In the early 1880s, informal imperial expansion gave way to formal imperial acquisitions. Between this point and the outbreak of the First World War, more colonial territory was acquired by European states than in the previous three-quarters of a century.
New states entered the business of imperialism, notably Belgium, Germany and Italy. So fierce was the competition that in 1884 an international congress was held in Berlin to establish demarcation lines between the new colonial possessions. The ‘Scramble for Africa’ extended in fact to other parts of the globe and brought in new possessions in Asia, North Africa and the Pacific. Many explanations have been advanced for this sudden expansion of empire, ranging from changes in the European economy to the rise of European nationalism, from the need perceived by some European statesmen to provide an outlet for popular discontent at home to the exploitation of colonial issues by Bismarck for diplomatic purposes. This lecture analyses the process of partition and assesses the best way to explain it.