries to take over underdeveloped countries by resisting diseases such as malaria. I cannot think of any other examples where medicine played a role in technology and imperialism. Can someone assist me with this?
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Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 08:35 pm
Caldus: With all due respect to Setanta, I think he's on the wrong track with the Anglo-German naval rivalry. That has only a tangential relationship to the topic of technology and imperialism.

Instead, I think you're on the right track with the medicine angle (quinine was the first effective treatment for malaria). You may also want to think about:
    --The superiority of Western military technology; --The industrial revolution, the need for raw materials, and the new means of extracting those materials; --The need for coaling stations after the development of steam navies; --The improvements in transportation and communications as a means of connecting far-flung colonial possessions with the metropolitan center, especially the railroad and the telegraph.
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Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 09:22 pm
As for quinine, it appeared long before 1880. If you wished to look at a medicinal aspect, i would suggest the extent to which the development of new medical treatments enabled the colonizing powers to more effectively, and less expensively, pursue their goals in colonies--raw materials, new markets, religious proseltyzation (public opinion in Britain, at the least, vociferously demanded that missionary efforts be given a high priority). As for the industrial revolution, although i have a different view of when, how and why that began, the conventional view puts the birth of industrialism in the middle 18th century, with the use of the steam engine to pump water from mines. As for raw materials, although certainly new technology made mining dramatically more attractive for private developers in colonies, i see no reason to assume that there was any significant increase in the acquisition of other raw materials as a result of industrialism. In fact, the effect of the American civil war had been to send Britain and France looking for new sources of cotton, and gave rise to mills in Africa and India which competed with the mills of the home countries. Most of the technological advantage to have been had in the period 1880-1914 would have been in the carrying trade, in which the wide spread use of steam power made new opportunities due to the relative increase in speed and capacity. Maritime technological improvements were a direct outgrowth of naval development. I think that Joe overrates the issue of coaling stations in this particular period. By 1880, European navies were steam powered, had been for a generation or more, and the issue of coaling stations had already been dealt with. With the building of HMS Dreadnought, a race began to build bigger, faster warships, and Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, with Fisher at his elbow as First Sea Lord, adopted the oil-fired engine as essential to allow warship designs to put more firepower and more speed into the existing hulls. This would be crucial to such an inquiry, as petroleum sources became a criterion of colonial decisions. Although this is outside the period which you are studying, it is noteworthy that in the period 1920-1922, when Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill were carving up the Middle East between France and England, they created Iraq and Saudia Arabia, putting them in the English sphere of influence--and i believe this was a direct result of the petroleum reserves then known to be there, especially in light of Churchill's concern with petroleum reserves while at the Admiralty before 1914. By 1880, primitive forms of the machine gun were in the arsenals of all the European powers, breech loaded rifles such as the Martini-Henry used by the British were used by all European armies, and Krupp had already set a standard for breech-loaded, high-explosive field artillery. In August of 1914, both the French and the Prussian armies handled their infantry essentially as they had done in 1870--the initial assaults against the Belgian fortresses at Liège were conducted by Prussian infantry in dense Napoleonic lines, and were mown down in their thousands by the machine guns. Similarly, the poilus rushed into the German artillery fire in Alscase and Lorraine. In the military realm, technological development of any significance was only taking place in the naval realm, apart perhaps from Krupp. Once again, in the period after 1880, the railway and the telegraph were already commonplace, whether or not they were yet in widespread use in the colonies.

It was in view of the period specified that i suggested the naval building race. Lesseps had completed the Suez canal at the beginning of this period. The race for mining rights had already been run, and i doubt that one could show that much new technology being applied in that arena. Ariculutural method and technology enjoyed a good deal of improvement in this era, but its effects were largely felt in the home countries. Although your idea about medicine is a good one, i suspect that you will encounter a paucity of information upon which to build a thesis of criticality for the period specified.
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Reply Thu 12 Feb, 2004 09:39 am
Setanta: To address a few of your points:

--The industrial revolution: As far as I know, the industrial revolution has no official beginning or end dates. It's true that many of the events, technological advances, and economic shifts took place in the late 18th century, but I think we can still talk about an industrial revolution in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially with regard to heavy industry, such as steelmaking. As for extracting raw materials, I don't believe the advances in this period are confined to mining. Certainly the increasing mechanization of farming was also important. Furthermore, the technological advances that made rubber a large-scale commercial commodity were an important factor in imperialism in west Africa and southeast Asia.

--Coaling stations: While it's true that most European navies switched over to steam power in the 1860s, the race for coaling stations did not begin in earnest until the 1880s. The competition for small Pacific islands could best be exemplified by the three-way struggle over Samoa, which was only resolved in 1899.

--Advances in communications, transportation: You are correct that steam power revolutionized the carrying trade. You are also correct that the search for oil was emerging as an issue for imperialists late in this era (although the US remained the world's top oil producer throughout this period and beyond). But railroads still loomed large in imperialist plans. Just two examples: the British dream of a Cape-Cairo railroad (which led, in part, to the Fashoda crisis), and the Baghdad railway.

I'd go into greater detail, but I have a hunch that Caldus is working on a school assignment, and I am reluctant to do anyone else's homework. I trust, however, that this discussion has provided a sufficient basis for further research.
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Reply Thu 12 Feb, 2004 10:31 am
I had been thinking this morning, Joe, about the railway issue. There was a sharp diplomatic squabble between Imperial Germany and Imperial Britain over the building of a railway in Persia, which helped to exacerbate the tensions in the naval arms race. In general, the run of my thinking this morning is that it is more a case of the application of existent or emerging technology which would characterize the period in question.
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