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Industrial Revolution and Imperialism

  1. The Industrial Revolution marked a shift from an agrarian society to a society which is more dominated by machines. This revolution started in Britain in the 18th century and gradually spread to the rest of the world. Initially, the process was coined “Industrial Revolution” to refer to Britain’s economic growth and development between 1760-1840. Now the term is being used in a more generalised and broad manner.

The technological changes brought about during the industrial revolution were – the use of iron and steel as basic raw materials, the use of fuels and other new sources of power such as coal, petroleum and electricity as new energy sources, innovation and implementation of new machinery that would aid in and increase production as well as be cost-effective, the introduction of the concept of division of labour and the development of new modes of communication and transportation such as the radio, aeroplane and steamship. Apart from the technology and machine-related progress, there were also developments in the social, cultural and economic aspects of society. The agricultural production increased due to changes and improvements brought about in the agricultural sector. Some of the economic changes brought about during this process were the distribution of wealth in a broader sense and an increase in trade activities. With the increase in the need to accommodate industrial development, changes in politics and state policies were also observed. The skills of the workers also required to be changed as machine operators were required in the industries. There existed more occupations as jobs were not limited to being a farmer or craftsman.

The first Industrial revolution ranged from 1760-1830 and was initially confined to Britain. To stay ahead of the game, Britain did not participate in the export of their workers or machines. However, their sole dominance and monopoly did not last, as their resources were getting depleted at a rapid pace and many businessmen saw the potential and an abundance of resources in other countries and continents. In 1807, Belgium became the first European country outside of Britain, to have its economy transformed. France underwent a gradual transformation on account of political instability due to the French Revolution. Though Industrial Revolution began late in Germany, their progress was rapid and not only did they manage to catch up to Britain, they began overtaking by outproducing them in steel and were pioneers in the chemical industry sector. Later, the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union were also nations who became a part of the Industrial Revolution and their attempts were met with success.

The Second Industrial Revolution occurred in the late 19th century. Synthetic products were introduced, electricity, steel and petroleum were frequented and raw materials were being exploited by the industries. Further developments took place in terms of technology, tools and machines, resulting in the factories to become more mechanized. Modifications were made to the older products and new and improved versions of the same were introduced. The use of steel made it possible to construct rail lines at a cheap cost, thereby increasing transportation. Changes were also observed in political ideologies; a shift from laissez-faire to a more economic and social approach was taking place.

The existence of electricity changed the lifestyle and work habits of the people in general. Electric generators were being used and power stations were being established to generate more electricity. This resulted in the subsequent discovery and use of the telephone and light bulb. One of the landmark discoveries made during the second industrial revolution was the invention of the internal combustion engine. The initial variant made use of gas and air, which was later substituted by fuels such as petroleum. This resulted in the development of automobiles and aeroplanes. Apart from the telephone, various other modes of communication such as the telegraph and radio also made an appearance in the lives of people.

  1. The Industrial Revolution brought about various changes in areas involving economics, politics and has uplifted the overall society. It has made a difference to the way people live, work and think. Some of the significant changes are highlighted below -:

Economic Changes – The major change brought to the economy was a shift in focus from agriculture to mechanization. The concept of division of labour was introduced in factories and industries, which meant the workers would work concerning the skills and domains they specialised in. this would make workers experts in their area of specialisation. The downfall of this concept is that the work tends to become repetitive. The revolution also brought about an increase in world trade. An increase in the production of manufactured goods meant that a surplus amount was left over after internal consumption, which could be sold to the foreign markets. Additionally, new raw materials could be procured from the foreign markets as well. The concept of Capitalism came into existence and was favoured by many countries. One of the major economic issues that arose due to the Industrial Revolution was the rise in unemployment as machines were replacing manpower in different jobs.

Political Changes – Changes were brought about in the political scenario as well. A declining trend in power associated with landed aristocracy due to the factories becoming a more valuable asset than the land was noted. A rise in democracy was observed due to the rise of the middle class and working-class people. The business class people too enjoyed an increase in rights and powers. An increase in the involvement of the government with the society resulted in multiple actions promoting the welfare of workers such as authorising legal labour unions, establishing a minimum wage, encouraging the security of workers and working towards the betterment of their working conditions. The government also safeguarded the interest of businesses by the implementation of laws and policies limiting monopolization. The power of the industrialized nations increased, eventually contributing to imperialism.

