Economic Motives for Imperialism in Southeast Asia

Module Summary

This module begins with a look at the geography and ecology of Southeast Asia. Geography and ecology determined the kinds of valuable commodities found in the region, and they also structured the trading patterns and trade routes into and out of the region. Ecological and environmental factors discussed in this module include: tropical rainforests, monsoon trade winds, lowland rice growing areas, and exotic tropical trading goods. The module discusses the transition in export goods caused by European imperialism. Early trade goods included what were then rare spices (pepper, nutmeg, and cloves) and highly valued exotics (such as rhinoceros horn, tropical medicine, and birds of paradise). The increasing presence of European powers in the region stimulated a transformation in trade to plantation agriculture (coffee and rubber) and an intensive exploitation of mineral and forest resources (tin and hardwoods).

This module is based on the presentation given by Leonard Andaya (Professor of History, University of Hawaii at Manoa) at the East-West Center’s 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for Teachers.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this module do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the East-West Center.

Teaching Materials

PowerPoint lecture

Key topics include: Batavia/Jakarta, capitalism, Chinese minorities, Decolonization, democracy, development, Dutch East Indies/Netherlands Indies, East India Company, ethnic minorities, European powers, French Indochina, imperialism / colonialism, minority identities in Southeast Asia, Malaya/British Malaya, nationalism, spice islands, spice trade, trade and the economy, upland/lowland relations, urban/rural divisions, VOC, wet rice cultivation, WWII in Southeast Asia.

We welcome comments from teachers on how you have integrated this material into your teaching, including what was useful and what wasn’t, and what additional resources you would like to see in or recommend for this module.