Environmental Factors & the Global Economy
Although the first topic in this unit highlights cultural rationales used by Imperialist powers, the economic relationships that they created were at least as significant for World History. The expansion of empires and the growth of industrial capitalism greatly increased global exchanges. Businesses from industrialized countries benefited from imperialist power over other parts of the world, especially in pushing colonized or dependent regions to focus on exporting commodities.
A commodity is a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold in large quantities. The primary product means that a business would do something with the product before selling it to consumers. In other words, wheat is a commodity, but a loaf of bread is a consumer product.
image by Wikimedia user Quartl, CC 3.0
Industrializing countries needed food to feed people in large cities. New technology, like refrigerated shipping compartments, made the shipment of foods, like beef from Argentina and Uruguay, possible across large distances.
Guano, bird excrement, much of it produced by Guanay cormorants like the one pictured above that built upon islands off the coast of Peru, was an excellent fertilizer that increased agricultural production in imperialist countries that supported mining. That’s right there was so much poop on these islands that it could be mined!
Similarly, raw materials used by industries were mass-produced and shipped globally, to the benefit of businesses in imperialist countries. British factories used cotton from colonial Egypt and India.
The machines in these factories may have used belts made from rubber produced in the Belgian Congo (Central Africa) and may have been lubricated with palm oil from the British colony of Nigeria (west Africa). These are just a few of the many industrial crops and commodities. Students can use any appropriate example to illustrate their written responses on the AP Exam.
In 1869, some Afrikaaners (descendants of Dutch colonizers) in South Africa discovered diamonds there. This is a commodity with more obvious value than guano. This finding is known as the Kimberley diamond strike, and it caused a rush of European settlers and investors. 💎
Image Credit: Flickr user Irene2005 via Wikipedia, CC 2.0)
The result was the world’s largest open-pit mine dug by hand, forced labor from Africans who did the digging, and enormous profits for a few investors, such as Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes became so wealthy that he started his own colony in southern Africa, Rhodesia (today: Zimbabwe and Zambia) and was an investor turned imperialist. His wealth was achieved through violently oppressing African people to extract diamonds from their continent. He built his mining empire this way because of his white supremacist views. In a confession written at Oxford in 1877, Rhodes articulated this vision, clearly showing himself as a subscriber to eugenics:
"I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimen of human being, what an alteration there would be in them if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence...if there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible...”
Literal violence, often through armed mercenaries and soldiers, was not the only method for coercing the populations into unpaid labor to support the extraction of these raw materials. Imperialists in Africa and India also used state power, such as taxation or drafts, coerce laborers to work on transportation networks, especially railroads. Railways were crucial for exporting these commodities to ocean ports.
The 2018 AP World DBQ
explored the relationship between railroads and empire. It would be an excellent practice for Unit 6.