Teaching World History: Age of Imperialism Lesson Plans

This blog and the accompanying resource are part of a Shaped monthly series providing teachers for Grades 6–12 with downloadable world history classroom resources and discussion topics.

Imperialism refers to a country's use of diplomacy or military force to extend its rule over another nation or territory, oftentimes for political or economic purposes. In the late 19th century, various European nations aimed to expand their boundaries to other territories, mainly by colonizing parts of Africa.

European leaders met in Berlin, Germany, in 1884 to stake their claims in Africa and resolve conflicts over African colonies. However, they had little regard for the boundaries the Africans already had in place, which were often based on the location of ethnic groups, resulting in what became known as the "Scramble for Africa." By 1914, most of Africa was under European control. Meanwhile, the United States became involved in imperialism by acquiring territories such as the Philippines and Hawaii.

Teach students about the immediate and long-term effects of imperialism using the Age of Imperialism lesson plans below. Have students first examine this timeline with a supplemental enrichment activity (available for download as a PDF) focusing on relevant events from 1850–1914. Then, distribute the accompanying resources: a viewpoint on imperialism from George Bernard Shaw’s The Man of Destiny (primary source enrichment activity) and a related writing enrichment activity.

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