IGCSE History
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Exams and Revision

How far did colonial problems create tensions between the Great Powers?

Activities Resources
Who were the 'Great Powers' of Europe in 1914? Draw up a table in Word to compare the relative strengths of Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and France before the outbreak of WWI. This will be completed as 5 groups/pairs and a report back session.  Josh Brooman - The End of Old Europe (1-12) For those interested to find out more about the countries of Europe at this time, visit the IST IB History site and an interactive map of Europe created by IB students in 2001. It is also useful to copy this map or a similar one into the beginning of your notes.

The Learning Curve website (Old WWI site)  has a good interactive map on this page which shows the relative strength of the European powers before the war.

Read Farmer on 'Colonial Rivalry'. This is a difficult chapter, more suited to IB students. However, you should be able to understand much of what is said. Make notes under the headings:

Causes - Economic Motivation (this is the Marxist explanation), Nationalism, Humanitarianism and accident. 

The Scramble for Africa

The Struggle for China (no need to write much about this other than Russian-Japanese rivalry). 

Conclusion - The last paragraph summarises Farmer's viewpoint that Colonialism provided a 'safety-valve' for the Great Powers to let of steam without harming each other too much. 

Farmer (37-42) 

The Open Door website has some good text resources on colonialism. 

Also see the two case-studies: 
(i) Tangier Crisis (1905)
(ii) Agadir Crisis (1911) covered in future lesson. Brooman (20-21).

This is a complex topic, not helped by the fact that Alan Farmer can see little reason to identify colonialism as a cause of the First World War. Part of the reason for this is probably his anti-Marxism - "By 1900 it was or should have been, apparent that Marx had got most things wrong" (p.5 'Marxist Misconceptions') - most Marxists (following Lenin)  identify colonialism or imperialism as a major cause of the war.  For Farmer 'Lenin's arguments are not convincing' (37).  We ought to expect something a little more balanced from an author of a school textbook! 

See The Corner website for a clear explanation of the contribution of colonialism

First of all, colonial rivalry led to strained relations among the European powers.  Secondly, colonial rivalry led indirectly to the formation and strengthening of alliances and ententes.  Thirdly, colonial rivalry led to an intensification of the arms race.  Fourthly, colonial rivalry led to much hostility among the powers.