Social Changes – Cities were growing and developing due to urbanization. People were migrating to urban areas for better jobs and opportunities. A steady rise in the population was also observed. Better jobs resulted in improved earnings and higher spending power. The status of women also improved as they were employed in factories. After an immense struggle, women were given political rights and the freedom to work and live an independent life without the pressure of getting married. However, there were some negative trends which were also observed in society. The wages provided to women as well as children were lower than their male counterparts, which was a form of discrimination and harassment. Children were exploited for cheap labour and were sent to work at an early age instead of being sent to school for an education. This resulted in the formulation and implementation of child labour laws and policies fixing minimum wage. A decline in craftsmanship negatively impacted the handicrafts industry which cost many people their livelihood. The overall dependence on one’s job for survival increased which brought with it, its share of issues.

  1. In the early 1900s, the United States emerged as a giant in the field of industrialization. Expansion of older industries and the emergence of newer ones resulted in the nation being viewed as a promising prospect to earn a livelihood in. Due to a thriving industrial sector and economy, a sharp rise in immigration from Europe to the United States took place. This phenomenon was mostly observed among the people from non-English speaking European countries. The main reasons for this movement were the modernization of the economy, increase in population causing a rise in unemployment and economic depression, and class rule. The immigrants hailed from countries consisting of severe hardships, civil unrest and extreme unemployment. They believed migrating to the United States would solve their problems, provide economic stability and good job opportunities and a chance to prosper. Instances of religious persecutions were also on the rise in many European nations, as many Catholics, as well as Protestants, were being discriminated against based on their beliefs. Many pilgrims felt that a move to America would provide them with religious freedom and safety. Almost half of the immigrants were from Ireland due to the devastating famine experienced by the country.

But not everything was smooth and perfect. The extreme rise in the number of immigrants resulted in the overcrowding of spaces in cities and there were failures in the system due to the inability to keep up with the flow of newcomers. Though most immigrants managed to find jobs for themselves and improve their condition, it took them a considerable amount of time to adjust to the new place and the lifestyle changes it brought with it.

  1. The phenomena known as New Imperialism which took place towards the end of the 19th century is popularly called Colonialism. An increase in the acquisition of colonies and colonial powers were the dominating trends during this era. The nations promoting and employing imperialism were from Europe and they included, The United Kingdom, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. The major reasons which were the driving force behind Imperialism and the subsequent colonialism are -:

Economic Reasons – The Industrial Revolution had resulted in the depletion and scarcity of resources in the imperial nations. To continue economic expansion, access to various resources such as cheap labour, control of markets and raw materials as needed. To obtain access to these resources, the imperial nations branched out into other countries, where an abundance of untapped resources was present. This resulted in the establishment of their colonies.

Ethnic and Cultural Reasons – The discriminatory concept that one nation is superior to the others is promoted by the Europeans. The imperial nations were of the mindset that their beliefs and general way of life were far more superior than the other nations. They wanted to modify the living conditions and belief system of their colony nations by introducing certain reforms. They believed that through reformation, they could improve the culture of the inferior people. The imperial nations encouraged the thought process that conquering “inferior” nations is justified as their objective is to civilise these nations which they deemed to be backward.

Political Reasons – Growing patriotism and power resulted in some countries wanting to assert their dominance and emerge as superior to the ones they considered inferior. As a consequence of the rising national pride and supremacist mentality, the imperial nations sought access to strategic territories for expansion, obtaining resources and establishing military bases. 

Religious Reasons – Imperialism brought along with it a rise in the conversion to Christianity. A move like this meant the promotion and expansion of their religion and as an extension, their empire. Christian missionaries from Europe travelled to various parts of the world, to other colonies and spread the message of their religion in the hope of gaining followers. They contributed in spreading the message and beliefs of the imperial nations through the mediums of religious interactions and education.

Exploratory Reasons – The imperial nations wanted to discover and explore unknown lands for either research purposes or a sense of adventure. Explorers from these nations would seek out undiscovered places, map them and claim them before their competitors. This resulted in the explorers receiving recognition for their efforts and contributed to the imperial goal of expansion of territory.

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