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Does economic rivalry provide a sufficient explanation of British Imperial Expansion after 1880?

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Does economic rivalry provide a sufficient explanation of British Imperial Expansion after 1880? 1880, better known by some historians as the period of rapid European Imperialism, so much so that 90 per cent of Africa became annexed, of which a hundred million African came under European influences and control. The period in which Britain alone managed to increase its hold on the world by a further 5 million sq. miles. The very speed of this 'new imperialism' is extremely concerning and thus studying this epoch may better explain some of the political, economical and military tension that lay so very evidently within Europe. The aims and objectives of this imperialism, can really be looked at differently by different historians but according to T.O.Lloyd there existed two main priorities, being ' closer relations between Britain and the self governing colonies most of whose inhabitants were of British descendant, and also enthusiasm expansion by the acquisition of new territory' (T.O.Lloyd 209). He argues that imperial expansions were linked to ideas of nationalism. This however is not sufficient enough to explain expansions within this period, a period where political and economical turmoil is evident within Europe. Economics alone cannot explain the rapid expansion of colonies post 1880, but however neither can social or political motives alone, one thing I have to come to understand and appreciate is that the answer cannot be that economics is the main or only motive behind the expansion but rather that the reasons for expansion vary from simple economics to fear, social Darwinism, political tensions, and strategic justifications. ...read more.


The British also wanted for many reasons not to intervene too much in the administration of foreign countries. They thought this especially unnecessary, and many argued that it would prove too costly and time consuming, not to mention numerous other troubles it may bring with the indigenous people. To maybe a greater extent it can be argued that one of the main motives behind the rapid annexation of many counties and the expansion of not just the British Empire but also Empire's of other European countries, centred around the potential gains in new 'fresh' countries and the fears of economical rivalry. This idea is extremely relevant as the economic gap between European countries and Britain was coming to a quick closure, for example the export and import of French trade had increased significantly outside of Europe, between 1840 and 1880 ' In 1840 �7.7 million of her export and '�9.2 million' of her import trade was done outside Europe; in 1880 the figures were '�38.4 million' and '�73 million' (Porter 77). In comparison perhaps other European counties did not pose such a threat to Britain, but their trade was steadily increasing, and could have a big affect on British economical gain in the future. The well-known British economist, J.A.Hobson and Lenin, linked colonial expansion to economic gain and investment, arguing that the 'economic taproot of imperialism' (1) linked to colonial expansion as it was the 'excessive capital in search of investment' and this 'excessive capital' (1) ...read more.


Egypt's financial problems also affected the British, as Egypt's dept caused internal instability and allowed Egypt's creditors to take over control administration of its finances and incomes. One such creditor was France, one of Britain's rivalry powers, without the fear of the influence that the French may have on British foreign trade and economic gain Porter feels that the British may not of felt that they had to invade Egypt. Britain wanted to insure that none of its rivalry countries could take over Egypt and indeed Turkeys financial administration. The Influence and 'collaboration' that the British had with certain countries also influenced the British expansion. In areas where Britain maintained a substantial level of passiveness, like with Turkey, than they did not feel immediately threatened, however if Britain felt that the natives or the leaders of a country posed a threat to British economic and strategic interests in that country than, this fuelled British fear and led to the British making it into there protectorate, like for example Egypt where by they felt that Arabi posed a bigger threat. However important political, strategic and social motives may be, it would seem that all linked one way or another to economic gain and rivalry and so one thing is clear, that the search for overseas economic potential and investment played a very firm role in the European drive to secure colonies within this epoch. ...read more.

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