The last major wave of imperial expansion in world history developed in earnest after 1875. It came to an end, more or less, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The rationale for empire was, as we saw in Unit 6, diverse. Economic motivations for markets, labor, and raw materials, evangelical religion, racism, and an Enlightenment-inspired visions of a civilizing mission were among the principle arguments public officials gave for their imperial projects. There was not one argument, of course, but many. The real world does not exist in black and white. Shades of grey are critical to understanding the past and present. The purpose of this essay is to encourage students to think critically about the complexity of official justifications for imperialism and to explore how these rationales could support or contradict one another.
For this essay, you will draw on the primary source documents linked below, especially the section entitled “Motives and Attitudes,” to explain the arguments European elites gave for their imperial projects at the end of the nineteenth century. Use a close reading of the online textbook to provide historical context for your argument. Your essay should explore the relationships among various arguments for empire, i.e., the way, for example, racism may have buttressed calls for civilization or how evangelical impulses may have undercut or supported economic arguments. Take at least two of the arguments you think are most important and explore their interaction.
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