Nov 01

Imperial Pursuits 7-4.4

In this lesson, Chronicling America newspaper clippings are used to help teachers and students establish a conceptual framework for understanding European imperialist endeavors throughout the globe during the 19th and early 20th centuries. These articles are intended to be an entry point into your discussions on imperialism.

Click here to download the full lesson with attached handouts. Imperial Pursuits

Historical Background                                                                                 

South Africa was a hotly contested region throughout the era of imperialism. The Dutch, British, and African people all sought the land and resources of the country. In the early 1800s, Shaka Zulu created a centralized state. His successors, however, were unable to continue his rule as the British exerted an increasing pressure in the area. In the 1880s, the Zulu War was fought against the British as the Zulus sought to retain independence. The Zulu nation, lacking the weaponry of the British, was defeated. Further conflict arose in South Africa with the Boer War. The Boers (also known as Afrikaners), who were originally Dutch settlers, migrated to the north into Transvaal and the Orange Free State as the British took over the Cape Colony and established new policies for land and slave use. As gold was found in Boer territory, the British (and other foreigners) moved in to the Boer region. War began in 1899 and ended in 1902 with Boer defeat, causing Boer territories to become part of British South Africa.

The British East India Company dominated India after the decline of the Mughal Empire (7.4-1).

To maintain control of British interests in India, the company hired Indian soldiers known as Sepoys to protect their trading interests, which were extensive at this time. India was the “jewel of the crown” in the British Empire, as it supplied raw materials to Britain’s industries and was viewed as a potential market for the finished products. As Britain increasingly exerted its influence over India, the Indians became more oppressed and discontented in their citizenship. While Britain did build railroads, modern communication systems, and schools in India, they also suppressed the local culture. In 1857, amid rumors that the new gun cartridges were greased with beef and pork fat (the cartridge ends had to be bitten off in order to be used), the Hindu and Muslim Sepoys led a revolt known as the Sepoy Rebellion against the British. Following the uprising, which took a year to suppress, the British government took full control of India. This was a period known as the Raj.

China was self-sufficient in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But Britain, determined to open trade with China, found a product that these Chinese citizens willingly bought: opium. China attempted to halt the opium trade, but to no avail. Their defeat in the Opium War signaled the beginning of the increase in foreign influence in China. At the same time, China was undergoing an internal rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion, in an attempt to establish a kingdom in which no one would live in poverty. This rebellion, combined with increasing Western influence, led to increased pressure on the imperial government to reform. The self-strengthening movement was of little success. Taking advantage of the internal struggles; Europe, Japan, and the U.S. increasingly gained economic spheres of influence in this region. In 1899, the U.S. declared equal trading rights with China. As a reaction to the newly declared Open Door Policy and the Chinese government’s failure to respond to internal and external issues, the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (renamed by Europeans as the Boxers), a nationalistic organization which used the martial arts to remove foreigners from Chinese soil, led the Boxer Rebellion in an effort to rid China of all foreign influence. The Boxers struck out, killing the foreigners and Chinese Christians, before being defeated by multinational forces. The rebellion was a failure, but it did lead to an increasing sense of nationalism and need for reform in China.

South Carolina Social Studies Support Document, Grade 7, 2008

South Carolina Standards (2005)                                                          

7-4.4 Compare differing views with regard to colonization and the reactions of people under colonial rule in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the Zulu War, the Sepoy Rebellion, and the Boxer Rebellion. (2011 corresponding indicator is 7-3.6)

GS-4.2 Explain the economic and cultural impact of European involvement on other continents during the era of European expansion.

GS-4.5 Compare the political actions of European, Asian, and African nations in the era of imperial expansion, including the response of the Ottoman Empire to European commercial power, the motives and results of Russian expansion, the importance of British power in India, the collapse of Chinese government and society, the reasons for and the effects of Japan’s transformation and expansion, and the resistance to imperialism.


  • Students will analyze historical newspaper articles regarding European expansionist policy during the Nineteenth century.
  • Students will explain the concept of European imperialism during the nineteenth century.
  • Students will provide specific examples of European expansionist policies in Africa and Asia.


Time Required                                                                    Recommended Grade Level

1-2 class periods                                                                   Middle/High

Lesson Materials

  • Chronicling America clipped newspaper excerpts (see attached)
  • Vocabulary Comparison Chart
  • Assessment questions


Lesson Preparation

  • Print enough articles for groups.
  • Print enough vocabulary sheets for all students
  • Print enough assessment sheets for all.


Lesson Procedure

  • Start by arranging students into groups of three.
  • Write the following terms on the board: Imperialism, Colonization, Colonialism, Expansionism, Democratization, Empire- Building, Domination, Intervention
  • Ask students if they know what any of the words mean.  Give time for responses.
  • Pass out the Vocabulary Comparison Chart.  Have students work through the list to write their own definition for each term first.
  • Then have students look up the definition and make any changes to their interpreted definitions.
  • Next ask students what these words have in common.  Have them use the Vocabulary Comparison Chart to record their response.  Then give time to share with their group members.
  • Explain the following: Today we will be examining the story of European expansionism or imperialism by examining several articles that were written during the time that these events were taking place (These are called primary documents). Your job is to read the document and answer four very important questions.
    • Which two countries were involved?
    • What happened?
    • What was the name of the event?
    • Was this a positive or negative interaction?  Cite evidence from the article to support your response.
    • Pass out the articles then give students time within groups to answer the analysis questions above.
    • Reconvene as a whole class to compile the findings. Write the four questions on the board or chart paper. Gather information from groups and write as they give responses.
    • When the chart is complete have the group evaluate the compiled data. Ask: According to the information you provided, what seemed to be happening between countries in Europe, Asia and Africa during the nineteenth century?  Allow time for student responses.
    • Explain or help students summarize their findings if necessary.
    • Proceed to the assessment portion of the lesson.



  • Which of the terms discussed at the beginning of the lesson would you give to European pursuits during the nineteenth century as described in the articles?  Explain why you chose that term.
  • In one sentence or less, explain the concept of European imperialism.
  • Based on the articles analyzed in class, identify four imperialist pursuits taken on by European countries during the nineteenth century.
  • Which European country seemed to stand out?
  • According to the writers, were the interactions between England, China, India and the Zulu positive or negative?  Give specific evidence from the article that supports your response.


Digital Collections Information                    

This lesson plan is based on images and/or documents from the Chronicling America project.

To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collections

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