Roundtable: “Teaching about Empire and War in World History Survey Courses”
David Applebaum (Rowan University) began the discussion at this roundtable with his explanation of how he teaches the world survey through the lens of 4 empires (Spanish, British, Dutch, United States) with one book for each empire. He is looking for a good book to use on the US empire. He begins European voices and ends with global voices. The 3 books he uses are:
1. Spanish: Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World.
2. British: Robinson Crusoe (Norton critical edition that includes good framing of the novel).
3. Dutch: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, This Earth of Mankind.
He looks for primary sources that show transformation and agency.
Carrie Hoefferle (Wingate University) brought a handout that shows how she conducts a critical analysis of primary sources. She approaches the survey with the idea that was is not inevitable.
Michael Kimaid (Firelands College of Bowling Green State University) emphasized that he teaches agency, and activism. He uses a quote from Thomas Jefferson that history enables us to understand the designs of men to get students to take history out from behind the glass and use it. He wants students to think for themselves, that this becomes empowering. He develops 4 themes in the survey:
1. Acceleration of technological developments.
2. National identities.
3. Articulation of democracy theory.
4. Economic liberalization.
He examines these 4 themes through the lens of empire and war, and trade and sovereignty. He stresses that capitalism demands empire, that it commodifies everything. He students leave pretty freaked out.
Christine Skwiot (Georgia State University) like to use James Gump, The Dust Rose Like Smoke that compares Zulu and Sioux wars. An old way of looking at the world was the US vs. the World, us vs. them. Now the emphasis is on a transnational view of the US, but there is a danger of placing the US at the center. It is important to recognize that the US is only one empire of many, and is not unique. All empires present themselves as exceptional, as civilizing forces. A comparative perspective is important to highlight these aspects. She also examines issues of indigeneity, thinking about the Zulu as Indigenous inhabitants of Africa.
Dennise M. Turner (Georgia State University) brings a perspective of the racial inequality in the French colonial empire into her teaching of the world survey. How do we introduce class, race, and gender into a global context? She uses Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (use the new edition with the introduction by Homi Bhabha) to examine reciprocal relations between empire and the colonized, and Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism to examine African unity in fighting for independence. Revolution is necessary by workers and peasants. She emphasizes that students can affect changes, can challenge the system. We need to decolonize our own minds and societies. What does this mean? Part of this is connecting Fanon and Césaire to Iraq, and to see how this is a continuation of western imperialism.
Carrie Whitney (Georgia State University) uses empire as a theme to tie world history together. She uses Linday Colley’s Captives to show how the British empire was fragile, not powerful. There is no natural divide between Christians and Muslims, but rather than share similar interests and often work together. Robert Marks’ Origins of the Modern World examines US involvement in the Middle East. This is not ancient, but part of imperial interests linked to oil. Imperial projects are still going strong. Empires have complex and versatile natures, and we need to recognize its many forms.
We then had a wide-ranging discussion of pedagogy and how to engage issues of empire. Michael talked about how technology can be either liberating or an agent of oppression. He also talked about reading maps as a text, as tools of resistance. We think of maps as objective, but they are subjective and reflect values. Often places of resistance (pirates, maroons) take place off maps. David raised questions of how to nurture agency, and what we can do outside the classroom to foster this. Mara Dodge talked about how she introduces students to perspectives that they rarely hear, but that they need to find their own voices and ideas. We also talked about films like Black Robe and La Otra Conquista as media that examines the history of colonization. We made a distinction between education and training, that the importance of education is thinking for ourselves. We need to let the students think, rather than telling them what to think. J.M. Blout’s The Colonizer’s Model of the World looks at a world-wide crisis in feudal society. He sees a great divergence in the late 18th century. We also need to look at the relationship between gender, religion, and patriarchy, and how these are historically and socially constructed concepts. If patriarchy has a beginning, it also has an end. Theodore William Allen’s Invention of the White Race is an important treatment. A summary of it is on the Cultural Logic website at eserver.org/clogic.