Core Program, 2006–07

Imperial Models in the Early Modern World

—organized by Center/Clark Professors Anthony Pagden, University of California, Los Angeles, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles

Empires have been the focus of ever-increasing intellectual interest in the past few years, and the reasons for the interest are not far to seek. Recent participation in a number of discussions on this theme, most of which have centered on quite recent experiences, has usually led to the inevitable question of a future American imperial destiny or its absence. The purpose of this year’s core program is to turn the attention away from the crystal ball and instead focus centrally on the empires of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while looking both to their antecedents and their legacies. Three issues seem to be central for these purposes, and the program addresses each of them over the course of the year, in the hope of allowing a conversation to emerge among scholars from different parts of the world (and more particularly Europe, America, and Asia) who work on the period between 1601 and 1800.
The three issues under consideration are:

  • The ‘synchronic’ problem, namely how to reconcile the very different trajectories followed by societies in Asia and America, in the face of empire-building projects. Here our interest is not merely in comparisons but in complex connections. The early modern period is understood to be an epoch of inter-imperial political struggles on a global scale, but also of imitation and symbolic competition.
  • The ‘diachronic’ problem, namely the conceptual relationship between the empires of the early modern period, and those of both the earlier and the later periods. The first part concerns the classical legacy, as it was read and understood by the empires of the early modern period. The Spaniards looked to Rome, the Portuguese episodically to the Phoenicians, the Mughals and the Safavids to the Sassanians, and the Ming and Ching to the great Chinese empires of the classical era.
  • The second part of the program’s diachronic reflection includes the relationship between the Iberian and other early modern empires and those of France and Great Britain, as also the problem of the complex passage from empires to nation-states, and the consequent reflection on the ‘modernity’ or ‘archaism’ of empires themselves as a political form.
Conference 1: Imperial Models and “Translatio imperii”: Rethinking the Early Modern World
November 3–4, 2006

All empires, in both Europe in Asia, have seen themselves as a long series of “translations” in which power and legitimacy were conveyed from one generation to the next and from one people to another. Every imperial power has attempted to model itself on one or another, real or imagined predecessors. The Achaemenids under Darius cast themselves as the heirs of the Medes and the Assyrians; the Parthians and the Sasanids as the heirs of the Achaemenids. The Romans saw themselves at times as the heirs of Alexander the Great, the empire of the Spanish Habsburgs was the successor state to the (western) Roman Empire. The overseas empires of France and Britain cast themselves as the heirs of Rome, or Carthage or Athens. The Ottomans described themselves as the successors of both the Byzantine emperors and later the Caliphs. The political, cultural and ideological conception of empire from antiquity until the nineteenth century was always, in this way, deeply mimetic. It is not incidental that the United States, although born out of the war of independence from one consciously classicizing empire, should be ruled from a neo-classical building called the “Capitol.”

This conference examines the ways in which this indebtedness to the past determined the identity of the early-modern empires, culturally, political, conceptually, even, sometimes, institutionally. All imperial powers faced, or believed that they faced, a number of seemingly perennial questions: how to control extension; how to incorporate, and coerce subject peoples; how to conceive of political sovereignty across diverse, and widely dispersed, nations; how to maintain legitimacy in the face of opposition from critics and potential rivals; how to create cultures, and administrative elites, which would offer a continuity between the metropolitan center and its distant dependencies; how to cope with miscegenation, and the emergence of potentially independent settler populations. All of these questions were inevitably addressed in the terms of the lessons to be learned from past imperial models. The hope is that by studying the continuities, real and imagined, between one imperial phase and another, a far clearer conception emerges regarding what an “empire” is, and how those who created, lived, administered, and finally destroyed the early-modern empires understood the polities in which they lived.

Clifford Ando, University of Chicago
“Law, Memory, and Sovereignty in the Roman Empire”

Giulia Sissa, University of California, Los Angeles
“The First Empire of Democracy, or the Athenian Exception”

Ali Anooshahr, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Disclaiming Tamerlane’s Inheritance and the Rise of the Mughal Empire”

Kathryn Babayan, University of Michigan
“Disciplining in the Name of God: Sexuality and Social Control in Safavi Iran”

Aldo Schiavone, Istituto Italiano de Scienze Umane
“The Roman Empire as World-Empire”

Anthony Pagden, University of California, Los Angeles
“The Shadow of Caracala: Citizenship and Divided Sovereignty in Europe’s Overseas Empires”

David Armitage, Harvard University
“The Elephant and the Whale: Empires of Land and Sea”

Sankar Muthu, Princeton University
“Global Commerce and Empire in Enlightenment Thought”

Craig Yirush, University of California, Los Angeles
“Conquest Theory and Imperial Governance in the Early Modern Anglo-American World”

Conference 2: Managing Difference in Early Modern Empires
February 9–10, 2007

All empires, in both Europe in Asia, have seen themselves as a long series of “translations” in which power and legitimacy were conveyed from one generation to the next and from one people to another. Every imperial power has attempted to model itself on one or another, real or imagined predecessors. The empire of the Spanish Habsburgs was the successor state to the (western) Roman Empire; the Ottomans described themselves as the successors of both the Byzantine emperors and later the Caliphs. The political, cultural and ideological conception of empire from antiquity until the nineteenth century was always, in this way, deeply mimetic.

