In 1914, 84% of the world was under colonial rule from a European nation. Quite an achievement considering that Europe makes approximately 8% of the world’s land mass. These were some of the attention-grabbing opening lines of economic historian, Philip T Hoffman’s event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
How did that happen?
One reason was gunpowder technology. Even though gunpowder and the first associated weapons originated in China, the technology improved and progressed in Europe due to the region’s almost constant warfare and aggression towards neighbouring countries. Also Europe consisted of a collective of smaller countries, roughly similar in size with heavy taxation that the rulers used to invest in military technology.
By contrast, countries such as India and China were huge countries with very low taxation meaning there were no funds to invest in military technology. Moreover, the immediate threat to these countries did not require weapons that used gunpowder and as a result they never innovated beyond early weaponry.
The enthusiasm and expertise of Mr Hoffman was clear, although his method of delivery in a lecture style with slides was quite dull. The hour in his company lacked engagement and interactivity with the exception of ten minutes at the end where he took questions.