The European Empires in a Transforming World

Part of the Themes in Comparative History book series (TCH)


The end of the First World War may appear as a somewhat premature point at which to begin an outline history of European decolonization. Indeed, the territorial zenith of modern colonialism was attained only in 1919 with the completion of the Treaty of Versailles, bringing new areas (such as Palestine) within the ambit of European rule.l Even more telling is the fact that it was only during the Great War and in its immediate aftermath that westernizing processes began to impinge upon the broad front of non-European societies, and so created the conditions for mass nationalist responses. With this in mind, it might be argued that while the inter-war years were of clear relevance to certain later decolonizations (with one obvious example being the emergence of Gandhian populism in India during the early 1920s), in the main their continuities lay backwards to the age of classical European expansion, not forwards to the era of imperial dissolution. Nonetheless, the sense that processes of decolonization, even in their broadest connotations, only take shape after 1939 is dictated by a falsely based preoccupation with the outward form of political nationalisms among colonial populations. The latter, indeed, were the exception rather than the rule before the Second World War.


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1 The European Empires in a Transforming World

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© R. F. Holland 1985

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