Taylor’s approach and interpretation:
In The Struggle for Mastery in Europe Taylor argued that the so-called ‘New Imperialism’ was primarily about the ‘scramble for Africa’, Africa acted as a stage for Western powers (Britain, France, Germany and Italy) to demonstrate their supremacy and power. Tensions could be released, threats made and ‘fights’ participated in, without recourse to a full-blown war. This was on ‘foreign’ soil and often to the detriment of indigenous populations.
Taylor suggests it was unplanned especially as the economic costs of partitioning Africa seemed to outweigh the benefits.
Kennedy’s approach and interpretation:
In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Kennedy argued that British expansion of Empire was a response to the attempt by other world powers competing with Britain. These ‘Great Powers’ tried to match Britain in relation to industrialisation, trade, naval power, overseas investment and the acquisition of colonies. Britain wanted to maintain its dominant position in the world therefore had to compete with the others to acquire new land.
Kennedy’s view emphasises the complex interplay between European powers and the consequences of a changing balance of power. It is worth considering the position of each ‘Great Power’ in order to assess the foundations of the Taylor and Kennedy arguments.
Approaches and interpretations that emphasise European rivalry
France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War (1869-71) and left the French leaders embittered as they had to hand over their valuable province of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia. This strengthened their will to expand further especially if it was at the expense of the newly-unified Germany or Britain.
From the 1860s French imperialism gained territorial gains in Indo-China (Vietnam) and by the 1880s they expanded to southern China, Burma and Siam (Thailand). They extended their empire to the south of the Sahara contributing to their vast and impressive empire in Africa even if it was on ‘light soil’ (desert).
The occupation of Egypt (1882) by the British, while the French made territorial gains in W. Africa, confirmed by the 1884-5 Berlin Conference, certainly increased tension between Britain and France. French acquisitions in Africa were not economically important and were not seen as a threat to trading routes. France attempted to gain better trade and border agreements whereas the British attempted to maintain their territorial influence. The Fashoda Crisis of 1898 forced the French to realise that they lacked the power to oppose Britain in Africa. At this point, it was not likely that an entente cordiale would be achieved.
British governments feared Russian expansion for most of the nineteenth century. Russia moved further eastwards towards central Asia and Siberia and there was concern over a possible invasion in India. These fears caused Britain to invade and occupy…