The Five Motives of Imperialism

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  • 0:00 What Is Imperialism?
  • 1:12 Motives of Imperialism
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
In this lesson, you will learn the definition of imperialism and explore the motives, including economic, political, and ideological motives, for spreading a nation's power and influence into new territories.

What Is Imperialism?

Have you ever wondered how your state or country got its shape? Maybe you've spent some time thinking about why you and your neighbors believe the things that you believe or have the social systems that you have? Well, no matter where you live, you can bet that imperialism played some part in why things are the way they are in your society.

Imperialism is the act of expanding a country's empire through the use of force, colonization, or coercion. During the 15th and 16th centuries, large and powerful European countries, like Spain and England, put forth considerable effort to acquire and rule other countries and territories. For example, the colonization and development of the United States was started because England wanted to expand its empire to new territories that could provide it with greater power and resources.

Although it has a fairly straightforward definition, imperialism is actually a very complicated process that tends to unfold over the course of many decades and for several different reasons. These reasons are usually tied to a larger socialistic motive, that is, with a generally defined purpose for using force, colonization tactics, and coercion to capture and rule other countries and territories.

Motives of Imperialism

Rather than having one motive for their imperialistic aspirations, most nations have several motives that tend to intersect and overlap, which can make it difficult to identify or understand the true objective. Broadly speaking, however, there are five motives for imperialism.

1) Exploration- In certain cases, countries have sent out explorers to map new trade routes, find new territories, or simply find out what different areas were like. Christopher Columbus, for example, was sent on an exploratory voyage to find a faster route to the East Indies that would allow for easier trading and which would expand the Spanish Empire.

2) Economic- Among the five motives for imperialism, economic expansion is probably the most significant. For example, one of the biggest reasons why the American government wanted to settle the western territories was so that they could increase agricultural production and export more goods, which would give them more economic power in the global trade market.

3) Political- At times, a country might want to expand their political power and control over a particular region, which would make them more powerful in a global context. During WWII, the Nazis occupied and attempted to annex several neighboring countries in Europe with the intention of bringing those countries under Nazi rule, giving them the most power and land in Europe.

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