Issues in World History

The Forms and Types of European Empire and Expansion

This blog is intended as a source for my students in history and colleagues in world history.  It reflects areas of my recent research and writing as well as themes for teaching and studying in my history courses.  You are free and welcome to comment.

Studies and attempts at a survey of known world history may be seen in the Ancient 5th century BC Greek historian, Herodotus, and in the late 14th to early 15th century writings of the Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun.  The rise of history as a profession followed the rise of philosophy and history in the German academies and universities from the late 18th and into the 19th century.

The first modern philosopher of World History in Europe was Georg Hegel.  Hegel had an enormous impact on subsequent approaches to history and in this blog page I examine the problem of Hegel’s assumptions about the underdevelopment of the non-West and his reification of Greek and subsequent European or Western Civilization.  This page will focus on Hegel’s upholding of Greek and European Western Civilization as what he assumed were superior models for development.  In other pages on this blog I examine Hegel’s Orientalism and his assumptions of African racial inferiority and lack of history and development.

In another page I provide a review of Susan Buck-Morss’ Hegel, Haiti and Universal History (2009) an important study of Hegel’s serious misjudgment about Haiti.  Here I also summarize a few key points from the new work by Wolfgang Reinhard’s ,  Die Unterferfung der Welt:  Globalgeschichte der Europäischen Expansion 1415-2015 (The Subjugation of the World:  A World History of the European Expansion 1415-2015).  Munich:  C.H. Beck, 2016. Reinhard presents a comprehensive and sobering account of the systematic plunder of the world by European expansion from the 15th century and into the present.

Reinhard offers insight and a critique of the long European problem of expansion and empire that persists to the present day and includes the US and other colonial formed states as sharing in this world system of expansion and exploitation.  In doing so he offers a typology of empire building and colonialism since 1415, when the Portuguese began their expansion down the African coast and the age of modern slavery was begun.

A Typology of the Empire and European Expansion in Modern History

  1. Holy Roman Empire and its reliance on a centralized absolutist form of culture organized around the European courts of the Austrian and Prussian state and empire. It was almost exclusively a land based and continental form of expansion that was held in check in the East by the Russian and Ottoman states and empires.
  2. The Spanish Type that was based on a national central monarchy and reliant upon an administrative hierarchy and Catholic clergy and ideology to administer its vast overseas empire and territories.
  3. The British and French Type found in the 19th and 20th century that relied on a colonial bureaucracy to administer its territories and that relied on an alliance with local elites to hold power, as in the system of mixed courts and so-called indirect rule.
    1. Variations of this appear in the autonomy of former colonies, the USA or those few territories and countries that were never colonized including Japan, Thailand and the Ottoman Empire
  4. The Russian Type that was an expansive land-based system of vast territorial conquest that spanned the Asian continent and across the Pacific into Alaska and California. As with the Spanish Empire it too relied upon the church as it used the Russian Orthodox clergy to provide missionary like priests who were closely linked with advance trade missions and settlements.

The Forms of Colonialism:

In addition Reinhard describes and analyzes the three forms of colonialism as:

  1. Plantation or hacienda colonialism (Stütpunktkolonien) that dominated the Caribbean and Latin America under the Spanish, but which was also dominant in the British and French Caribbean and in the Dutch Caribbean and Indonesia. As with the ancient Roman Empire this form of plantation colonies relied heavily on large numbers of imported slaves from Africa to provide cheap and heavily controlled labor on its cash crops, sugar, tobacco, cotton and for mining.
  2. Settler Colonies (Siedlungkskolonien) which came to dominate North America, Canada and the US, as well as Australia and South Africa
  3. Managerial Colonies (Herrschafskolonien) that extended and built on the early form of state chartered colonies as in the VOC the Dutch East Indies Company or the British East India Company, and which ran certain nations as protectorates or protected territories under French or British control: the Moroccan Protectorate, the Trucial States in the Arabian Gulf, British India, etc.

With an extensive bibliography of nearly 300 pages, the omission of Immanuel Wallerstein’s seminal four volume project, The Modern World System as well as the critique of capitalist accumulation and other broad works on world history by Patrick Manning, suggests a cautious and hesitant appraisale of how power is vested and used by local elites within the colonial systems of empires.   Despite these omissions, perhaps intentional or perhaps not, this is an important work that must be consulted by anyone interested in or concerned with the study and critique of the modern world, at least through the filters of the European expansion.