SUMMER 2020 - The Age of Empire

Susan Thorne
LS 780-70
Summer 2020
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
*Being taught on-line
Begins Wednesday, May 20 - Ends Wednesday, July 22

For most of the past five hundred years, the overwhelming majority of the global population was governed by one of the major imperial powers (Ottoman, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, English, Hapsburg, and Russian/Soviet as well as the Chinese and Japanese Empires).   It was not until after the Second World War that the sun began to set on this age of empire, when anticolonial movements secured national independence and the nation state became the preeminent form of governance.  The long-standing impact of imperial governance on historical developments throughout the (formerly) colonized world is widely acknowledged.    Less recognized are the reciprocal effects of empire on the imperial home front.  Many of the technological, economic, cultural, and political attributes in which the developed world has taken a racialized pride were in fact products of the colonial encounter.  The economic “revolutions” of the 17th and 18th centuries (commercial, financial, industrial and consumer), political democratization—the inclusion of white workers and eventually women in the political nation-- in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the “tribal” warfare that nearly destroyed Europe between 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, were all profoundly shaped by the colonial contexts in which national and international events unfolded. 


Europe did not simply export “western civilization”, for good or ill, to the colonized world. This course will explore the connections through which a global modernity has emerged: connections between past and present, between colonized and colonizer, between underdeveloped and developed nations, between the West and the Rest.  Our method of inquiry is necessarily transnational and implicitly comparative.  It is also interdisciplinary.  We will be examining the colonial past and postcolonial present from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives: in addition to imperial, economic, military and social history, these include journalism, economics, international relations, law, medicine, anthropology, literary criticism, cultural studies, sexuality and gender studies, and public policy.


Requirements:  extensive reading, weekly reaction papers, and an independent research project.

About Susan Thorne

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s.