The Concept of Colonialism in the World History

The long-term continuation of political, economic, cultural, and social dominance of foreign powers over indigenous people is referred to as colonialism.

Due to colonialism, indigenous people have frequently lost their status as the dominant group in areas where they were formerly the majority. The Maori of New Zealand, the First Nations of Canada, and the Hawaiians of Hawaii are a few examples of people who practice this method. Societies acquire dominance over a foreign country through military prowess, highly developed political structures, and the extensive utilization of investment capital. The scope of the dominant group’s settlement in the colonial land may also influence the degree of authority. The relationship between the colonizing nation and the colonized people is comparable to that of a dominant group and its exploited subordinate ones. The concept of colonialism is extensively described in this blog. 

What Is Colonialism

Colonialism is the phenomenon of economic and political domination from a foreign power controlling a nation and its citizens. The majority of the time, colonizing nations seek to gain economic advantage by utilizing the natural and cultural resources of the nations they have conquered. The colonizers strived to impose their political, religious, and cultural practices on the native people during this process, sometimes by using force.

Colonialism has been viewed adversely because of its often tragic history and resemblance to imperialism, some nations have profited from it. For instance, authorities in Singapore credit the “valuable aspects of colonial heritage” with the independent city-state’s exceptional economic growth. Singapore was a British colony from 1826 until 1965.  The benefits were considerable, particularly for many of the European, Asian, and African nations affected by British colonialism. Along with lucrative trade agreements, English institutions like the common law, private property rights, and official banking and lending processes gave the colonies a strong basis for economic prosperity that would eventually lead to their independence.

However, the adverse effects of colonialism outweighed the benefits by far. Indigenous people were frequently subjected to severe new laws and taxes imposed by the governments of the occupying nations. It was normal practice to confiscate and destroy native lands and cultures. Numerous indigenous people were sold into slavery, killed, or perished from disease and starvation as a result of the combined effects of colonialism and imperialism. Many others were evicted from their houses and dispersed all across the world.

Colonialism Vs Imperialism

Both the terms colonialism and imperialism are frequently used interchangeably, but they have slightly different connotations. Imperialism is the political ideology that motivates colonialism, which is the physical act of occupying another nation. To put it another way, colonialism might be seen as an instrument of imperialism.

Colonialism and imperialism involve the subordination of one nation to another. Similar to colonialism, imperialism is a means by which the aggressor nations seek to make money and gain a military edge in the area. Imperialism, on the other hand, refers to the direct or indirect political and financial control of another country, either with or without the requirement for a physical presence. This contrasts colonialism, which always entails the direct creation of physical settlements in another country.

Colonization is mostly carried out by nations for economic gain, to utilize the conquered nation’s rich natural and human resources. In contrast, nations seek imperialism intending to expand their economic, political, and military hegemony over vast areas of land, if not entire continents.  

Several nations that came under the rule of numerous settlers from European powers during their histories include America, Algeria, New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil. These nations are widely thought to have been impacted by colonialism. The European dominance of the majority of African nations in the late 1800s and American hegemony over the Philippines and Puerto Rico are two classic examples of imperialism, in which foreign dominance is established without any meaningful settlement.

History of Colonialism

During the age of exploration in the 15th Century, the concept of modern colonialism started. The Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in North Africa in 1419 resulted in the creation of the longest-lasting colonial empire in modern European history, one that sought out new trade routes and civilizations outside of Europe.  Further, Christopher Columbus, a Spanish explorer, set sail in 1492 in pursuit of a western sea passage to China and India. Instead, he stepped down in the Bahamas, beginning in the age of Spanish colonialism. 

The formation of the Dutch and French overseas empires as well as the English overseas possessions, which included the Colonial United States, during the 17th century contributed to the flourishing of colonialism. The English overseas holdings would later grow to become the vast British Empire. The first period of decolonization started when the majority of the European colonies in the Americas attained independence, beginning in 1783 with the end of the American Revolution. Between the inauguration of the Suez Canal and the Second Industrial Revolution in the late 1870s and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, European colonialism was known as “New Imperialism.”

After World War I, the last phase of decolonization started when the League of Nations split up the German colonial empire among the victorious allied nations of Great Britain, Russia, France,  Italy, Japan, Romania, and the United States. The League imposed a deadline for the independence of the former German colonies to honor Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points speech from 1918. Additionally, at this time, the colonial empires of Russia and Austria fell.

Types of Colonialism

Colonialism is typically categorized into one of five overlapping kinds depending on its specific objectives and effects on the subjugated region and its indigenous peoples. These are; settler colonialism, plantation colonialism, Internal colonialism, exploitation colonialism, and surrogaten colonialism.

1) Settler Colonialism

Settler Colonialism is the large-scale population movement to establish long-term, self-sufficient colonies. The colonists attempted to push the indigenous peoples away or force them to peacefully transition into colonial life while still maintaining their status as legal subjects of their native land. They also collected natural resources. Except in a few rare instances of total depopulation brought on by starvation or illness, settler colonialist settlements typically lasted forever with the help of prosperous imperialistic rulers.

