In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Historical Overviews
  • Theoretical Overviews
  • The Dependent Variable: Imperialism
  • Related Theoretical Efforts
  • US Hegemony and Empire

International Relations Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism
Leo Blanken
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0171


Imperialism is a rich and widely applied term that is essentially used for the analysis of a variety of asymmetric relationships. Here I consciously choose a narrow conceptualization of the term to limit the scope of this bibliography. Further, I focus on generalizable causal arguments that seek to explain and predict patterns of such behavior. In addition, the works cited here tend toward more recent manifestations of imperialism, spanning the early modern imperial period (starting in roughly the early 15th century) through current US foreign policy. Finally, this bibliography is intended to be of most use to researchers who are seeking to generate or test general propositions regarding imperialism. Isolating these facets of the broader literature provides complementarity with existing bibliographies that are more holistic in their treatment (see Oxford Bibliographies articles on “Imperialism” and Colonialism), focus on particular empires or colonial regions (Oxford Bibliographies article on European Imperialism), or particular drivers of imperialism (see Oxford Bibliographies article on Marxism). This review proceeds in two sections. The first half reviews authors who develop the concept as it is used here. The second half reviews the theoretical schools of thought that attempt to explain such patterns of imperial behavior using general arguments.

Reference Works

Given the large and varied historical record that the phenomenon of imperialism covers, there may be a challenge in simply contending with the factual minutiae. Geography, technical terms, and varied approaches generate a large lexicon that spans intellectual disciplines. Several excellent reference works exist to organize such knowledge. Benjamin 2007 and Hodge 2008 provide easily digestible entry points to the vast experience of colonialism and imperialism, respectively. Olson and Shadle 1991 offers more focused information to assist in research on these topics and include instructive maps and chronologies. Porter 2002 constitutes an excellent reference source for the vast literature on the British experience.

  • Benjamin, Thomas, ed. Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450. 3 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007.

    Pitched toward undergraduate readers, this work provides over four hundred entries across a wide range of subjects.

  • Hodge, Carl Cavanagh, ed. Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008.

    Recent source of materials, definitions, maps, and relevant concepts related to European imperialism. Well organized and clearly written.

  • Olson, James, and Robert Shadle, eds. Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1991.

    Excellent reference work on European imperialism. Provides useful chronologies and pays particular attention to the geographic aspects of imperialism, which can often prove troublesome for researchers.

  • Porter, Andrew. Bibliography of Imperial, Colonial, and Commonwealth History since 1600. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Excellent source for tackling the massive literature on these subjects.

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