The title pretty much resembles the question - I'd like to compare what criteria different schools of historiography (including national and historical) use to determine whether a country/territory is a "colony" or not.

As a starting point, Wikipedia has a long list of colonies here. However, I don't understand how it is constructed, for example:

  1. Britain has a long list of colonies (example India), which were overseas and directly governed by Britain. This sounds like the "classical" definition for a colony.
  2. The Ottoman Empire has a list of colonies, some of them are on the Balkan peninsula. What made these territories "colonies"? They were directly governed, but were not overseas. Fair enough, but they don't seem to be widely recognized as "colonies", only "ruled by" the Ottoman Empire. How did the Ottomans view the lands they ruled, including the Balkans? Is it only that they were not "native" Ottoman lands that they are referred to as colonies? What other criteria are used to categorize them as colonies?
  3. Taiwan is regarded to as a Chinese colony. However, as far as I know, mainland China viewes Taiwan as indivisible part of China and not as a colony. Why is that? What criteria are used to say that Taiwan is a colony (as per Wikipedia) and why the PRC doesn't view Taiwan as a colony?
  4. West Germany is referred to as a "British colony". Why? West Germany was an independent state, right?

I can find more examples, but I think these probably indicate where the source of my confusion might be. In any case, they are just examples and I am more interested in comparing various criteria/definitions.

I would appreciate quoting sources that I can refer to later. Also, geographical/methodological/temporal/ideological variety is greatly appreciated.

  • You should go into more detail under what you understand as a colony. Often the combination of ruled and settled by another country is the basic understanding of what a colony is. Your sample 4 (West Germany) makes no sense. When Herzog Georg Ludwig von Braunschweig-Lüneburg became George I of Great Britain, Great Britain did not become a colony of West Germany or vice versa. Both had common head of state, but nothing more. Commented May 3, 2021 at 11:09
  • These examples really have very little to do with historiography and much more to do with language, politics and Wikipedia. In general, imposition of rule on a foreign place/people can be called "colony" (e.g. Ottoman vassals in the Balkans). By analogy, this gets applied in political rhetoric when a country is seen to be under foreign influence (e.g. West Germany example). It is also possible to colonzie a place and then declare it to be an integrated part of the motherland, e.g. Taiwan. Or, the West German example could just be an idiot editor not understanding occupation != protectorate.
    – Semaphore
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 12:18
  • That Wiki page lists Alaska as a US colony! It is indeed a terrible and basically nonsensical list, confusing occupations with colonizations for one thing. The lake of explanation doesn't help. (Why are Morocco and Algeria listed as colonies of the US, for instance) There are also strange silliness. (Vietnam a "colony" of the USSR? Really?)
    – user15620
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 16:54
  • Why are East Germany, Vietnam, Finland and Austria listed under Soviet colonies, but not Poland!?
    – user15620
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 17:11
  • @GorttheRobot Yes, the list is badly done, lacking a needed classification of 'type'. Alaska and Hawaii (as US Territories) being lumped togeather Occupation Zones (Austria and Germany), sectors (Berlin and, the not listed, Vienna) and Finlandization is not well done and leads only to confusion. Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:28


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