WHP Lesson 34: Imperialism and Colonialism

Imperialism—the system in which the powerful controlled the weak—remained in place during this time period. Power was increasingly about the production and distribution of the many new industrial products we didn’t know we needed. Colonialism and the exploitation of communities large and small in service of industrial production is a big part of this story.

Driving Question: What are imperialism and colonialism? 

  • At the beginning of the long nineteenth century, liberal political ideals led to the creation of the world’s first large liberal nation-states where the people elected their leaders and had rights that were protected by a constitution. Some countries like France, Britain, Japan, and the United States built overseas empires. In those empires, they ruled over groups of people in something called colonies.
  • Colonies were important to industrialized countries because they needed the colonies to extract resources, both in terms of power and people, to keep their own countries going. However, this was not good for the areas that were colonized—colonized people had no legal protections or rights.

Word of the Day: Colonialism

  • Definition: The practice of a foreign government exercising political or economic control of another community.
  • There are these two words that are often used interchangeably“imperialism” and “colonialism. But they really mean different things. Imperialism generally refers to the ideas and beliefs and policies of the people who create empires, so in this case people in Britain, France, the United States, Japan, Germany, and Belgium, for example. Colonialism refers to what is happening in the colonies, instead. The difference is subtle, but important.


  • Go to Khan Academy Lesson 6.3 and watch the video Experiencing Colonialism Through a Ghanaian Lens.
  • Ghana, in west Africa, is an example of a former colony. It became a British colony in 1874, and in Ghana, the local population tried to push back on the colonists. As you watch, think about how much control the British really had there, and how could the colonists push back against British rule? 

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • What colonies still exist today and how are they similar or different? 
  • In your historian’s journal do some research and see if you can list all the colonies that exist today and who governs them. If you have some time, think about how these colonies are similar or different.