Empires differ from “normal” states in terms of their scale, but also their degree of diversity. This diversity could be ethnic, religious, racial, or defined in a number of other ways. Above all, this conference focuses on the ethnic and religious dimensions and ask what forms of solutions, both institutional and ideological, were found by empires in the early modern period to deal with the problem of managing difference. These solutions could at times be radical, as with the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Iberia, though even that process involved some degree of assimilation of populations. Also relevant is the fact that early modern empires sometimes prided themselves on their high degree of tolerance, as was the case with the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire, and contrasted themselves self-consciously with their neighbors, who they imagined were less so. To this extent the comparative dimensions of the question of “management of difference” already have a history that takes one back to the period of the empires themselves.

The purpose of this conference is to reflect on the diversity of experiences, ranging potentially from the Qing (who consciously adopted a policy with respect to the preservation of Manchu identity), to the Ottomans (who used the devshirme system to create an acculturated elite), to a variety of other cases, from the Americas to the range of Eurasian experiences. Ideological questions are as much the focus as concrete institutional arrangements, and the grids of categories that were used to define difference in relation to the process of managing it, is one of the central themes.

Stuart B. Schwartz, Yale University
“Religious Unity and Imperial Integrity in the Iberian Empires: The Threat of Tolerance in the Age of Atlantic Revolution”

Cornell H. Fleischer, University of Chicago
“Ottoman and Habsburg Empires in the Sixteenth Century: Is Translation Needed?”

Fernando Cervantes, University of Bristol
Unity in Diversity: The Bonds of Religious Culture in the Hispanic World

Zoltán Biedermann, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Of Kings and Captains: Portuguese and Habsburg Strategies for the Management of the Sri Lankan Elite (1506–1656)”

Valerie A. Kivelson, University of Michigan
“Mapping Diversity: Russian Imperial Strategies in Seventeenth-Century Siberia”

Cemal Kafadar, Harvard University
“Empires and Vampires: Management of Difference by the Ottoman State and Society”

Ângela Barreto Xavier, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
“Dissolving Difference: Conversion and the Push to Conformity in the Portuguese Empire”

Serge Gruzinski, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique & Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France
“Managing Differences in the Catholic Monarchy (1580–1640): Plasticity and Rigidity of the Iberian Model”

Corinne Lefèvre-Agrati, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Mughal sulh-i kull (‘universal peace’) after Akbar: The Religious Policy of Jahangir (r. 1605–1627) and its Reception by Contemporary Ulama and Sufis”

Benjamin Schmidt, University of Washington
“Effacing Imperial Difference, Inventing European Exoticism: Geography circa 1700”

Conference 3: From Early Modern to Modern Empire and from Empire to Nation-State
April 27–28, 2007

The first conference in part looked back to see how the early modern empires of Europe and Asia borrowed from the empires of the past. The second examined the ways in which empires managed the sometimes stark differences between their various subject peoples. This final conference will look forward to see how the empires of the nineteenth, twentieth, and even twenty-first centuries, represent continuity, or a discontinuity with the empires of the early-modern world. By the end of the eighteenth century, two of the major imperial European powers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain and Portugal were in eclipse. France had lost nearly all its possessions in America and India. The Ottomans were in retreat. The Mughal Empire had become in effect a dependency of the East India Company. New imperial and would-be imperial powers now began to appear: Russia which now had the largest land empire in the world, Germany, Japan, post-Napoleonic France, and, of course, the United States. And by the early nineteenth century, Britain, after the loss of much of North America embarked on an aggressive new imperial phase; so, too, did France. It has often been claimed that these new empires were wholly unlike their predecessors. But were they, and if they were, in what ways were they different? Was, for instance, the rise of nationalism after the Congress of Vienna responsible for the creation of entirely new imperial practices, and quite distinct imperial cultures? How, indeed, was the concept of the ‘nation-state” shaped by the evolution or collapse of the older imperial states? Or was there in fact considerably continuity between the first and second phases of European empire-building? Did international commerce, for so long believed to be a possible alternative to expansion, now become merely another form of imperial belligerency? How much did the process of what the British called “indirect rule” and the French politique des races really differ from previous understandings of imperial sovereignty?

These are just some of the questions that this conference attempts to answer. If the current debate over the role of “empire” and “imperialism” in the modern world is to have any meaning, one needs to look beyond easy slogans and the simplistic analogies between past and present. Empires, however defined, have, in one form or another, been around far longer than any other kind of political society. They are now, almost certainly, things of the past. But the ways in which they have shaped the post-colonial, post-imperial world can be understood, their very long varied and complex histories must also be understood.

Sir John Elliott, University of Oxford
“Starting Afresh? The Eclipse of Empire in British and Spanish America”

Sunil Agnani, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Jacobinism in India, Indianism in the English Parliament: Edmund Burke on Revolution and Empire”

Robert Travers, Cornell University
“The British Empire and the Mughal Legacy in South Asia”

Jennifer Pitts, Princeton University
“‘Au nom de la France libre’: Nationality and Empire in Nineteenth-Century French Liberalism”

Karuna Mantena, Yale University
“Henry Maine, Social Theory, and the Transformation of British Imperial Ideology”

Timothy Brook, University of British Columbia
“Empires in Reverse: China and Japan in the Twentieth Century”

R. Bin Wong, University of California, Los Angeles
“Fiscal Legacies of Empire in Post-’49 China”

Cemil Aydin, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
“Anti-Imperialist Empires: Ottoman and Japanese Lessons on the Nature of Modern Imperialism”

Mark Mazower, Columbia University
“The Nazi New Order and the End of European Imperialism”

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, New York University
“Imperial Trajectories and Imaginaries in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”