Empire and Its Ruins
This course is about empire. What does that word mean to you? Does it call to mind large battles for territory by classic or ancient empires, or does it strike you as a more contemporary concept, invoked in popular films such as Star Wars? Is an empire a positive force, associated with power, growth, and progress; or is it more negative, connoting death, decline, and decadence? Must it be just one or the other, or is its story more complicated, a series of resistances, negotiations, and adaptations?
It might surprise you to learn that some scholars have suggested that all history is the story of empire. Rather than focus on one empire, or one concept of what the term might mean, this course will delve into these complexities by exploring a broad range of empires from across time and across the globe. We will examine the Roman empire, the greatest in antiquity; the British empire, both at the dawn of the Enlightenment and in South Asia and Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries; the entangled histories of the Spanish and Incan empires, North American colonization, American imperialism in the Pacific, and the collapse and legacy of the Persian empire.
You will hear from scholars from across the Humanities at UCI, who will provide insight as to how historians, artists, musicians, writers—both classical and contemporary—have grappled with empire. Some of the questions we will ask: Can an empire be both militarily dominant and socially progressive at the same time? What does it mean to “do history” in the case of empire: do we have the same access to the accounts of colonized peoples and colonizers, for example? Can “doing history” ruin empire? How do other forms of cultural production, such as art, philosophy, music, language, theater, and literature, influence the rise and fall of imperial forces? Through lively readings, debates, and lectures, we will reassess assumptions about the role of women, the poor, peasants, outcasts, revolutionaries, and youth movements both as agents of, and rebels against, empire.