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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Elizabeth Sundermann
T HIST 260
Tacoma Campus

Empires and Imperialism in World History

Examines world history of the Roman, Chinese, Mongol, Ottoman, and Modern European empires and imperialism from ancient to modern times. Themes include empire as historical pattern related to political, economics, and cultural spheres of influence and exchange. Recommended: either T HIST 150 or T HIST 151.

Class description

As a student of modern European imperialism several questions long puzzled me: Why did contemporary views of modern European empires – the British for example – reflect poorly on the image of empire, while ancient empires – such as the Roman – continue to invoke visions of glory? Furthermore, as suggested by French historian Eugene Weber, what were the real differences between the civilizing missions of imperialism and the civilizing missions of nationalism? Finally, was imperialism a creative or stifling social, political, and cultural experience and why? Empires and Imperialism in World History attempts to examine these questions by offering a quarter-long examination and comparisons of concepts of empire and imperialism through time and space. The course, using as textbooks the recent work of Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Power (2010), and Timothy Parsons’ The Rule of Empires (2010) examines ancient, medieval, and modern world empires from both top-down and bottom-up approaches. We will examine how empires were built, maintained, interpreted by empire-builders and their subjects, as well as how scholarly and popular interpretations of empires and their citizens and subjects remain rooted in modern society. This will be accomplished through text and primary source readings as well as viewing, analysis, and discussion of popular film renditions of select empires we examine over the term. This course will offer a learning opportunity to students that will, in practical terms, enhance study in other area-specific courses including those found in IAS emphases of History, Global Studies, and Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. The course examines concepts, traditions, and changes in the building, maintenance, and interpretation of empire. More specifically, the course offers students another way in which to understand the political, economic, and cultural shaping of world history over the past two millennia: through changes through time in concepts of empire as a force of political economy and culture.

Empires examined Fall 2011: Roman, Islamic, Spanish, Napoleonic, British, Nazi, and America.

Student learning goals

The course offers students another way in which to understand the political, economic, and cultural shaping of world history: through changes through time in concepts of empire as a force of political economy and culture.

Students will gain or improve skills in critical analysis of primary and secondary sources. Fall 2011 will include a focus on critical analysis of historical films in Fall 2011.

Students will gain or improve skills in writing and research.

Students will gain a deeper understanding of how history is produced and analyzed rather than memorizing an existing narrative.

Students are provided with information focused on using campus resources to complete research and writing assignments.

General method of instruction

I usually lecture for the first hour of each class in an informal manner that allows student participation and questions. I use Powerpoint every day to present basic info, visual images, historiographical background, and links to related media. The second hour of class normally focuses on in-class reading of primary sources and discussion related to course materials. I also like to present alternative media such as film, art, and websites in class. Fall 2011 we will focus on film interpretations of empires as a key part of the class.

I encourage students to bring their own backgrounds, interests, and questions to class. I also try to give students lee-way in choosing their own topics for writing and research assignments.

Recommended preparation

World I and World II may be helpful but are not required.

Class assignments and grading

Three main areas: Class participation, writing and research, critical analysis of primary and secondary sources. UW standard grading scale.

100 points total. Points earned = percent. E.g. 89 points = 89% = 3.5/B+ See full grade scale at

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Elizabeth Sundermann
Date: 09/12/2011