Classic examples of settler colonialism include the massive emigration of Afrikaners, or Dutch, French, and German settlers, to South Africa and British colonialism in America.

2) Plantation Colonialism

Plantation colonialism is the early form of colonization, in which settlers produced large quantities of a single crop like cotton, coffee, tobacco, or sugar. The main goal of the plantation colonies was frequently to impose culture and religion on the local indigenous peoples.  

Jamestown, Virginia, the first established British colony in North America, is an example of an established plantation colony. By the end of the 17th century, Jamestown was exporting more than 20,000 tons of tobacco annually to England. Cotton production brought equal financial prosperity to the colonies in South Carolina and Georgia.

3) Internal Colonialism

Internal colonialism is the term used to describe how one racial or ethnic group is oppressed or exploited by another group within the same nation. Internal colonialism differs from more conventional forms of colonialism in that domestic forces rather than foreign ones are responsible for the exploitation.

The unfair treatment of Mexicans in the United States following the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848 is frequently described as domestic colonialism. Many Mexicans who had been residing in what is now the southwest region of the United States as a result of the war became subjects of the American government, but without the privileges and rights associated with citizenship. 

4) Exploitation Colonialism

Exploitation colonialism refers to using force to take over another nation to use its people as slaves and its natural wealth as raw materials. The colonial power engaged in exploitative colonialism to use the native population as cheap labor and therefore expand its wealth. The indigenous people may be allowed to stay in place under exploitation colonialism, especially if they were to be used as slaves as laborers in service to the motherland, which required fewer colonists to emigrate than under settler colonialism.

5) Surrogate Colonialism

Surrogate colonialism refers to when a foreign power actively or covertly promotes the settlement of a foreign group on land already inhabited by an indigenous people. Surrogate colonialism programs may receive funding, assistance financially, supplies for humanitarian causes, or even military force.

For example, in the talks that led to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which aided and legitimized the still-contentious Zionist settlement in Palestine.  Due to the Zionist Jewish settlement’s establishment with the British Empire’s encouragement and support inside the Islamic Middle Eastern state of Palestine, many anthropologists view it as an example of surrogate colonialism. 

Does Colonialism Exist Today?

Even though traditional colonialism is no longer practiced, the years after World War II saw the rise of “neocolonialism,” a term used to describe the post-colonial strategy of using economics, globalization, and the assurance of financial aid to gain political power in developing nations instead of using the conventional techniques of colonialism. Neocolonialism, which is sometimes known as “nation building,” led to colonial-like exploitation in areas like Latin America after formal foreign rule by colonials had ended. For instance, in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, where American arms were illegally sold to Iran to covertly fund the Contras, a group of rebels battling to topple Nicaragua’s Marxist government, President Ronald Reagan of the United States was criticized for engaging in neo-colonialism.

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a true abolition of colonialism is still an “unfinished process” that has been a problem for the international community for far too long.

Learn Diplomacy and International Relations With the Best Diplomats

The system of colonization began in the 15th and 16th centuries with the military takeover of the world by Europeans and the harsh enslavement of its inhabitants.  Raw material extractivism, slavery, authoritarian control, and the establishment of racial hierarchies are some of its defining characteristics. Without comprehending this history and system linked to its foundation, racism cannot be understood nor can it be eliminated. 

For a variety of reasons, states encourage colonial endeavors, possessing a natural resource, such as gold or lumber, gaining control of a strategically significant area like the Suez Canal, and reducing population pressure and their culture or faith more widely. Best Diplomats is an international organization providing excellent opportunities to learn the concept of international relations and diplomacy with the best mentors. They are organizing international conferences worldwide to motivate student participation in world affairs. 


Colonialism refers to a dark period in human history, characterized by the exploitation, oppression, and extreme suffering imposed on indigenous peoples all across the world. Its legacy is still influencing the current dynamics of world politics, economy, and culture. Some claim that colonialism brought improvements and modernization to particular places. To promote a more equal and just world, acknowledging the historical injustices of colonialism is both morally required and a crucial first step. We have a responsibility to draw lessons from this past and come together to address any long-lasting effects, encourage peace, and prevent such atrocities from happening in the future.


What are the two main types of colonialism?

Colonialism primarily comes in two types: settler colonialism and exploitation colonialism. Large-scale immigration as a result of religious, economic, or political concerns is referred to as Settler colonialism. Trade and business, including the export of products and even the slave trade, are aspects of exploitation colonialism.

Is there still colonialism today?

Yet colonialism still exists today. From Palestine to Ukraine, Western Africa to Libya,  and even regions like Kashmir that are being subjugated by military occupation, it continues to afflict poor countries and minority groups around the world.

Who started colonization?

During the Age of Discovery, modern colonialism was first started by Portugal. It started looking for new routes of trade and exploring non-European cultures in the 15th century.

What is the difference between imperialism and colonialism?

Imperialism is the legal or unofficial economic and political hegemony of one country over another. Colonialism is the act of one country exercising complete physical authority over another country. In a word, colonialism can be seen as the act of dominating and imperialism as the theory that underlies the conduct.

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