Colonialism - Meaning, Impact and Types of Colonialism

By K Balaji|Updated : January 31st, 2023

Colonialism means the combination of cultural, political, territorial, mental, and/or economic domination of one group of people by an external group of people. In simple words, Colonialism is defined as when one country invades another country violently and takes control of it. When a country indulges in Colonialism, its primary aim is to have exploitation of resources and economic domination.

In this article, we are going to discuss the concept of Colonialism. Candidates preparing for the UPSC exam must go through this article to prepare for both Prelims and Mains.

Table of Content

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is the practice where one country takes political control of another country with the aim of occupying it with settlers for the purpose of getting an advantage from its economy and resources.

  • Colonialism is often got confused with imperialism because both practices involve the economic and political control of a dominant country over a weak territory.
  • In history, there have been many instances where powerful countries have expanded their territory through Colonialism.
  • By World War I in 1914, the European powers had colonized countries on every continent.
  • However, the modern world doesn’t allow the practice of Colonialism. Still, there is evidence that it remains in today’s world as well.

Types of Colonialism

There are four different types of Colonialism as per the historians, and we have discussed all of them in brief below.

  • Settler Colonialism- this Colonialism means that immigration will take place on a significant scale, with economic, political and religious being the main motivators. Here the local population will be replaced. Some examples of settler Colonialism include erstwhile colonies of America, Australia, Canada and the United States.
  • Internal Colonialism- it means the exploitation of one racial or ethnic group by another in the same nation. It is an idea of uneven or even structural power between different areas of a state.
  • Surrogate Colonialism- it involves a settlement project that is supported by a colonial power. Here most of the settlers don’t come from the same ethnic group as the ruling power.
  • Exploitation Colonialism- this Colonialism involves the exploitation of natural resources that would be beneficial for the mother country financially.

History of Colonialism

The origin of Colonialism can be traced back to when the pre-colonial African empires came into existence. Due to this, the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks & Phoenicians were encouraged to build their own colonies.

  • The military colonies were created by the Vietnamese between the 11th-18th centuries.
  • Modern Colonialism started with the age of exploration during the 15th century.
  • People were driven by the idea of building new colonies across oceans. For example, Spain and Portugal came to know about South & Central America through their sea travel.
  • By the 19th century, Britain and France took over many countries to exploit their resources by their colonial powers for their own gain.
  • In fact, World War II is believed to be caused by Colonialism.
  • However, after the end of World War II, decolonization progressed.

Impact of Colonialism

Colonialism had a lot of negative effects on people and society. Many places were exploited, and diseases started spreading. There were problems of settlement and enslavement again and again.

However, there were some positive impacts of Colonialism as well. For example spread of languages, cultural institutions, literature and technological advancement. It gave rise to many empires, and it influenced the economic systems of many places. Colonialism gave rise to a hybrid population with mixed ethnic and cultural values.

Causes of Colonialism

The causes of Colonialism include

  • The Discovery of new areas and trade routes
  • Economic Growth- many countries like Spain, England, and France established colonies to gain financial benefits.
  • European Rivalry- there was a race for acquiring new colonies among various counties due to various benefits.
  • Spread Christianity- it is also one of the causes of Colonialism. The catholic church started a major effort to spread Christianity in the new world.
  • Mercantilism- the economic development of the mother country was most crucial, and the colonies were governed in such as way that it would be beneficial for the mother country.

Colonialism UPSC

Questions related to Colonialism can be asked in the UPSC Prelims or Mains as it is a part of the UPSC Syllabus. Candidates need to know about the concept of Colonialism and its types. Colonialism UPSC Notes would help the candidates to get adequate information on Colonialism and perform well on their UPSC Exam. In addition, candidates can also follow some advanced UPSC Books to get a better insight into this topic.

Important Notes for UPSC
India after IndependenceRule of Law
Paramilitary ForcesDoctrine of Lapse
Air Act 1981Coalition Government In India
Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana UPSCPrincipal Organs of UN
8th Schedule of Indian ConstitutionCoastal Plains of India


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FAQs on Colonialism

  • Colonialism means the control by one power over a dependent group of people or area. It happens when one nation invades another area and exploits it for its own benefit.

  • There are four different types of Colonialism, namely- Settler Colonialism, Settler Colonialism, Surrogate Colonialism, and Internal Colonialism.

  • As per the definition, Colonialism refers to the domination of one group over another by using power. Colonialism has ended in the modern world, and people have started to live under virtual colonial rule. However, it remains a powerful force in today’s world as well.

  • Colonialism has both positive and negative impacts. The negative effects of Colonialism are many places were exploited, and diseases started spreading. There was no end to the settlement. On the positive side, Colonialism helped in promoting cultural institutions, literature, and technologies, and gave rise to a hybrid population with mixed ethnic and cultural values.

  • It is believed that Colonialism started in India with the establishment of the Portuguese trading centre at Quilon.

  • The most common features of Colonialism are legal and political domination over alien societies, racial and inequality, and relations of political and economic dependence.

  • Colonialism started in India when the Portuguese trading centre at Quilon was established. King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Dom Francisco de Almeida in 1505.

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