Preliminary draft version

Empirical View

200 years of colonial history

The map shows which world regions were ruled by a colonial power. The map suffers from the major limitation that the countries are shown in today's country borders; the colonized region often did not correspond to this modern border.

The dataset was produced by the sociologists Wimmer and Min and has not been changed by us.1

You can press the 'Play' at the bottom to see the change over time.

The borders shown throughout this visualisation are today's borders. It would be preferable to show the historical borders and the changes over time; the current solution is a limitation of our technical framework that cannot (yet) show border changes.

The decline of colonialism

This visualisation presents the above data on the colonial powers in a time perspective. For each country that became independent over the last 2 centuries you see the former colonial or imperial power and the year of independence.


Share of World Population Living in Colonized Countries

This visualization shows estimates of the number of people governed by different political regimes in dark purple. The chart also shows for each point in time under which type of political regime the remaining world population lived.

Throughout the 19th century around one third of the world population lived in countries that were colonized by imperial powers. This changed over the second half of the 20th centuries when many former colonies became independent.

By clicking on 'Absolute', the following graph shows the number of people living in different regimes over the last two centuries.

Colonialism in Africa

This map shows Africa in 1912 when most parts of the continent were under colonial rule.

Colonial Africa in 19122


Measurement, Data Quality & Definitions

In this entry we rely mostly on the data presented by Wimmer and Min (2006) – see below for the reference. A major issue with the categorization of countries as colonies is that sometimes it only be done in retrospect – after the fact that the country became independent. While some countries were politically and officially referred to as colonies it is more difficult for regions that were not explicitly referred to as such.

Data Sources

Wimmer and Min (2006)
  • Data: This is a richer research paper that among other aspects includes a global dataset on countries that later became independent including their colonial power.
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: 1816 to 2001
  • Available at: Wimmer and Min (2006) – “From empire to nation-state: Explaining war in the modern world, 1816-2001”, American Sociological Review 71(6):867-897, 2006.