Look, it’s undeniable that Europe can be linked to anything seen today. Current on-going wars, current social states, population, etc. Europe’s almost everywhere, which is quite remarkable for the number of landlocked, jammed together countries in the small continent. How did Britain, a mere island, manage to colonize a number of countries and nations, and manage to create a vastly powerful empire for so many years? How did so many of these countries manage to colonize the majority of Africa? How could they take over populations and groups of pre-living races, creating a product of their own will and control so easily? But more than that, why? What was the need to do so? Why did these countries feel so obligated to take from others for their own sole benefit? The answer to this is both simple and complicated. While these European powers simply had better plans, resources, and strategies, there were also other factors. Internal turmoil within these nations, amongst some. Being easily trusting, for another. Despite this, at the end, it was the Europeans who chose to take advantage of this to reap their own benefit. The outcome being a boost to their empire’s power, wealth, influence, and expanse. But once again, we ask, what was the need to do so? Power is a reason for anything, even wealth, but why did these things exactly matter at the time? What was going on for these European powers to set out and colonize the majority of the world? Here’s the answer: necessity.
European colonialism all stemmed from one major thing- and that fueled over 5 centuries of exploitation and influence of other countries. It’s because Europe lacked. For starters, Northern Europe doesn’t necessarily have the most ideal growing climates. With harsh weather of severe seasonal changes in temperature and light, prevailing winds, and months of cold, snow, and shortages, Europeans needed to take new measures to survive. Even today, to make ways of living easier or to solve any problem, we create new things. We adapt, advance, and create. It’s part of our nature, and exactly what Europeans did. These problems faced would have led them to start creating and planning for these things. They would have had to experiment with new techniques, tactics, resources, and much more. The way they solved this was by using trade routes. Trade routes would have been extremely crucial for most Europeans, as it linked them to other countries with needed resources, and also to sell what resources they had in return. Taking advantage of this, Europeans focused on civilizations near the Equator, as they had more consistent climates and stable weather patterns with year-round food. Europeans utilized this, and built ships. Specific ships that could sail against the prevailing winds, and allowed them to go anywhere.
Essentially, the entire lack of resources for Europe allowed them to develop further than other countries. They were able to create new machines, inventions, and ideas to support themselves and solve their problem given the pressure put upon them to survive. Furthermore, they were allowed to go through different movements that introduced new ideas into their culture. Religious movements dominated, with political and economic movements also following. Literacy and wealth grew, essentially boosting European powers, and giving them an advantage. With the rise of these trade routes, Europeans became dependent on Asian good such as silk, spices, and pottery. However, with the rise of the Ottoman Turks in power and the decline of the Mongolian Empire, these traditional trade routes were under threat. Alongside this, there were further improvements made in shipbuilding and navigation, allowing Europeans to travel further for longer period of time. With this, a new competition began: to secure better trade with Asia and finding new routes by sea to get there. In this, a little slogan also developed, if you’re familiar; ‘God, gold, and glory.’
The story of Christopher Columbus is familiar to many, if not, the majority of Americans. Why else would there be a holiday named after him? The legendary explorer who set out to find a quicker path to India for spices ended up discovering something completely different: the Americas. New unclaimed land with potential for expansions and resources? It was almost beckoning for the Europeans to come. However, the problem was that it was already inhabited. Natives, all of different tribes, cultures, lifestyles, and personalities who had created a sense of peace on these continents for generations long before the Europeans came. Not a problem. In fact, it served as an even greater benefit to the Europeans. ‘God; the first g. The idea to set out and convert others to Christianity had some good intention, but served as rather cruel to others. Converters wanted others to have a place to go to after death, heaven, and with many Native cultures this idea didn’t necessarily exist. They, the converters, felt it to be for the best to convert the natives so they could be safe. But with this, rather cruel approaches were taken. Discrimination, the stripping away of one’s identity into someone new, and even slavery. Amongst the countries that colonized the Americas- Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands- France had the best relations. For starters, they sought out to trade for fur, and treated the natives with respect. They did little to impose on their culture and homes, keeping peaceful separate lives. The British on the other hand were worse. At first, the British struggled to survive. They faced poor results in crop growth, and little unity amongst the group to survive. Given this, some natives helped them out, showing them ways to farm in the weather conditions. This eventually led to a friendly relationship between the two, and the first Thanksgiving dinner- a tradition still widely celebrated today. However, this wholesome dinner ended up being a betrayal, for shortly after the British continued to take land from the natives. Even after the American colonists declared independence from the British, they continued to encroach on native territory. Despite agreements and treaties being made between tribes and the U.S. on property restrictions, the U.S. continued to take. Manifest destiny and westward expansion served no help to this, as it further fueled the desire to control the continent. What vast land the native groups once had diminished exponentially. Today, they live in outskirts of cities built on their ancestral land, and suffer more than Americans do today. Today, when we celebrate Thanksgiving happily with families and good food, they’re reminded of the harsh betrayal that led to the loss of their homes, culture, and people. Gold came along the way, surging with the California Gold Rush in 1848 and even before that in small traces. And Glory did show up. Christopher Columbus being the most notable, but other discoveries and small accomplishments also were recognized. The Hudson River, an abundance of fish, other alternate attempts and routes to India by other explorers, and much more. And, the Americas aren’t the only to experience this. So have the Aboriginals in Australia.
