The 19th century remains one of the greatest eras in the history of the mankind. Major events and discoveries were taking place in Europe that would alter the course of history and radically transform the quality of lives of humanity. Majority of these changes owe their home to Europe which during period was undergoing an era of radical political and industrial changes. The key events that took place between 1785 and 1900 were the French revolution, the intensification of imperialism and the initiation of colonialism as well as the inventions and innovations brought about by the industrial revolution. It is these great events in the history of the world that will remain the focus of this paper.

            Between 1789 and the first decade into the 19th century, Europe was abuzz with the events of the French Revolution that would bring with it new political and social ideals, these ideals would later emerge to be an inspiration to other revolutions that would take root in the 19th and the 20th centuries.

            Indeed the French Revolution has been hailed for being an important inspiration not only to future revolutions but also to philosophical writers. The effects of this revolution across Europe and to the rest of the world is still of great scholarly interest. It is apparent however that it “provided decisive incitement to the intellectual revolution in this transitional period.” (Gerhart, 1989, 12). The French Revolutions refers to a tumultuous period characterized by political and social problems, which were equally met by radical changes upon the country’s leaderships. It is this era that would bring into shape the ideals of enlightenment, nationalism and the much touted inalienable rights. The absolute monarch system was done away with the king being executed. The French revolution was caused by a number of factors but importantly it is the economic factors that triggered the final blow that focused its attention to the existing political institutions and tyranny.

            At the time of the revolution, France was one of the wealthiest nations in Europe. Beyond this economic excellence however reveals a system of corruption. The monarchy was in great debt to finance the spend thrift of the monarchy. The system of taxation in France was lopsided and skewed to the disfavor of the poor. The rich were able to buy noble titles that consequently would exempt them from taxation. The spend thrift nature of the monarch and scarce sources of revenue had put the government in deep debt. In addition to the kings spend thrift; the country was still reeling from the after effects of the Seven Year’s War. Taxation rates in France were high in comparison to the neighboring states such as Britain. The taxes imposed on the peasants raged from income, property tax and also a tax equivalent to the number of people that one had in the family. This was devastating to the poor as most high in the income ladder including the nobles had been exempted from taxation. This extra burden was creating a group of disgruntled Frenchmen. Efforts to initiate reforms in France had failed due to the fact that most public appointees had bought their way into the office from the king. Government officials continued with their plundering culture driving the government into bankruptcy and more thirst for taxation (Gerhart, 1989).

            To add salt to the injury was the famine that struck the nation due to crop failures. Peasants were the worst hit due to their over-reliance to bread. This led to a riot over bread making it easy for the hungry and disgruntled lot in the highly urbanized cities to be mobilized into a revolution. The new revolutionary government that took over began a massive restructuring of France, eliminating all the perceived opponents to it as well as initiating a war of dominance across Europe.

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            The role of the enlightenment ideology also cannot be ignored. Ideals of liberty and equality were slowly being taken up by the working class especially as highly inspired by the American Revolution. This revolution had a great impact on the Russians and is said to have provided inspirations to the Russian Revolution that ousted the Tsar regime. Marx hailed the revolution as driven by the proletariats.

            The same era, immediately after the French Revolution, witnessed unprecedented expansion by many European countries in what has come to be known as the New Imperialism. This is an era characterized by intense rivalry between the European states as each sought to expand its own share of oversea territories driven by the belief in racial supremacy. Imperialism simply refers to as a system through which the European power sought to expand there powers, political and economic control, through the use of colonialism. Vladimir Lenin saw it as the highest form of capitalism while Karl Marx believed it was the political manifestation of finance capital dominance. Imperialism was motivated by a number of factors; most important was the accelerated economic and industrial growth that was being experienced by most of West European powers. With the fall of the Napoleon Bonaparte, there existed what has come to be known as the Concert of Europe referring to the balance of power that existed with the leading role being taken by the United Kingdom. These nations had opted to be mutually resolving their conflicts. This Concert of Europe lasted up to the time the First World War broke out. The key objective of the concert was to ensure that France was contained. This concert had been hailed by one of the most important during this era as it was able to maintain peace. However, it was greatly weakened by the upheavals that would prevail towards the end of the 19th century. The Concert of Europe proved to be to the advantage of Britain especially due to its supremacy in the navy. It was able to interact with the overseas nations, exploring the existing source of materials as well as the market. Britain led the pack towards imperialism as it had the largest pool of manufactured goods. This dominance in world affairs was put into jeopardy by the demise of the Concert of Europe after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war. Germany and Italy began to threaten this dominance by starting to establish their own imperialistic moves. Germany became one of the fastest industrializing nations cutting into the Britain advantage as a manufacturing powerhouse and edged closer to the British market. Its dominance was greatly threatened in almost all fronts. This situation was compounded by the long Depression as most European powers to source for uncontrolled market abroad as well as cheap sources of raw materials. With a growing huge population abroad, there had to be an outlet and establishing colonies was seen as the only way out. The demise of Napoleon Bonaparte had left Britain with the assumed responsibility of policing the world creating empires that were thousand of miles far from Britain. The raging competition however led these western powers to acquire colonies so as to have a continued flow and supply of raw materials. Most of the economic analysts had greatly hailed this move particularly pointing out that Britain had to acquire new territories lest it fell to the competition by the neighboring industrial states. The led to the formalization of imperialism as Britain and indeed most European countries had to defend their share of raw materials and market for industrial products (Gerhart, 1989).

