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The invention of the steamship had a widespread effect on both the world of trade and military conflict. However, current scholarship does not give sufficient credit to how important this piece of technology was. While not the sole cause of victory in colonial warfare, nor a guarantee of victory, the steamship was an indispensable tool in the expansion of colonialism in the 19th century. Allowing for the tactics of gunboat diplomacy, lightning fast wars, and vast improvements in logistics, the path of European colonialism was shaped by the steamship. In the Anglo-Burmese Wars, First Anglo-Sino War, and the Perry Expedition steamships were used to great effect in gaining favorable concessions and terms of trade for Europeans. Specifically, steamships allowed European forces to penetrate far further inland than was previously possible. Without such penetration, the large, centralized capitals of Ava, Peking, and Edo could not be threatened. Facing political challenges at home, the humiliation and danger of submission to foreign will had to be balanced by sufficient threat to these governments' very seats of power. Connected to this was improvements in logistics and the health of troops would see the cost of conducting these wars to a point of cost-effectiveness necessary. These conflicts were largely undertaken in an attempt to create new sources of revenue for European countries, and the steamship was invaluable in reducing the cost of waging war to an acceptable level. Lack of political unity and centrally located governments on the Asian side increased the efficacy of steamships. While not an immutable guarantee of victory, the steamship molded the type of imperialism seen and thus the world we know today.
First Anglo-Burmese War, First Anglo-Sino War, Perry Expedition, Second Anglo-Burmese War, Steamships, Technology in colonialism
Date of Defense
October 25, 2012.
A Thesis submitted to the Program in Asian Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.
Includes bibliographical references.
Jonathan Grant, Professor Directing Thesis; Claudia Liebeskind, Committee Member; Charles Upchurch, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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