Colonial Rulers

A foreign power is only considered relevant for some purposes if it exerted political control (as a colony, protectorate, part of an empire, or other dependency) over a substantial part of what became the new state after independence. Terms such as “colonizer” and “colonial” are used to refer to each of these situations, although the documentation for each individual state’s colonial history will attempt to clarify the exact nature of the “colonial” relationship as much as possible.

A period of colonial rule is considered to begin with the establishment of the first permanent outpost or
settlement in the location in question. Note that because of the blurred distinction between private companies
and national governments during the colonial era, settlements by state-sponsored companies such as the
Hudson’s Bay Company or Dutch East India Company may indicate the beginning of settlement by their mother countries.

Simply controlling a small settlement or enclave in the territory is not sufficient to qualify as a colonial
ruler for these purposes, although such cases will be noted in the coding notes. For example, although the
Netherlands and Sweden both established small colonies in what became New York, New Jersey, and Delaware,
neither of them is considered to be a colonial ruler of the United States; nor is Portugal considered to be a
colonial ruler of India or China because of Goa or Macao. In such cases, the foreign power is not considered to have had sufficient political influence over the dependent entity to have been able to influence its path to independence or its borders.

Military occupation by itself is not considered to represent colonial rule. This includes situations where
one state’s colony was briefly occupied by another state during an ongoing war and subsequently returned rather than ceded or annexed (as happened numerous times in the 16th-19th century Caribbean), as well as situations where an independent state was occupied by another state (as when Nazi Germany conquered much of Europe during World War II); the latter situation may result in a state’s loss of COW system membership, but it does not produce a completely new state when the occupation ends.

Primary Colonial Ruler

Some colonies have very straightforward histories, with a single foreign power having ruled the entity
throughout the colonial era, and no history of unification or secession after independence. Unfortunately for the purpose of data collection, though, many others experienced partial or complete colonial rule by multiple
colonizers at different points in time, or seceded from a single independent state after the end of the colonial era.

A state’s “primary colonial ruler” is defined as the colonial or imperial power that was most responsible
for shaping the development of the entity (or entities) that became this modern state. This is typically the state that ruled over the majority of this territory (for cases where multiple colonial powers held parts of what became the modern state) or the state that ruled over this territory for the longest time (for cases where the colony changed hands one or more times before independence). It should be noted that this may not be the state from which this entity received its independence, which is covered by a separate set of variables in the data set. For example, although the UK and France took possession of Ottoman territories in the Middle East as League of Nations mandated territories after World War I, the Ottoman Empire would be coded as the resulting states’primary colonial ruler.

Note: based on a P. Hensel dataset instruction.


See Also

  • Nation
  • Province
  • Sovereignty
  • Rule of Law
  • Public International Law
  • State Territory

Hierarchical Display of Colonialism

International Relations > International affairs > National independence


Concept of Colonialism

See the dictionary definition of Colonialism.

Characteristics of Colonialism

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Translation of Colonialism

Thesaurus of Colonialism

International Relations > International affairs > National independence > Colonialism

See also

  • War grave
  • Neo-colonialism


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