Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 1: Studying Empires

The study of empires is one of the central concerns of global history, ranging from the ancient world to the present, and bringing together examples and perspectives from around the world. This first session will introduce the module, and begin the process of thinking about how historians have gone about investigating the history of empires. It asks how we can define the category of empire historically and globally, what are the types of questions scholars have sought to answer in relation to the history of empires, and what are the different kinds of methods, sources, and disciplinary lenses that used and applied in studying empires.

Seminar Questions

  1. How can we define the category of empire?
  2. How can we study empires globally and trans-historically?
  3. What are the types of questions historians have addressed in relation to the history of empire?
  4. What are the kinds of methods, sources, and approaches historians have used to address them?
  5. How does imperial history intersect with wider historical questions?

Core Readings (pick three)

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University press, 2010), Ch. 1: Imperial Trajectories, pp. 1-22. Link.

Peter Fibiger Bang and Dariusz Kołodziejczyk (eds.), Universal Empire: A Comparative Approach to Imperial Culture and Representation in Eurasian History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), Ch. 1: '‘Elephant of India’: Universal Empire Through Time and Across Cultures', pp. 1-40. Link.

Jordanna Bailkin, 'Where Did the Empire Go? Archives and Decolonization in Britain', American Historical Review 120.3 (2015), pp. 884-899. Link.

Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire: Anti-Colonial Resistance and British Dissent (London and New York: Verso, 2019), 'Introduction: Enemies of Empire', pp. 1-37. Link.

Sujit Sivasundaram, 'Monarchs, Travellers and Empire in the Pacific's Age of Revolutions', Transactions of the RHS 30 (2020), pp. 77-96. Link.

Further Reading

Bailkin, Joanna, The Afterlife of Empires (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Library.

Ballantyne, Tony, ‘Empires, Modernisation and Modernities’, International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2014), pp. 25-42.

Bang, Peter Fibiger, and Chris C. Bayly, Tributary Empires in Global History (Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). Link.

Beckwith, Christopher, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). Link.

Benton, Lauren, and Adam Clulow, Protection and Empire: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). Link.

Benton, Lauren, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Link.

Chatterjee, Partha, The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). Link.

Dale, Stephen F., The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Darwin, John, After Tamerlane: the Global History of Empire Since 1405 (London: Allen Lane, 2007).

Dirks, Nicholas B., The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Harvard MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Link.

Duindam, Jeroen, Dynasties: A Global History of Power, 1300-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). Link.

Gomez, Michael, African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018). Link.

Hall, Catherine, and Sonia O. Rose, At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Link.

Hopkins, A.G., American Empire: A Global History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018). Link.

Kumar, Krishan, Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017). Link.

Levine, Philippa, The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset (3rd ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2020). Link.

Osterhammel, Jurgen, Colonialism: a Theoretical Overview (Princeton, 2002).

Rappaport, Erika, A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018). Link.

Robinson, David M., Ming China and its Allies: Imperial Rule in Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). Link.

Said, Edward W., Orientalism (London: Routledge, 1978).

Sivasundaram, Sujit, Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire (London: HarperCollins, 2020). Link.

Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (London: Penguin, 2018).

Thomas, Martin, and Andrew S. Thompson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). Link.

Wilson, Kathleen (ed.), A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

British Empire/British Nation - Breaking Binaries podcast with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and Nadine El-Enany. 2 January 2021.