Empires: The European Struggle for Global Supremacy in the Early Modern Period

History 103B.003

Fall 2005
Instructor (text): 
332 Giannini
Day & Time: 
W 12-2

Global military empires are nothing new. Stretching back to Alexander the Great and beyond, the Western world has seen a succession of land- and sea-based empires that spanned much of the Old World. The United States in the twenty-first century is only the latest in a series of European-based global empires founded even before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Beginning with the Portuguese and Prince Henry the Navigator, Europeans of the Early Modern period (ca. 1400-1800) sailed their ships to far-flung regions of the Earth, conquering peoples and exploiting continents as they went. An unbroken stream of empires connects those early forays through the conquest of the New World all the way to the modern American Empire. Empire studies is a growing field as historians attempt to understand the historical legacy that has led to American global hegemony and wars such as Vietnam and Iraq.

This course will address the major themes of Early Modern empires in a comparative setting, as well as provide an analysis of the various methodologies of Imperial Studies. The main focus of the course will be Spain's global empire and the experience of both Spaniards and New World natives during the Early Modern period. In addition, the class will explore several other empires ñ Portuguese, French, Dutch, Ottoman and English ñ in comparison with the Spanish. It will begin with a discussion of what constitutes an Empire, and continue with readings and discussions on a wide range of topics, including: technological advancements that allowed the Europeans of the 15th century to begin the exploration of unknown lands; the ability of impoverished Iberia to conquer much of the New World; the causes of the collapse of the Spanish Empire; and the role of religion and the European justifications of Empire, among others. The second half of the course will focus on the French, Dutch and English empires of the 17th and 18th centuries and on the lessons learned by those later empires, and the differences in their imperial experiences. The readings will also offer insights into different historical methodologies preparing students for 101 courses.

Course requirements: weekly attendance in seminar and active participation; two short papers (2-3 pages) throughout the semester; short presentations in conjunction with papers; and a final paper. The final paper can be based on any of the themes we encounter in class, and history majors may also choose to prepare a prospectus for a 101 in lieu of the final paper.

Please contact the instructor, Bill Goldman, at wgoldman@berkeley.edu with any questions concerning this course.