European Colonial Expansion & Its Aftermath

The Historical, Ecological and Cultural Consequence of 1492


An Interactive Online Teaching Initiative
created for
IvyMind Consulting, LLC
as a project of the
Young Scholars Online Learning Initiative

Timothy C. Weiskel
Research Director
Cambridge Climate Research Associates
Copyright, ©, 2018, Timothy C. Weiskel



Class Documents


The political and economic configuration of the modern world has been shaped  -- to a significant extent --  by the historical experience of European overseas expansion since the end of the fifteenth century.  In the few centuries after 1492 when Columbus “discovered” what became known as the “Americas,” numerous European powers developed “maritime empires” connecting enclave outposts and settlements around the world in a network of trade and cultural exchange that has left a powerful mark on the modern world.  The Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French each developed their own distinctive traditions in these maritime empires, but the patterns of expansion, growth and eventual demise manifest many broad-scale similarities as well as significant differences. 

This short course considers the emergence, expansion and eventual decline of European colonial domination over the last five hundred years of world history.  It begins by considering the mercantile empires of 15th through the 18th centuries, and then turns to the growth of the industrial and financial empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Throughout the course attention well be given on the one hand to the motives and mechanisms of European expansion and on the other hand to the unconscious and unintended consequences of the global ecological, economic and political legacies that have emerged in the subsequent aftermath of European colonial expansion.

It is expected that students will conduct individual research reports.  These reports will be developed over the course of the whole program, and they will be presented to the group at the end of the course as an up-to-date guide to answer the question: "Where can we turn to learn...about...[selected topic]" Those of sufficient quality can be submitted for publication online in the "Where Can We Turn to Learn?" series on the Transition Studies weblog.

The initial online presentation will give an overview of the topic and provide an introduction to the seminar procedures and best practices for conducting online research in colonial studies. In subsequent sessions attention will be given to specific features of the European colonial legacy and their implications for human activity in the decades and centuries ahead. The sequence can be summarized as follows:
Session Presentation Topics

An introduction to online learning, research and writing in colonial studies. [Questions]

2 The European Mercantile Empires – 15th through the 18th Centuries. [Questions]
3 The Industrialization of Empire and the Growth of Overseas "Investments" [Assignment]
4 The Principal Ecologic, Economic and Political Legacies of Colonialism [Assignment]
5 The Post-Colonial World and the Global Problems it Must Address. [Assignment]
6 Class Session About The Essays You Will Write for the Course: Expectations & Requirements
7 After European Colonialism What Comes Next? What Will China's Role Be Now as the New World "Leader?"
8 [Discussion of Final Papers]

Final Presentation of Student Papers
[Discussion and final slides to linked videos for further thought]

10 Final Presentation of Student Papers
Syllabus & Schedule of Online Meetings
and Assigned Exercises