Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Europe, Old Europe

In History 5, The Making of Modern Europe, 1453 to the Present, (feed), Professor Anderson proposes a somewhat different emphasis within 19th century imperialism. Not the greedy, megalomaniac, warlike, if adventurous land grab, but a whole other kind of expansion made the heavy point of this era. Europe's population grew much, much faster in the nineteenth century than that of the rest of the world. A large portion of the population decided to emigrate to the colonies. And here they didn't go for the land grab, but to make a life and consequently, they mostly moved into the open spaces and into the areas with a climate like Europe's. There they built a new Europe and this Europe lasted much longer than the colonies. North America, the south of South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand - they are still with us today and their populations are largely descending from Europe.

In Africa there were also open spaces, but this was just the scene of the more known version of imperialism. Actually, there is a very interesting explanation why the entry of Europeans into Africa happened so late. The continent is so near, but it was 'white man's grave'; disease. What did the native Americans in, was the protection of the native Africans. Non-Africans were not fit to deal with the microbes of the continent. What opened Africa up was the discovery of quinine. First in South-America, where it nearly extinguished its source, the cinchona tree and then, brought into culture, among others by the Dutch on Java, where the quality was best and the Dutch acquired a (near) monopoly on the quinine medicine, adding to their imperial wealth. (Lecture Europeans All Around: Globalization and Imperialism in the 19th Century; audio, video)

Imperialism back home in the old continent, in the mean time developed two power blocks; Germany and Austria-Hungary on the one hand and France, Russia and Britain on the other. While this operated as the 'concert of Europe' it could maintain stability. It survived a series of Balkan Wars, but eventually the conflicts spilled over and the powers marched to war - the Great War. Anderson meticulously explains this build up and I find it one of the very best narratives I know of the prewar period. (Lecture Shooting an Elephant: Why Europe Went to War in 1914; audio, video)

More History 5:
Women and Freud,
Romanticism and Bismarck,
Capitalism and Socialism,
Enlightenment and French Revolution,
Absolutism and Science.

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