How did imperialism spread around the world?

Although the Industrial Revolution and nationalism shaped European society in the 19th century, imperialism — the domination by one country or people over another group of people — dramatically changed the world during the latter half of that century.

Imperialism did not begin in the 19th century. From the 16th to the early 19th century, an era dominated by what is now termed old imperialism, European nations sought trade routes with the Far East, explored the New World, and established settlements in North and South America, as well as in Southeast Asia. They set up trading posts and gained footholds on the coast of Africa and China, and worked closely with the local rulers to ensure the protection of European economic interests. Their influence, however, was limited.

In the Age of New Imperialism that began in the 1870s, European states established vast empires mainly in Africa, but also in Asia and the Middle East. Unlike the 16th- and 17th-century method of establishing settlements, the new imperialists set up the administration of the native areas for the benefit of the colonial power. European nations pursued an aggressive expansion policy that was motivated by economic needs that were created by the Industrial Revolution. The expansion policy was also motivated by political needs that associated empire building with national greatness, and social and religious reasons that promoted the superiority of Western society over a backward society. Through the use of direct military force, economic spheres of influence, and annexation, European countries dominated the continents of Africa and Asia. By 1914, Great Britain controlled the largest number of colonies and the phrase "the sun never sets on the British Empire" described its vast holdings. Imperialism had consequences that affected the colonial nations, Europe, and the world. It also led to increased competition among nations and to conflicts that would disturb the peace of the world in 1914.