            It has been argued that Britain was partly pushed into the new imperialism and colonialism by the fear that Russia would expand southwards. The first place that Britain sought to protect was the Ottoman Empire to fend off any attack of the region. Imperialism was also meant to preserve foreign trade. A look at the period between 1880 and 1914 indicates that global trade had grown rapidly in volume; this exchange however was taking place mostly between the industrialized nations. However, as time flew by, world trade began taking a different shape with majority of the revenue being as a result of trade between Europe and the overseas. American had also by then become a formidable force in trade.

            Controversy has always arisen as to whether there was a direct link between imperialism and the need for increased profitability. The dominant view is that there was a connection between capital surplus and colonialism. Most of the European powers by acquiring colonial territories were inspired by prospects of economic gains. Towards the end of the 19th century and with increased industrialization; there was agreement that the existing surplus capital urgently required new outlets having surpassed the existing market. As afore mentioned, colonial acquisition was also driven by increased social unrest in most European countries due to the long depression, territories hence had to be sought to settle some of this population. It is this upheaval that would see nations such as Germany that had initially put up a spirited dislike for colonialism to fiercely seek colonies. The ambitious working class and the rising bureaucratic class had to be resettled and the colonial territories were seen as the perfect opportunities to this. The other factor behind colonization was seen as the need to civilize the backward societies. Most of the third world countries seen today were referred to as backward and it was seen as a prerogative of the Europeans to civilize them. Colonialism was seen as the perfect way of achieving this (David, 2004).

            By the close of the 19th century, almost all of the European powers had acquired colonies mostly in Asia and in Africa. This is what has come to be referred to as the Scramble of Africa which took place between 1880 and the dawn of the 19th century. The Scramble of Africa is a topic that has attracted immense scholarly attention mostly due to the huge impact that it had on the latter and how all the major powers were competing to acquire territories. The main factors behind the colonization in Africa are similar to those other that had inspired the new imperialism. Some scholars claim that nationalism was a major factor noting the national pride that came with controlling huge territories in Africa, larger than the northern country. Britain for example was motivated by Geographic reasons. Belgium and Germany had been reluctant to acquire colonies but the flurry of events that would follow would prompt them to join in the scramble. As William (1977, 119) observes, “it was this German action which was really to let loose the scramble on a scale bound to continue with ever-increasing intensity until the whole continent was portioned.” The close of the 19th century would witness a European control of Africa and the establishment of Brutal administrative regimes that would control explore and exploit Africa up to the mid of the 20th century. This colonization era remains a landmark not only in the history of Africa but also the European powers. The leading powers by then, Germany, Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal each had a chunk of claim to this history.

            As widely mentioned in the paper, the rapid growth of the manufacturing sector and the need of raw materials to fuel industrialization in Europe was a primary cause of imperialism and colonialism. Industrial revolution remains a key era in the history of Europe and in the making of the world evidenced today. It led to the transformation of humanity, socially, politically and economically. As David (2004, 432) appropriately notes, “Scientific research was taking a leading role in processes of innovation that might have simply featured out if they had continued to rely on the technical and practical skills of individual entrepreneurs and artisans.” Science was leading the revolution from the traditional and passive approach to challenges to a more modern and technology oriented approach.

