What Is Imperialism in AP World History?

Imperialism is a term used to describe the practice of expanding a nation’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, and economic domination. In AP World History, imperialism is a significant topic as it played a crucial role in shaping the modern world.

Causes of Imperialism

The main reason behind imperialism was economic gain. European nations, especially Britain and France, were looking for new markets to sell their goods and raw materials to fuel their industrial growth. They also wanted to extract resources from their colonies to reduce production costs.

Another reason was the desire for power and prestige. Colonization was seen as a symbol of strength, and imperial nations wanted to demonstrate their superiority over other countries. Moreover, religious zeal also played a part in imperialism as some nations believed that it was their duty to spread Christianity across the world.

Forms of Imperialism

Imperialism took different forms across different regions. In Africa, European nations partitioned the continent at the Berlin Conference in 1884-85 and claimed territories for themselves without consulting Africans. They exploited resources such as rubber, gold, and diamonds while imposing their language and culture on the people.

In Asia, Japan adopted an imperialist policy during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) by modernizing its economy and military to compete with Western powers. It annexed Korea in 1910 and invaded China several times in pursuit of territorial expansion.

In Latin America, the United States practiced what is known as “informal imperialism” or economic domination without direct political control. American companies invested heavily in mining, oil extraction, and agriculture while supporting dictators who would protect their interests.

Impact of Imperialism

Imperialism had far-reaching consequences for both colonizers and colonized peoples. For Europeans, imperialism led to increased wealth and power but also resulted in competition and tensions between imperial nations that eventually led to World War I.

For the colonized peoples, imperialism brought about economic exploitation, political domination, and cultural suppression. Many people lost their land, resources, and independence while being subjected to violence and discrimination. Imperialism also disrupted traditional societies and created ethnic tensions that still exist today.


In conclusion, imperialism was a complex phenomenon that shaped the modern world in numerous ways. It was driven by economic gain, power politics, religious beliefs, and technological advancements.

However, it also had negative impacts on colonized peoples and contributed to the rise of nationalism and conflicts in the 20th century. Understanding imperialism is essential for understanding the history of our interconnected world today.