5. The Atlantic Revolutions

The Historical Context
The ivention of the railway locomotive, the steamship, and later, the telegraph and telephone transformed global communications. The time it took and the money it cost to move goods, messages, or armies across oceans and continents were drastically cut. People moved, or were forced to move, from one part of the world to another in record numbers. In the early part of the era African slaves continued to be transported across the Atlantic in large numbers; European migrants created new frontiers of colonial settlement in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres; and Chinese, Indians, and other Asians migrated to Southeast Asia and the Americas. International commerce mushroomed, and virtually no society anywhere in the world stayed clear of the global market. Underlying these surges in communication, migration, and trade was the growth of world population, forcing men and women almost everywhere to experiment with new ways of organizing collective life.
This was an era of bewildering change in a thousand different arenas. One way to make sense of the whole is to focus on three world-encompassing and interrelated developments: the democratic revolutions that took place in the lands around the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, the Industrial Revolution, and the establishment of European dominance over most of the world.
Political Revolutions and New Ideologies
The American and French revolutions offered the world the potent ideas of popular sovereignty , inalienable rights, and nationalism. The translating of these ideas into political movements had the effect of mobilizing unprecedented numbers of ordinary people to participate in public life and to believe in a better future for all. Liberal, constitutional, and nationalist ideals inspired independence movements in Haiti and Latin America in the early nineteenth century, and they continued to animate reform and revolution in Europe throughout the era. Democracy and nationalism contributed immensely to the social power of European states and therefore to Europe's rising dominance in world affairs in the nineteenth century. Under growing pressures from both European military power and the changing world economy, ruling or elite groups in Asian and African states organized reform movements that embraced at least some of the ideas and programs of democratic revolutions.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution applied mechanical power to the production and distribution of goods on a massive scale. From an environmental perspective, this development depended on what historians have called the Fossil Fuel Revolution, the harnessing of energy from coal, and , a bit later, from petroleum, to animate steam and electrical engines. The Industrial Revolution also involved mobilizing unprecedented numbers of laborers and shifting them from village to city and from one country to another. Industrialization was a consequence of centuries of expanding economic activity around the world. England played a crucial role in the onset of this revolution, but the process involved complex economic and financial linkages among societies. The Industrial Revolution was an event that happened to the world, though some countries and regions took part in it, not as manufacturers, but as producers of raw commodities. Together, the Industrial and democratic revolutions thoroughly transformed European society. Asian, African, and Latin American peoples dealt with the new demands of the world market and Europe's economic might in a variety of ways. Some groups argued for reform through technical and industrial modernization. Others called for reassertion of established policies and values that had always served them well in times of crisis. Japan and the United States both subscribed to the Industrial Revolution with rapid success and became important players on the world scene.
European Dominance
In 1800, Europeans controlled about 35 percent of the world's land surface. By 1914 they dominated as much as 88 percent. The British empire alone grew from about 9.5 million square miles in 1860 to 12.7 million in 1909; on the eve of World War I that empire embraced about 444 million people. In the long span of human history European world hegemony lasted a short time, but its consequences were profound and continued to be played out today. Western expansion took three principal forms:
  1. Peoples of European descent, including Russians and North Americans, created colonial settlements, or neo-Europes, in various temperate regions of the world, displacing or assimilating indigenous peoples:
  2. European states and commercial firms exerted considerable economic power in certain places, notably Latin America and China, while Japan and the United States also participated in this economic expansionism;
  3. In the later nineteenth century European states embarked on the "new imperialism," the competitive race to establish political as well as economic control over previously uncolonized regions of Africa and Asia. Mass production of new weaponry, coupled with the revolution of transport and communication, permitted this surge of power.
The active responses of the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to the crisis of European hegemony are an important part of the developments of this era: armed resistance against invaders, collaboration or alliance with colonizers, economic reform or entrepreneurship, and movements for cultural reform. As World War I approached, accelerating social change, and new efforts at resistance and renewal characterized colonial societies far more than consolidation and stability.
Source: World History For Us All
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