IMPERIALISM Notes, Cartoons, and Maps

Scramble for Africa

Process: As you proceed through this activity WITH ONE PARTNER, you will investigate the dramatic transformations that imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought to the continent of Africa and also the countries that controlled them.

On your own paper (or a SAVED WORD DOCUMENT), you will complete the activities below, be sure to label each activity with its letter and name. If they are not labeled correctly, you will not receive a grade!  (If you use a word document, then you can copy and paste the questions to the document).

Introductory Reading:

 European Imperialism in Africa

By 1875 European possessions in Africa consisted of some forts and trading posts along the coast and a few tiny colonies. Between 1880 and 1910, however, Africa was divided up among the Europeans. For the next 50 years decisions affecting Africa and its people were made not in Africa, but in London, Paris, Lisbon and other European capitals…

How Imperialism Spread

European rule came to Africa in many different ways. Sometimes a European trading company made agreements with Africa chiefs permitting the company to trade and keep order in the area. The traders then put pressure on their government in Europe to take over in order to protect them. In a few cases tribal chiefs voluntarily asked for the protection of one European nation in order to avoid being taken over by another European nation. Sometimes the Africans even asked for European protection against other African tribes. Treaties were signed by the African chiefs in which they gave the European company or government the right to keep order (govern) and to take over the land and resources in their area. Thousands of treaties were signed by African rulers giving away most of their rights to the Europeans, but the Africans never really understood these treaties and did not realize what they were giving away.

Reasons for Imperialism

There are several reasons why the European nations competed with each other to gain colonies in Africa. They all wanted to gain power and prestige. The more territory that they were able to control in Africa the more powerful and important they thought they could become. Africa was tremendously rich in natural resources, which could be brought to Europe and turned into manufactured goods. Europeans also needed markets for their manufactured goods. These goods could be sold in Africa for large profits. Often a European nation would take over territory in Africa simply to prevent another European country from taking it. (Rosenfeld, Erwin and Harriet Geller. Afro-Asian Culture Studies. 1976. (206-208).

A. Reading: “Scramble for Africa”

   Click on the link below for the reading and then answer the questions:

NOTE: If the word, name or place is in bold print underlined, click on it and read the information, it will help you answer any questions related to that item.

1.           Define imperialistic activity.

2.           Define sovereignty.

3.   What advantages did the Europeans have over the Africans?

4.   List three facts about Cecil Rhodes.

5.   Explain the political cartoon and its caption.

6.   True or False. Because European nations carved up Africa with no regard for traditional tribal boundaries, Africa still suffers today.

B.    Reading: The Berlin Conference of 1884

Based on the reading BELOW, answer the following questions:

1. Define (a.) protectorate and (b.) spheres of influence.

2. List three reasons why Europeans wanted to take over Africa.

3. What happened at the Berlin Conference?

4. Who organized the conference and what country was the leader from?

5.  How did Article 34 help to set the stage for world war?


Because of its size, surface features, climate, resources, and strategic importance, Africa became a prime candidate for conquest by ambitious European empires. Although Africa is physically remote from the power centers of Europe, North America, and Asia, it is surrounded by water and can therefore be reached easily from the other continents. This meant that the Europeans needed to establish rules for dealing with one another if they were to avoid constant bloodshed and competition for African resources. The Berlin Conference established those ground rules.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Europeans had established colonies all along the African coast and competed for control. The push for overseas territories was made even more intense by the Industrial Revolution and the need for cheap labor, raw material, and new markets. The competition between the Europeans often leads to violent conflict.

The conference was held in Berlin between November 15, 1884 and November 26, 1885, under the leadership of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Twelve European nations, the Ottoman Empire and the United States, took part. Although controlling the slave trade and promoting humanitarian idealism were promoted as the focus of the conference, the conference only passed empty resolutions about the ending of slave trade and providing for the welfare of Africa. In truth, the result of the Conference was a method of dividing the continent of Africa between the European powers.

Article 34 of the Berlin Act states: “that any European nation that took possession of an African coast, or named themselves as “protectorate” of one, had to inform the other powers of the Berlin Act of this action.” If this was not done then their claim would not be recognized. This article introduced the “spheres of influence” doctrine, the control of a coast also meant that they would control the hinterland to an almost unlimited distance.

Article 35 determined that in order to occupy a coastal possession, the nation also had to prove that they controlled sufficient authority there to protect existing rights such as freedom of trade and transit. This was called the doctrine of “effective occupation” and it made the conquest of Africa a less bloody process.

The Berlin Act was an important change in international affairs. It created the rules for “effective occupation” of conquered lands, ensuring that the division of Africa would take place without war among the European powers. Through the Berlin Act, the European powers justified dividing a continent among them without considering the desires of the indigenous peoples.

While this appears extremely arrogant to us now, it seemed to them to be the obvious extension of their imperialism. The Berlin Conference is one of the clearest examples of the assumptions and preconceptions of this era, and its effects on Africa can still be seen today.     used with permission from

C. The 'Scramble for Africa’ – Political Cartoon   

Study the political cartoon below and answer the following questions:

1. Make a guess: What is the 'scramble for Africa'?

2. Based on the reading you just did, is the cartoon accurate?


3. Does it really show what was going on at the time? Why or why not?


4. How did the Berlin Conference lead to the situation shown in this cartoon?


D.  “Imperialism and the Balance of Power”

   Answer the following questions based on the map below:      

1. How many different countries have colonies?

2. Which country has the largest colonial empire?

3. Which continents are almost completely controlled by other countries?

4. Which continents are only controlled by a few countries?

5. What could be a different title for this map?

“Imperialism and the Balance of Power”


Examine the Maps below. Then answer the questions that follow


Map 2

1. What countries have a presence in Africa in 1880?

2. What is the main difference between the two maps?

3. What part did the Berlin Conference play in the creation MAP 2?

4. According to Map 2—Which two European countries held the most territory in Africa? 


F. Impact of Colonization Data

Look at the following chart and pie graph and answer these questions:

1.    Which two areas of the world are almost completely controlled by colonial powers?

2.    What percentage of Africa was colonized by 1913?

3.    According to the pie graph, which two European countries held the most territory in Africa?

4.    Think about it: Would the borders of colonial Africa (as represented by MAP 2 and the pie chart below) have been the same if there had never been a Berlin Conference? Explain your answer.


African Holdings by 1913


G. Data on Colonial Empires

Examine the following charts to answer these questions:

1. About how many square miles of territory does France control?

2. What is the TOTAL population controlled by the five countries shown in this chart?

3. Based on this information, which country has the largest colonial empire?

4. Does this answer agree with your answer to question 2 above in Section D “Imperialism…” Map

EXTENT OF COLONIZATION AS OF 1939 (Germany data as of 1914)