WiSe 18/19: The United States and Other Empires in World History
This introductory course (Seminar, formerly labeled Grundlagenveranstaltung) constitutes the first part of Module A (History of North America in the World). While the first part (Seminar) is designed ... read more
This introductory course (Seminar, formerly labeled Grundlagenveranstaltung) constitutes the first part of Module A (History of North America in the World). While the first part (Seminar) is designed as a broad introduction to the period by looking at a general theme, the second part (Hauptseminar) zooms in on a specific topic, offering students the opportunity to do primary source research and write a paper. Hence, students wishing to compose a full research paper (Hausarbeit) at the end of the term are strongly encouraged to (also) enroll in the second part (Hauptseminar) of Module A. Both parts are scheduled back to back (Wed., 8:30-10, 10-12pm).
Imperial history is en vogue. While nationalism and colonialism has clearly dominated historians’ agenda since at least the 1980s, the recent interest in comparative and global history has reintroduced the idea of an “empire” as an analytical category. From John Darwin to Charles Maier, renowned historians have increasingly revisited the meaning and function of world empires such as China and Great Britain. How does the U.S. factor into this tale? An “empire” (lat. power) encompasses a geographically extensive territory of states and people with highly diverse ethnic or cultural backgrounds, governed by a ruler or a group of rulers. The history of empires, in turn, describes the rise and the history of hegemonic states who held imperial ambitions, i.e. whose intention it was to dominate and colonize within the international system. In the context of the new world and global history, imperial history examines the impact of imperial structures on the movement of people, goods and ideas among regions and continents.
Course: This lecture-seminar seeks to fulfill two premises: first, we will spend a significant amount of time looking at the history of the rise and fall of empires across two millennia, including ancient Rome, China, and Islam. Second, within that context, we shall try to situate the meaning, function and impact of the United States as a typical – or atypical – empire. Central questions include: How can we define “empires” across time and space? Which criteria are typical for empires and how do they differ? How has the profile of empires changed – or remained the same – over time? Most importantly: what kind of empire is the U.S., how does it “fit” into imperial history, and what conclusions does that history allow to draw us for the present and the future? For general reading, I recommend John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 (London: Penguin Press, 2007). Each session consists of a lecture followed by discussion (50:50).