Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word ‘colonus’, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control. The terms ·colonialism· and ·imperialism’ have been used interchangeably though experts do point to subtle differences between them. Edward Said, in his immensely insightful study. ‘Culture and Imperialism· (1993), offers a distinction. He says that means the practice, Theory, and attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory.
Colonialism’, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory. Thus Said uses ‘imperialism’ for the ideological force and colonialism for the practice. Yet ‘broadly’ it can be said that imperialism/colonialism locked the conquering countries and inhabitants of conquered land’ into the most complex relationship in human history and that both terms stood for a conscious and openly advocate policy of acquiring economic, political and social advantage. Colonialism is not a modern phenomenon. World history is full of examples of one society gradually expanding by incorporating adjacent territory and settling its people on newly conquered territory. The ancient Greeks set up colonies as did the Romans, the Moors, and the
Ottomans, to name just a few of the most famous examples. Colonialism, then, is not restricted to a specific time or place. Nevertheless, in the sixteenth century, colonialism changed decisively because of technological developments in navigation that began to connect more remote parts of the world. Fast sailing ships made it possible to reach distant ports and to sustain close ties between the center and colonies. Thus, the modern European colonial project emerged when it became possible to move large numbers of people across the ocean and to maintain political sovereignty in spite of geographical dispersion. This entry uses the term colonialism to describe the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world, including the Americas, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia.
The conquerors always extracted Goods and wealth and tribute from the lands that they conquered. In other words these conquests were mainly for plunder and glory. But the expansion of European empires that began after the ‘discovery’ of America and the discovery” of the sea route to India in 1492 and 1498 respectively ushered in a new and different kind of colonial practices that has altered the entire globe in a way that earlier conquests did not. From the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. European countries established complete domination over the entire Atlantic sea-board. They established some colonies and many trading bases; in Asia, Africa and Australia. During this period. mercantile capital controlled the world economy and Europe vastly benefitted. European powers” exploited silver mines in the Americas and this brought unprecedented wealth to Europe. Europeans transferred Africans to the Americas to work in mines as slaves. Indigenous people in the Americas were almost wiped out. Europeans also obtained spices, oil, indigo, tobacco, fur and many other articles of daily use from there. Silver from America enabled European trading companies to buy spices, textiles, indigo and tea from Asian countries. The expansion in America which is often described as ‘the age of old colonialism’ came to an end after the American War of Independence ( 1775-83) which led to the withdrawal of Britain from its 13 American colonies. In the early Nineteenth century Spain and Portugal also lost their empires in South America. But during the century following the American war of Independence the European powers continued to expand in other parts of the world. Britain established control over the whole Indian subcontinent besides building up its empire in other parts of Asia, Africa and Australia. The French expanded in Algeria and in South East Asia while the Dutch built their empire in southeast Asia.
In the course of the twentieth century, the legitimacy of the word imperialism has been challenged. In the year 1900, for the Westerners, there was music and magnetism in the term ‘imperialism’. They were convinced that Western dominance was beneficial for the people subjugated. By the end of the twentieth century this word has come to signify illegitimacy and inevitable disintegration. Hardly anyone in the West would call himself/herself imperialist today. It has become something that their forefathers did in the past. For the people in the colonies the word ‘imperialism’ has negative connotations of tyranny and repression. Citizens of free countries or erstwhile empires are disinclined to use it in any reference to themselves. It might be added, however, that imperial dependence continues to exist in many forms between industrialized and what are called, ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ regions of the world.