            By the 18th century, industrialization had commenced in Western Europe but it is in England that it was more pronounced and accelerated. The roots to the industrial revolution in Europe were planted by the intensification of the agricultural revolution which commenced in the 1760s. This was an era that would evidence the doing away of the traditional methods and embracing mechanization. The prior open field farming was slowly being edged out by the introduction of enclosed fields system. Root crops were also starting to become important and also new methods of cattle rearing. Most importantly is the significant contribution made by the likes of Robert Bake well and Jethro Tull towards the mechanization of agriculture. The introduction of machines to take up the initial activities performed by hand remains the most significant step and was the first step towards industrialization. These technological changes began to take shape in the seventeenth century but they would largely be put into use in the 19th century. The steam engine developed in the early 18th century and improved by Thomas Newcomen has been hailed for providing the necessary impetus to industrial development. This was during the 18th century but it would mark the transition into the 1850s second industrial revolution. The exact period which industrial revolution kicked off is still a matter of scholarly debates. Most historians though seem to agree that it commenced between 1780s and 1790s. This was an era that would see the world taken to a higher level of understanding the various phenomena due to the numerous inventions that occurred (William 1977).

            The causes of this revolution in Europe have always sparked a debate but economics was at play. A look at Britain for example indicates that it has been endowed with huge market and is the reason behind the rapid industrialization of Britain. The patenting regimes were also becoming a greater incentive to scientists. A wide range of inventors such as William Murdoch for example enjoyed a monopoly in production. Capital however remains the key factor behind industrialization of Europe compared to other regions such as Asia. The free economy policies advocated by Adam Smith have also been hailed as they permitted individual pursuit of inventions as dictated by the market dynamics. The discovery of source of energy such as coal and electricity made significant steps towards industrial changes in Europe. In addition to easing factory operations, coal, steam and electricity provided the necessary impetus in the transportation industry. The roots of the electric power were shaped by Michael Faraday who was the first to produce electricity. Initially, this production was expensive but by 1900 cheaper methods had been discovered. There were notable advances in the transportation industry in the 19th century although the most advanced ones can be witnessed in the 20th century. The train was invented by Richard Trevithick at the turn of the 19th century and in less than thirty years there had been developed huge tracts of railways in Britain. Britain was a pioneer in the Railway industry and it became its chief export. The inventions made during this period in Europe formed the basis of the latter day developments ranging from communication, transport, warfare and medicine amongst others.

            Industrial revolution led to various changes in the society. For example it is touted as having been the root cause of urbanization; this was as a result of a population explosion. In Britain, population increased exponentially during this period. David et al agrees with this observing that “it was in Britain of the mid nineteenth century that the transition first occurred from a majority of rural to a majority of urban dwellers.”             Manufacturing cities were cropping up especially coalescing around major factories. An example of this is Leeds and Manchester. People had also to adjust from agriculture to working in the factories. Transport and communication improved laying firm formulations for an expanding economy as goods and raw materials could be exchanged quickly to oversea lands. It is these discoveries that would lead to the prominence and dominance of Europe globally and explains its control of power and imperialism to the 19th century (William 1977).

            Indeed, the period between 1790 and 1900 was crucial to the history of Europe. A look at this era reveals important happenings that shaped the future of the world. These societies were transformed both socially and politically by the various events that were taking place. The French revolution provided the first impetus towards political changes and gave the motivations behind the eradication of monarch and the immense powers that they wielded. It has been hailed as being of great inspiration to philosophers leading to the realization of ideals such as liberty and nationalism. The imperialism age also left a huge mark to both Europe and the world. It led to opening up of new and vast territories overseas through colonialism and the increase in trade. The need for imperialism and colonialism has been seen as lying largely on the rapid industrialization that was creating a need for supply of raw materials as well as vast markets for the manufactured goods. In its wake, the industrial revolution changed the perception of mankind by introducing modern ways of doing things. Activities priory carried out by hands were now being mechanized leading to more efficiency. There were new inventions that would ease transport and communication linking up areas that were seen as being farther apart harnessing interactions between various nations.


Gerhart Hoffmeister (1989). European Romanticism: Literary Cross-Currents, Modes, and Models. Wayne State University Press.

William David McIntyre (1977). The Commonwealth of Nations: Origins and Impact, 1869-1971. U of Minnesota Press.

David Christian (2004) Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. University of California Press.

David C. Goodman, Colin Chant, Open University (1999) The European Cities and Technology Reader: Industrial to Post-industrial City. Routledge.



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