Another way Europe developed further was through revolution. Now, hearing that word may lead you to think over overthrowing governments and rebelling. To challenge the norm and go a different way. And, yes, I guess that is true. But here, we’re talking about the Industrial Revolution. Not necessarily an insurrection, but rather a change and turn against the norm: agriculture. The Industrial Revolution was, well, revolutionary. With this event, they once agrarian and handicraft economy everyone depended on to make money from changed to become one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. New, novel ways of working and living fundamentally transformed society. It made it better, faster, efficient, and more demanding. Demanding in the way that more resources were needed. This further called for exploration to other parts of the world to gain these resources.
One example of this is the Berlin Conference of 1884. European nations saw Africa as a reservoir for raw materials, labor, and even territory for future settlement. And so the Berlin Conference of 1884 took place, drawing lines across the land and between groups and families of people to mark each country’s claim. These countries only left when satisfied, or if they came upon a problem they had originally created. Alongside the development of machines, there also was the increased usage fo gunpowder. Although Europe was not the first to discover gunpowder, they were the ones to utilize it more than other civilizations. Gunpowder became important to conquer new territory, as it allowed a small number of people to exercise a lot of influence. Europeans standardized the usage of gunpowder in warfare, and it gave them an advantage over their enemies who were less prepared. (This including the Africans, natives, Indians, and other civilizations) Along with this, the European countries had predominantly looked towards becoming the most powerful among the others. They weren’t really unified as one- Europe- but were individually active, and each fought to increase their power and influence. They took different methods to succeed, that wasn’t really seen by these other countries before. One of these methods was to take advantage of the internal affairs at play. Many European countries exploited the internal feuds of many in order to gain an advantage over them. Methods such as bribes, offers of power and supplies in return for some position in the country, etc, they easily made their way into a different country this way.
And, really, you know the rest of the story. Slowly, as these colonized civilizations began to develop, they rebelled and declared independence from their European holders. But the last influence is still heavily seen today, even if they passed their colonization days. For starters, we see democratic institutions and systems of government, established human rights, increased literacy rates, poverty, and even today’s wars. Israel-Palestine (Hamas) had to do with European influence. Both World Wars began in Europe due to European issues. Ukraine-Russia War is between two European countries. Many African countries are in their current state following the Berlin Conference, and the genocides that took place happened due to the created divisions between families and groups by the Europeans. The United States based its founding principles due to European (British) actions. The list goes on.
But, what if we were to prevent all this from happening? What if we could stop a point in all of history, knowing of today’s current events and status, and change the current worlds? Well, the best way to do that would be to backtrack in time and stop European exploration from happening. The best way to do this would be to prevent the Ottomans from taking control of the Silk Route and other trade routes. This would have delayed the European expansion for a few decades or so, as there would be little need at the time to find alternate routes to Asia. However, due to the growing religious movements that were taking over the majority of Europe, along with the improvements in shipbuilding and navigation that would take place, there is no guarantee they wouldn’t have still sought out to colonize other countries. However, there could have been some more development in other civilizations before then, allowing them to grow. Although, it is possible they may not have been able to reach the Industrial Revolution until much after. One other thing we could attempt to change is Christopher Columbus’s success in the discovery of the New World. If he never came back, then it’s possible the Americas wouldn’t have been discovered or colonized for a while, as other explorers may not have further tried his route to reach Asia. With this, there would be a thriving native population, but no development of the United States. The United States probably wouldn’t have existed for another few centuries or so, and wouldn’t be at the current state it is now. In fact, lets say the natives had ben able to stop the Europeans. Well, we wouldn’t have the United States today, unless the Europeans attempted to come back again. The same goes for South America. But I wouldn’t even be here. In fact, the good majority of the entire United States population wouldn’t be here- as most come from generations of immigrants or are immigrants themselves. However, it is also likely, more likely actually, they would hav Beene just fine. Considering Europe solely came to these continents for resources, imagine what would have happened if those civilizations found and utilized these resources for themselves instead. They probably would have, at one point or another, advance and probably could have created a powerful nation. Europe would be pretty much distraught and would struggle, maybe being the ones in poverty and suffering. The roles could reverse. There would be a relatively homogenous population with some to little diversity though, depending on whether different groups either unify or clash to become more powerful. The idea of any group of people not being able to develop is almost impossible, since Europeans were the same. But going back to the idea of European colonization never happening, there would be far more cultural and linguistic diversity today. More cultures and ethnicities would have thrived and presumably would have had a bigger influence on the world. There would be much more different political boundaries and power dynamics. One country could end up becoming a number of smaller ones, or a number of smaller ones could become a larger one. There might still be a greater number of empires today. Furthermore, it is likely that there would be a much more different interconnectedness between nations. Given that colonialism linked many countries together in more ways than one, the relationships would be far different. In a way, European exploration has been more profound and integral in our world history than we realize. What a strange amount of influence from a small continent.