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The pith helmet, an icon of colonialism in tropical lands. This one was used during the Second French Colonial Empire.

Colonialism is the policy of a foreign polity seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country and of helping the colonies modernize in terms defined by the colonizers, especially in economics, religion, and health.

The European colonial period was the era from the 15th century to 1914 when European states established empires. The Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish empires established colonies across large areas. Imperial Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the United States also acquired colonies, as did Chinese imperialism.

At first, European colonizing countries followed policies of mercantilism, in order to strengthen the home economy at the expense of rivals, so regulations usually restricted the colonies to trading only with the metropole (mother country). By the mid-19th century, however, the powerful British Empire gave up mercantilism and trade restrictions and adopted the principle of free trade, with few restrictions or tariffs. Christian missionaries were active in practically all of the colonies. Historian Philip Hoffman calculated that by 1800, before the Industrial Revolution, Europeans already controlled at least 35% of the globe, and by 1914, they had gained control of 84%.The archetypal European colonial system practically ended between 1945–1975, when nearly all Europe's colonies gained political independence.

Selected article

Copy of the Treaty of Butre (1656) between the Netherlands and Ahanta (Gold Coast).

The Treaty of Butre between the Netherlands and Ahanta was signed at Butre (historical spelling: Boutry), Dutch Gold Coast on 27 August 1656. The treaty regulated the jurisdiction of the Netherlands and the Dutch West India Company over the town of Butre and the surrounding country of Upper Ahanta, creating a Dutch protectorate over the area. Being a dedication, the treaty is rather unilateral in its terms. Ahanta declared that in view of former good relations with the Dutch government established in the past at neighbouring Axim, and in view of the adverse circumstances caused by the war with Encasser, it was decided to invite the Dutch director general at Elmina to come to Butre and "accept possession of that what was offered him". Ahanta placed itself under the protection of both the States General of the United Netherlands and the Dutch West India Company. This was done on the condition that the Dutch fortified and defended the places under their protection, and kept the Ahanta free from the dangers of war.

When the Dutch transferred their possessions on the Gold Coast to the British on 6 April 1872, the treaty of 1656 was still in effect, having regulated political relations between the Dutch and Ahanta for more than 213 years. The treaty was one of the oldest and one of the longest functioning treaties between an African and a European state. After the transfer the British started to develop their own policies towards the now united Gold Coast possessions. Ahanta resisted the British take-over, with the result that the British Royal Navy bombed Butre in 1873 to achieve a political submission. In 1874 Britain declared the entire Gold Coast – including Ahanta – a Crown Colony, de jure and de facto ending all former diplomatic and legal obligations.


Selected biography

Pieter Nuyts in Taiwan in 1629 (Japanese artist).

Pieter Nuyts (1598 – 11 December 1655) was a Dutch explorer, diplomat, and politician. He was part of a landmark expedition of the Dutch East India Company in 1626–27, which mapped the southern coast of Australia. He became the Dutch ambassador to Japan in 1627, and he was appointed Governor of Formosa in the same year. Later he became a controversial figure because of his disastrous handling of official duties, coupled with rumours about private indiscretions. Nuyts acquired some notoriety while Governor for apparently taking native women to his bed, and having a translator hide under the bed to interpret his pillow-talk. He was also accused of profiting from private trade, something which was forbidden under company rules. Some sources claim that he officially married a native Formosan woman during this time, but as he was still legally married to his first wife Cornelia, this seems unlikely. His handling of relations with the natives of Formosa too was a cause for concern, with the residents of Sinkan contrasting his harsh treatment with the "generous hospitality of the Japanese". Nuyts had a low opinion of the natives, writing that they were "a simple, ignorant people, who know neither good nor evil". He was disgraced, fined and imprisoned, before being made a scapegoat to ease strained Dutch relations with the Japanese. He returned to the Dutch Republic in 1637, where he became the mayor of Hulster Ambacht and of Hulst. He is chiefly remembered today in the place names of various points along the southern Australian coast, named for him after his voyage of 1626–27. During the early 20th century, he was vilified in Japanese school textbooks in Taiwan as an example of a "typical arrogant western bully".


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John Horden

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Colonialism's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


This map shows Colonization's rise and fall over the past 500 years.


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