- Globalization is best defined as increasing interconnectedness between human beings on a global scale, plus increasing awareness of such interconnectedness. On both accounts, the Age of Imperialism was an age of rapid globalization in all dimensions of life, experienced firsthand by many people who increasingly conceived of the world as a single sphere of action where faraway events affected their daily lives.Nineteenth-century globalization was based on the development of ever more efficient technologies of transport and communication - chiefly the railway, the steamship and the telegraph. The first steamship traveled from London to Bombay in 1850, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cut the travel time from Europe to India in half. Perhaps more important, steam navigation significantly reduced transportation costs and risks for both passengers and freight. Transatlantic freight rates fell by roughly half between the mid-nineteenth century and 1910. Railways opened up vast inland spaces to settlement and intensive agriculture and connected them to world markets. The telegraph for the first time in history allowed information to travel faster than goods and people, creating new possibilities for centralized decision making in business, diplomacy, and war. The first transatlantic cable laid in 1866 increased the velocity of communication between Europe and the United States by a factor of 10,000.For economic historians, the mid-nineteenth century marks the beginnings of globalization. World trade grew 25-fold between 1800 and 1913, but globally integrated markets for labor, capital, and goods emerged in the century’s third quarter. For the first time in human history, basic commodities such as grain and meat were traded between continents. Europe was henceforth supplied with food produced on America’s temperate plains, and farmers in Prussia and the United States and in Argentina and India were put in direct competition with each other. South African gold and diamonds, Indian textiles, Malayan rubber, and American manufactured goods likewise found markets halfway around the world, while developing economies soaked up European investment. Centers of production, trade, and consumption in different continents were now closely connected. The availability of telegraphic information on prices, supply, and demand completely transformed long-distance trade, as well as the stock exchanges and financial markets. Thus multilateral networks of exchange and global interdependence linking the great importers and exporters of people, goods, and capital emerged after mid-century; and soon there were economic cycles affecting the world economy as a whole, such as the first “Great Depression” beginning in 1873, and a first worldwide economic boom starting in 1896. By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly everyone in Europe, North America, and the settler societies was integrated into global markets as a consumer and producer.Likewise at mid-century, a great wave of global migration set in, helped by cheaper travel, but also by a steady stream of information passing between migrants and those who had stayed behind. Nearly 70 million people permanently left their homes between 1850 and 1914. Migration from Europe to the temperate zones of the American continent was especially important, but millions also went from China to Southeast Asia, tens of thousands from China to South Africa, from Japan to California, and from India to East and South Africa. Immigration and emigration transformed entire societies, drawing large regions into the movement of global exchanges, pushing aside indigenous populations, and giving those staying behind room to breathe. Temporary migration was scarcely less consequential in its impact on China, for example, students returning from Japan with the foundations of Western learning and migrant workers taking back several years’ savings from plantations and mines in Southeast Asia.Increasingly, people became aware that they were part of globally interconnected markets and social relationships. This is evident in the outlook of seasonal laborers working in Sicily in summer and in Argentina in winter, or in that of Chinese emigrants worldwide contributing money to Sun Yatsen ’s revolutionary endeavors, but also in the global business strategies of trading houses, banks, and large manufacturing firms and in the global dimensions of military and naval strategic thinking. Widely read newspapers and telegraphic news agencies such as Reuter’s made people react to important information from other continents as quickly as to local news.Global consciousness was expressed in various forms: in visions of peace and unity, in humanitarian aid given to distant victims of flood or famine, notions of a Western mission civilisatrice , and of global economic competition and of global Great Power rivalry. Only against the background of a widespread sentiment that economic and political globalization had set in is it possible to understand the racial fear of the “Yellow Peril” that gripped Europe in the 1890s and the United States a decade later. Other evidence of an emerging global consciousness is the agreement by 25 states in 1884 to divide the world into a system of time zones and establish a global time based on the Greenwich meridian. The success of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, published in 1873, rested on the striking novelty of the feat performed by Phileas Fogg and his companions; yet only 30 years later it was theoretically possible to make this voyage in half the time. Europe’s return to protectionism and interventionism starting in the 1880s must been seen as a reaction to economic globalization. Finally, Weltpolitik - the idea that Great Power competition had become global - must count as evidence of a global consciousness that, just as today, focused with particular intensity on the dangers and conflicts of globalization. Political globalization developed more slowly and with more ambiguous consequences. Western forms of political organization - administration, justice, government by law - were exported into the entire world. But the example of the new Latin American republics demonstrated that global institutional homogenization - the establishment of new nation-states - could imply political fragmentation in the form of the destruction of the Spanish colonial empire. By mid-century, the powerful and industrialized nation state seemed the only model available to societies that wished to retain independence and control over their destiny, and Westernizing reform and modernization were attempted from Egypt to Japan, from Siam to Madagascar. The world’s empty or loosely organized spaces were relentlessly filled by the structures of clearly demarcated, competing nation states and empires. Still, nationalism and internationalism remained compatible. Globalization was furthered by nation states that remained reasonably open even when turning to protectionism after the mid-century interlude of free trade.Political globalization was evident also in intensified global competition between states, but especially between the major imperial powers. In the mid-century era of “free-trade imperialism,” competition was left to private traders and producers; military force was used to make non-European societies accept free trade and diplomatic relations rather to conquer territory. Gradually, however, as economic competition and popular belief in the political and economic importance of overseas possessions increased, states began to play a more important role overseas. Africa was partitioned between the powers at the Conference of Berlin in 1884. The playing field of the Great Game, the struggle for mastery in Asia between Russia and Britain, was extended ever farther eastward, up to Northern China after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Soon, the United States, the first non-European Great Power, and Japan, the first non-Western Great Power, were drawn into a balance of power that, by the end of the nineteenth century, was a global rather than European. Confrontation between rival Great Powers now meant fragmentation on a global scale.The Age of Imperialism ended with a world war.World War I quickly became a global conflict as colonial peoples and overseas resources were marshaled for the war effort, yet its causes lay in local conflicts between powers that were among the least globally connected. Neither the Age of Imperialism nor, for that matter, the present era should be analyzed as a “global age” where everything and everyone is affected instantly, primarily, and homogeneously by the same, global structures and processes. There were, and are, many different ways in which people participate in globalization - as agents or victims, voluntarily or involuntarily, economically, politically, culturally or socially. Although half of Ireland ’s population emigrated in the mid-nineteenth century, France experienced hardly any emigration. Many territories were integrated into the world economy only partly, or hardly at all. Institutional homogenization and integration within the great colonial empires often meant the disruption of older, continental, and transcontinental trading links, as in Africa. Where Westernizing reform really took hold, such as in Japan, the result was a new and rival variant of modernity, not merely an imitation of the Western civilization. Global consciousness and especially fear and envy of supposed enemies and competitors on other continents were often much more acute than warranted by substantive global interdependence.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Bayly, C. A. The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004;Bordo, Michael D., Alan M. Taylor, and Jeffrey G. Williamson, eds. Globalization in Historical Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003;Osterhammel, Jürgen, and Niels P. Petersson. Globalization: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.NIELS P. PETERSSON
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.