History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Daniel Headrick: Tools of Empire click here for audio

With economic motivations so strong as early as the 16th and 17th century, the question is why Europe did not create imperialism earlier. The answer is because Europe did not have the ability to enter the continents of Asia, South America, and Africa until the 19th century, a subject explored by historian Daniel Headrick.

According to Headrick, there were two problems:"Picture of Ships" the first was topography, and the second was disease. Sailing ships required a deep draught in the water for their pointed hulls, and wind for sails. They were also made of wood. In the tropics, the rivers were shallow, there was no wind, and the wood rotted. Diseases included killers like malaria and fever, to which many local people had developed immunity. Several expeditions into Africa, like the Mungo Park expedition in 1805, had ended with everyone dead. This was why trade with Africa, South America and Asia (including India) had meant trade with coastal peoples, who obtained the goods (including slaves) from the interior of the continents.

In South America, Jesuits had discovered a palliative for malaria in the 18th century when they noted that the natives chewed on the bark of the cinchona tree. French chemists distilled the substance quinine from the cinchona bark, and it Gin and tonicwas tried as a cure for malaria, with mixed results. It took a while to realize that quinine was a prophylactic rather than a treatment; it worked if taken in advance and continually while in the tropics. In other words, it was a tonic rather than a cure.

In India, the British created quinine "tonic water", and mixed it with gin, creating the gin and tonic. This is the classic drink of the British Raj.

Industrialization took care of the other problem, as metal steamboats were created with flat bottoms that could go up tropical rivers.

 

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