World 1837 CE
Westerners control a globe-spanning trading and political system. The wealth that this brings has sparked the greatest economic revolution since the rise of farming.
World history in 1837 - the West ascending
The history of the world is experiencing one of its key turning points, with the beginnings of the rise of a truly global civilization. All corners of the globe are being affected.
The Western World
At the heart of this new civilization are the European nations and their offshoots around the globe. By this date, one can start speaking of the nations of Europe and the Americas – North America especially – as “the Western World”. They make up a global bloc with a shared civilization.Being the first to experience the transformations which industrialization brings, these societies find themselves with a huge (though, as it will turn out, temporary) advantage over all other societies on the planet. They naturally set about exploiting this advantage to the full.
In their homelands, the Western nations have experienced a series of political upheavals. We have already seen the creation of the USA in the American Revolution. Then the French Revolution broke out in 1789 and led to 20 years of war, reaching to every part of the continent and shaking European politics to its foundations. Later, wars of liberation in South and Central America have created almost a dozen independent nations where before there had been just two empires.
At the same time, the Industrial Revolution spreads from Britain to the rest of Europe and North America. Steam locomotives are beginning to revolutionize land transport, making the carrying of goods and passengers far cheaper and speedier than ever before. Steam power is also just beginning to do the same for transport by sea. These will act as a huge boost to industrialization, which has already begun to utterly transform Western societies. The modern world is on its way.
While the West’s politics and societies have been in flux, its influence has been rapidly growing around the world. From this time, no region on Earth can escape the West’s impact. By this date already, no continent or region has been left untouched by the spreading tentacles of western trade or empire. The foundations are being laid for the global economy which we know today. The history of all the nations of the world will begin to be drawn into a single overarching pattern of events.
In Europe, the French Revolution posed a serious challenge to the old monarchies. It soon engulfed Europe in war. Under the highly capable leadership of Napoleon, France was successful against all her enemies, and her conquests spread the Revolutionary ideas of nationalism and democracy throughout much of Europe. Eventually Napoleon was defeated, in 1815, and since then, the old monarchies have been trying to reimpose a semblance of the pre-Revolutionary order on the continent. They will shortly find that the Revolutionary ideas cannot be killed off easily.
To add to these political changes, European society is now starting to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution spreading from Britain. The growing industrial towns, the multiplying factories, and now the expanding railway networks, are helping to undermine old social structures and create new ones in their place.
Industrialization has also arrived in North America. The westward expansion of societies of European origin is the dominant motif of North American history at this time. This has been aided by a number of factors, such as the USA’s purchase of the vast new territories from France in 1804; the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which makes it much easier for settlers and commercial interests to penetrate the Central Plains; and official encouragement of the settlement of the new lands. The Native American peoples’ hold on their ancestral homelands is now coming under intensifying pressure from the white settlers.
Within the USA, tensions are growing between Northern and Southern states. These are caused by contrasts between their very different societies: the northern states are home to the most economically dynamic and egalitarian societies in the world at that date; the southern ones have very unequal plantation societies, with their economies based in the institution of slavery.
Central and South America
Wars of Independence have re-shaped the maps of Central and South America. These have seen campaigns on an epic scale, but have left social and economic structures in Latin America largely unchanged. As a result political independence benefits only a tiny elite, and has led to instability and autocracy. The lives of the poverty-stricken masses have not been improved one iota by these developments.
The long wars in Europe have left Britain’s navy in undisputed mastery of the seas. As well as underpinning the growing reach of the British Empire, this navy is used to keep the seas open to the trade of all nations – which in reality means Western nations. No people seeking to resist western commercial power can shut it out for long, as the British navy can brush away any non-Western nations’ attempts to defend ports and coasts. All countries with coasts are open to invasion, wherever and whenever Britain or her allies choose to strike.
Naval supremacy has gone hand in hand with commercial supremacy, and London, Britain’s capital, is now effectively the financial and commercial center of the world.
The slave trade
One of the British navy’s main preoccupations, however, is to stamp out the Atlantic Slave Trade. This has been prohibited by Britain and most other European countries since the early 19th century. It remains very much alive, however, in the hands of American and Portuguese slavers. Slavery itself (not just the trade) has recently been abolished in the Caribbean islands ruled by Britain and France. It remains in force in Brazil and other South American countries, as well as in the USA, and will be for decades longer.
Ironically, Britain’s attempts to stamp out the slave trade is leading them to get more in involved in the affairs of the peoples of West Africa, and is thus laying the foundations for their future empire there.
In fact, most slaves are now being taken from central and southern Africa, regions already destabilized by centuries of slaving. It is no wonder that, in this vacuum of stable political power, states based on war and terror, such as the Zulu kingdom, arise here.
The campaigns of the Zulus have caused immense dislocation over a huge area of southern and central Africa, so much so that, when European explorers first arrive in these regions, they see societies in chaos and misery. They think this is the norm for African societies, and the idea of African “savagery”, and the Europeans’ civilizing mission, takes hold.
In South Africa, the descendants of the European farmers settled on the southern tip of Africa have been multiplying. With the British taking control of the Cape territory, many of these farmers are migrating into the interior, founding independent republics there.
Balkans and the Middle East
In the Balkans and the Middle East, the huge Ottoman empire, for so long the scourge of Europe, is by now being exposed as a weakened giant. The Ottoman government is attempting to modernize the empire, in order to deal more effectively with the Western threat. These attempts are by no means without success, but the task is immense. The same is true for a by-now independent Egypt. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Levant and the Gulf states are being drawn more and more under the commercial influence of France and Britain, respectively.
South, East and South East Asia
South Asia has seen British power grow to the point where it now effectively dominates India; and it is still expanding.
No such European empire can be found in East Asia, but westerners are a troubling presence in the region. In fact, many of them are little better than drug smugglers on a grand scale. The rulers of the China, Japan and Korea are determined to keep them out.
The Dutch empire in South East Asia expands; and the British are now getting more involved in the region. Most notably, they establish a base of operations on the small island of Singapore.
In Australia, the tiny British settlement has grown slowly, and new colonies have been founded on different parts of the coast. The New Zealand coasts are now dotted with small European settlements, leading to clashes with Maori tribes.
Western traders and missionaries are also active elsewhere in Oceania. Sadly, they bring with them disease, guns and destabilization. For these, as for other non-Western societies, the process of being drawn into the emerging, Western-dominated Global civilization is a hard and stressful one.
For details of the different civilizations, click on the relevant timeline above.
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