World History

Published 23 Feb 2017

Needless to say, the present is defined by the events of the past and when one will look at the reasons behind the conflict that has been happening in the world we live in today, we only need to look into the past events to see why this is so. When one makes an analysis on how an action event from the 15th to the 19th century contributed to the conflict that is happening now in the current century, one will see that the age of exploration had a lot to do with it. While the age of exploration widened the horizons for many travelers, it also signaled the start of possible conflict between the East and the West.

Cultural exchange has always been a fact of history. Long ago, Marco Polo traveled from Italy to China and traded his European goods for Chinese tea and silk. He also brought the stories and culture of China back to Europe.

But, throughout world history, the flow has always been slow and the exchanges very limited. Today, culture and goods flow into and out of every nation on earth. One hundred years ago, all manufactured goods came from either the United States or Europe.

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It cannot be denied that the age of Western Imperialism really started to end with World War I. Two world wars and a severe depression coupled with the rise of powers outside of Europe to knock her out of her once predominant position on the globe. Although her economic and military power has slid, her civilization has conquered the world. Western technology and institutions have sunk deep roots everywhere.

During the 19th century, the technology and science of Europe fueled the Age of Imperialism. Explorations, which started in the 15th Century, spread Western culture to the Americas, Asia and Africa. Europe had global supremacy and the whole world was under her influence. In Europe and America, prosperity brought advances in democracy, the arts, and human health and longevity. Competition between colonizers and the resentment of the colonized would be a combination that would end Imperialist domination in catastrophe and bloodshed.

Western expansion affected most of the world in one way or another. Colonialism had a dramatic influence on black Africa, south of the Sahara. Europeans began trading on the coasts of Africa in the 15th Century. Rum, produced in the Caribbean, and guns from Europe were traded to African chiefs for gold, ivory, spices and that other important export: slaves. Few Westerners had ever been inland but that changed with the gradual abolition of slavery. Explorers, scientists, missionaries and adventurers descended on Africa with the intent of Christianizing and civilizing the natives.

As nationals from various states set up their mines and trading posts, they also laid claim to vast areas of land for their home countries. The rush for territories was enough of a threat to peace that Count Otto Von Bismarck of Germany called a conference in Berlin in 1885. The ground rules for occupation of Africa were agreed upon by all of the nations laying claim to a part of the continent. The terms of the agreement stated that any country with a coastal settlement also had a claim to areas inland from that point. In the few years after 1885, almost the entire continent of Africa was partitioned between the British, French, Belgians, Portuguese and Germans. The only independent countries remaining by 1914 were Ethiopia and Liberia. Ethiopia had been able to resist conquest and Liberia was a new state established by freed American slaves.

In Asia, “civilized” countries with a strong social fabric and literate populations were also squeezed into the Western mould by superior technology and military power. China was the main victim of Western Imperialism. The Chinese wanted nothing to do with Europeans, whom they considered barbarian. However, they traded for the opium which the British produced in India. When the Chinese tried to clean up the mess that the drug was causing to their country, the British retaliated by bombing Chinese cities. These skirmishes became known as The Opium Wars.

World War I was partly the result of competition between European countries for dominance on the world scene. The Age of Imperialism would come to a close as European nations practically destroyed each other in that war. Nationalism would become a powerful force in places like Egypt, Sudan, India and the Pacific Rim. One by one, Europe would lose her colonial empires to quickly modernizing national movements.
With respect to the changes that occurred after World War II, Wikipedia notes that the main effect of the war was the break up of global empires of Britain, France and Holland as well as the formation of new nations and alliances throughout Asia and Africa. The Philippines were granted their independence in 1946 as previously promised by the United States. Germany’s and Poland’s boundaries were re-drawn and Germany was split into four zones of occupation in which the three zones under the Western Allies were reconstituted as a constitutional Democracy. The empire controlled by the Soviet Union increased as they took control over most of Eastern Europe as well as incorporating parts of Finland and Poland into their new boundaries. Europe was informally split into Western and Soviet spheres of influence by Soviet distrust of anything not under their control, which heightened already existing tensions between the two camps and helped form the conflict known as the Cold War.

World War II spawned many new technologies such as advanced aircraft, radar, jet engines, synthetic rubber and plastics, antibiotics like penicillin, helicopters, nuclear energy, rocket technology and computers. These technologies were applied to government, commercial, industrial, private and civil use.

At the end of the war, millions of refugees were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and 70% of the European industrial infrastructure was destroyed. The Soviet Union had been heavily affected, with 30% of its economy destroyed. The United Kingdom ended the war economically exhausted by the war effort. The wartime coalition government was dissolved; new elections were held; and Churchill was defeated in a landslide general election by the Labour Party under Clement Attlee.

In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall devised the “European Recovery Program”, better known as the Marshall Plan. Effective during the years 1948 – 1952, it allocated 13 billion dollars for the reconstruction of Western Europe. At the end of the war, the Soviet Union occupied much of Central and Eastern Europe and of the Balkans. In all the USSR-occupied countries, with the exception of Austria, the Soviet Union helped Communist regimes to power. Furthermore, it annexed the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

One of the long term effects of these events is the emergence of Globalization. Globalization is an umbrella term for a complex series of economic, social, technological, cultural and political changes seen as increasing interdependence, integration and interaction among people and companies in disparate locations. And like most things in life, globalization has definitely spurred both negative and positive effects to the world as we know it today.

To many, globalization is a negative concept associated with the spread of neoliberalism, corporate theft of the world’s resources, and the exploitation of laborers both abroad and in the United States. Many see globalization as the promotion of corporatist interests, which is intent on constricting the freedoms of individuals in the name of profit. They also claim that the increasing autonomy and strength of corporate entities increasingly shapes the political policy of nation-states. Some “anti-globalization” groups argue that globalization is necessarily imperialistic, is one of the driving reasons behind the Iraq war and is forcing savings to flow into the United States rather than developing nations; it can therefore be said that “globalization” is another term for a form of Americanization, as it is believed by some observers that the United States could be one of the few countries (if not the only one) to truly profit from globalization.

While globalization clearly has these negative effects, it also provides people with the opportunity and challenge to resist devouring forms of economic, cultural, and social domination through the creation of international solidarity movements focused on human rights and the end of capital exploitation. These positive effects of globalization are a result of the increased communication and ability to share ideas among people inherent to the globalization movement. Supporters of free trade point out those economic theories of comparative advantage suggest that free trade leads to a more efficient allocation of resources, with all countries involved in the trade benefiting. In general, this leads to lower prices, more employment and higher output.
In my opinion, the pros of globalization clearly outweigh the cons in the sense that more and more people have experienced political and economic freedom –which, in most countries, is already an end in itself.


  • Duiker, William J., Spielvogel, Jackson J. World History (Volume II: Since 1500) 5th ed. Thomson/Wadworth 2007
  • Essortment, 2006:The Age of Western Imperialism [online]
  • Global Policy Forum, 2006: Globalization [cited on: November 29, 2006]
  • Hartwick, 2006: Globalization [online]
  • Wikipedia, 2006: World War II [online] Available at: [cited on: November 29, 2006]
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