Workshop: Interrogating the Revival of Empire in Humanities Research

DSC05374A group of students and academics from three continents gathered in St. Andrews and Dundee last weekend for a series of workshops on Global History sponsored by the Scottish Graduate Schoolof Arts and Humanities. The workshops formed  part of a series of two months of debates, workshops, network events and conferences on Global History to be held in Dundee. The workshops entitled ‘Interrogating the Revival of Empire in Humanities Research’ were designed to encourage postgraduate students working on or with any aspect of empire, both as an object of study or as a category of analysis, to reconceptualise their thoughts. Researchers from Scotland were joined by graduate students from the MacMillan Centre at Yale University and the International Studies Group at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Discussion ranged from the ancient empires of Persia and Rome, through early modern empires in America and Asia, to twentieth century Ireland and Africa.

Participants discussed nearly twenty publications about the conceptualization and periodization of empires past and present, written by specialists from a wide variety of backgrounds (Ancient History, African history, Irish history, etc.). How should the history of empire be written in the 21st century? Is the history of empire coterminous with global history or world history? Did empires evolve in a variety of ways, or were there clear start and end points? Which fault lines can we discover? Does the modern period constitute a distinct phase in the history of empire? If so, what are its main characteristics, and why? These and many other questions were applied to case studies from Classical times to the present, covering nearly every corner of the globe.

By exploring the ambiguity of the relationship between nation and empire in the pre-modern and modern period, the workshop conversations helped to identify the empirical and conceptual gaps in dealing with the web of connections between Ireland and the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Despite the impressive Irish transnational histories that have multiplied since the mid-1980s onwards, the workshop format allowed for fruitful discussion of some of the paradoxes, nuances and silences that have largely gone unrecognised and raised more than a few challenging questions on how future research under the rubricDSC05379 of Ireland and Empire could or should appropriate from the conceptualization and periodization of other empires past and present.

The workshop provided another opportunity to strengthen the on-going collaborative network between UFS and the University of Dundee, in order to develop research-led capacity building and the implementation of a programme that will see staff and student exchanges. The relationship seeks to address issues linked to developing international partnerships, and importantly, starting the process of knowledge exchange, while creating close institutional links in research, teaching and supervision. As part of this long-term vision UFS graduate students Musiwaro Ndakaripa, Abraham Mlombo, and Kundai Manamere, came to Dundee to participate in the workshop; their research interests in contemporary Southern African history adding interesting and insightful dimensions to the debates on empire. Following the workshop, the three students visited the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the National Archives, Kew, to continue their research.