Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.



African State Building and Colonization



At the turn of the 19th century, Africa was hardly colonized at all, apart from the coasts. The European outposts became unprofitable after the slave trade was banned at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815; African states on the west coast and the East African sultanate of Zanzibar, however, lived off the slave trade until well into the 19th century. The states formed in Africa were often kept under the "protective rule" of European countries. However, many independent African states were able to assert themselves until the Europeans pushed into the interior and divided Africa among themselves at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.


Africa: The Apportionment of the Continent by the Europeans

With Henry Morton Stanley's expedition, the push into inner Africa began. In order to avoid war, the colonial powers agreed among themselves on the division of the continent at the Berlin Conference.


In the wake of discussions originating from the new philosophies that emerged from the Enlightenment, the 3 slave trade caused widespread human rights protests, and a general ban on slave trading was incorporated into the documents of the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

3 Shell money made of cowry, used as
method of payment in the slave trade in Africa

The British Navy played a significant part in suppressing the slave trade. The African bases of European trading companies thus lost their main source of income and much of their economic value, which was subsequently diminished further as a result of the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869, significantly shortening the sea trade routes to India.

Henry Morton Stanley's 1 exploration of the Congo region gave the Europeans the opportunity to force their way into the interior of the continent.

In 1878, Stanley joined the Belgian 4 king Leopold II and helped him to establish his rule over the "Free State of Congo," which he established under his personal control.

2 Henry M. Stanley and his officers,
wood engraving, ca.1890

1 Stanley's expedition transports a
boat through the jungle

4 Leopold II, the Belgian king

Not long after, the leading world powers divided up the continent definitively at the 5 Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.

In the 1880s, the economic value of the colonies began to increase again as the raw material needs of the expanding Industrial Revolution once again made them economically profitable; some of the colonies even brought the European colonial powers enormous wealth. In addition, through the belief in their own civilizing superiority, the European nations wanted to carry their ideals out into the world, with little regard for the existing culture of the colonized lands.

5 Bismarck carves up the African cake, caricature, 1885



Berlin Conference of 1884-85

At the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, the colonial powers sought to agree on and define their interests in Africa. Following their signing of the general act in February 1885, the result for Africa was disastrous. The agreement allowed whichever European country that explored an African territory and claimed possession of it to keep the land as long as it informed the other signatory powers of this.

As this gave the territorial rights to whoever was there first, a final stage of the "scramble for Africa" began. Similar rules held for the settlement of the coasts: The borders of coastal colonies could be pushed as far into the interior as desired, until they reached the territory of another power. Borders were drawn arbitrarily and ignored African cultural boundaries. The legacy of this agreement has been numerous wars between African states and peoples up to the present time.

The Berlin Conference, November 15,1884-February 26,1885




The Great Colonial Powers


France's and Great Britain's zones for expansion overlapped south of Egypt and the Fashoda Crisis almost led to war.


Under 7 Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the British had aggressively worked to set up a world empire since the 1870s.

7 Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli

The intention was to acquire as much land, and thereby economic power, as possible. Raw materials, labor, markets, and—last but not least—soldiers from the colonies made Great Britain a world power.

A decade later, at the height of the power of the Third Republic, the French pushed toward the same goal.

In the same way as the British conquered 6 Egypt in 1882, France capitalized on Tunisia's poor economic situation and violently established 8 "protective rule" in 1881.

6 Disraeli at the Suez canal, the shortest
route to India: "Oh, why does this
passage to my home not belong to me?",
 caricature, lithograph

8 Uprising by the native population of Tunisia following France's
occupation of the country, colored lithograph, ca.1910

France, from its coastal bases in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and the Congo, established a colonial network that stretched over West Africa and was connected to the northern French colonies of Tunisia and Morocco by the Sahara.

The French conquests soon led to conflict with Great Britain, which planned the so-called Cape-to-Cairo Road, a contiguous chain of colonies from the Cape of Good Hope to the Mediterranean Sea together with an accompanying railway.

The 9 Fashoda Crisis of 1898 nearly caused a war between France and Britain, which was avoided only by the restraint of the middle-ranking officers who were in command of the military forces which faced each other.

While those two colonial powers had divided the majority of Africa between them, Germany and Italy also endeavored to acquire regions in Africa.

The Germans had engaged themselves— first as private trading colonies, then subordinated to the German empire in 1891—in Togo and Cameroon as well as in German East Africa (Tanganyika) and German Southwest Africa (Namibia), where in 1904 and 1905-1907 they put down with 10 great brutality uprisings of the Herero and the Maji-Maji.

Italy's dream of an East African colonial empire burst when the Italians, after the obliterating defeat in the Battle of Aduwa, were expelled by the Abyssinians in 1896. Until 1936, when Italy took control of most of Abyssinia, Italian possessions were limited to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

9 The conflict between the colonial powers
England and France: France is depicted as
Little Red Riding Hood, England as the wolf,
caricature, 1898

10 Skulls of Hereros who were executed or died
in action are packed and sent to the Pathological
Institute in Berlin, photograph, 1905



The Fashoda Crisis of 1898

After Lord Kitchener had destroyed the Sudanese "Empire of the Mahdi," he marched south, where he met French troops under Jean-Baptiste Marchand in Fashoda and forced them to retreat. Great Britain saw the Sudan as apart of British Egypt, but the French saw it as a free area that could be occupied.

French foreign minister Theophile Dekasse proffered a compromise. In 1899 it was decided that the British would have sovereignty over the Upper Nile region, while France would control the area of Darfur to Lake Chad—the so-called Equatorial Africa.

The French major Jean-Baptiste Marchand
meets the envoy of the British,
General Kitchener, in Fashoda,
drawing, 1898




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