رفوف
Volume 6, Numéro 2, Pages 255-274

A ‘new Imperialism’? British Overseas Expansion In Africa In The Late Nineteenth Century: A Historiographical Debate

Authors : Mansouri Nadia .

Abstract

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the major European powers engaged in a competition for territory in Asia and Africa. This phenomenon was described by more than one author as the ‘partition of the world’. Of the powers engaging in the race for colonies, Britain emerged with the most substantial gains. It was in Africa, however, that most European and British colonial advances were made. What characterised the process of imperial expansion as ‘new’ for Britain was the rapid expansion of formal rule. Unsurprisingly, therefore, a lively historiographical debate had been generated in an attempt to search for explanations of these events as to why Britain participated in the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the late Victorian period. The aim of this paper is to explore these interpretations and theories to explain the British rapid expansion in Africa in the 1880s and 1890s. The earliest political writers like Hobson ascribed this process to economic reasons. Others have placed the British expansion in the context of international relations which was characterised by European great power rivalry in the wake of German unification in 1870. Another interpretation, expounded mainly by R. Hyam, tended to focus on the importance of British strategic interests in Northern and Southern Africa; A further controversy arose between those who stressed the ‘metropolitan’ approach which emphasised the primacy of economic forces and political decisions taken at the centre, and those who have sought explanations on the ‘periphery’ of empire taking account of the indigenous peoples and their reactions to the British, and the role played by the ‘man on the spot’: administrators and commercial and missionary pressure groups.

Keywords

the British Empire, the Scramble for Africa, formal rule, historical interpretations