World 1914 CE

Western industrial civilization has swept all before it. European empires, above all the British empire, rule much of the world.

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World history in 1914 - the West in command

Overview

Western Imperialism

In what must be the most audacious land-grab in history, Western nations divide much of the globe between them. The centerpiece of this process is an episode labelled the “Scramble for Africa“, in which European powers compete to annex as much of the continent as they can.

The same process has been at work in South East Asia and the Pacific. As a result, Western Empires, with the British Empire in the lead, rule much of the world.

Global economic control

The conquests are followed by economic exploitation. Railways start appearing in all corners of the world – in Western-ruled colonies, such as in India and Africa, and in countries as yet beyond direct Western control, such as China and the countries of Latin America.

The oceans are linked by an ever-intensifying network of sea routes, all converging on Western ports. A global economy has arrived by which the commodities of the planet are shipped to Western nations, there to be consumed, or turned into manufactured goods. Many of these are then shipped back out to worldwide markets, which are financed and controlled by Western capital.

Continued industrial advance

Within Western societies, relentless industrial advance has occurred. The middle classes continue to increase in numbers, and the working classes benefit from a rising standard of living. New inventions such as the lightbulb, gramophones, the telephone, cameras, the car, airplanes and artificial fertilizers – continue to change the lives of Westerners.

The USA and Germany have drawn ahead of Britain as industrial powers.

Around the world

Europe

Politically, Germany‘s rise has destabilized Europe. The resulting tensions have divided much of Europe into two camps – Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy on one side, Britain, France and Russia on the other. It will not take much of a spark to set these nations against each other, and this year that spark is lit.

Africa

Over the past couple of decades, most of Africa has been parceled out amongst European powers, with British and French empires taking the lion’s share. Only Ethiopia escapes this fate.

In some parts of Africa, the arrival of European powers is met by fierce resistance (as in German South West Africa). In other parts, it is followed by shocking brutality (as in the Belgian Congo). In all of European-ruled Africa, local societies are drawn forcibly into the modern world, with railways, roads, western education and missionary activity all beginning to alter them for ever.

South Africa sees a major challenge to British imperial rule as the Boers rebel in 1899. The British only succeed in bringing the Boer territories under control after a long, tough fight.

The Middle East

Much of the Middle East has fallen under Western influence, though of a less direct kind than in Africa. The Ottoman Empire, meanwhile, has succeeded in tightening its grip on its territories – while losing most of its lands in the Balkans.

South and East Asia

In the Indian sub-continent, this period sees the high water mark of British rule.

The contrasting fates of the different countries of East Asia could not be more different from one another – results dependent upon the effectiveness of their responses to the Western challenge.

Japan has responded by meeting like with like: it has undergone the most startling modernization in the history of the world. This has allowed it to defeat, first China, then Russia (one of the leading powers of Europe), in war, and to annex Korea.

Japan’s defeat of China further undermined the prestige of the Qing regime, and has helped lead to the end of the long succession of imperial dynasties in China. In 1912, China became a republic. Since then things have only gone from bad to worse with the country becoming fragmented amongst regional warlords.

South East Asia and Oceania

South East Asia and the Pacific, like Africa, see Western powers take control of most territories. In South East Asia only Thailand succeeds in keeping a semblance of independence; in the Pacific, Tonga remains under the rule of its monarchs, but only as a protectorate of the British Empire.

Australia and New Zealand continue to be settled by people of European (mostly British) extraction. Their economies are greatly stimulated by the advent of refrigerated cargo ships, which allows them to ship their produce (meat, wool and dairy products) to Britain. Australia’s colonization is boosted by a series of gold rushes.

South and North America

The same is true for Argentina, in South America. This country sees its economy expand and its population increase due to immigration. Other countries on the continent also see commodity booms and economic expansion. This leads to tensions between the nations, and indeed to a major war between Chile on the one hand, and Peru and Bolivia, on the other. Chile was victorious.

The opening of the Panama Canal is symbolic of the USA‘s economic rise. The past few decades have seen a surge of economic growth, and the USA is now the wealthiest nation on Earth. Immigration continues to increase its population, and by now the whole of the USA has been fully (though in many places sparsely) settled by people of European descent. At the top of society, fabulous fortunes in this “Gilded Age” derive from control of vast business empires. This is also the period which sees the USA acquire an overseas empire of its own, as the Philippines, Cuba and other Caribbean countries fall under its control.

The Canadian west has also been settled by people of European descent, thanks to the completion of the Canadian-Pacific railroad and to episodes such as the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896.

Next map: the world in 1960

Dig Deeper

World history

European World Empires

Modern Europe

For details of the different civilizations, click on the relevant timeline above. 

More ‘Dig Deeper’ links may be found in the regional maps. To access, click on the markers in the world map.

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