Finding a Balance: Developing a Syllabus for a Comparative Empires Course within a Nineteenth Century European Survey Framework

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:40 AM
Balcony K (New Orleans Marriott)
Ilya Vinkovetsky, Simon Fraser University
The variety of possible approaches to developing a course that deals with empires in a comparative framework is seemingly endless. There have been so many different empires throughout history, after all, and there are multiple angles one can take to analyze their common experience. One has to make choices. Yet it is also the case that most universities’ curricula curtail these choices: a faculty member who is part of a rotation that teaches Late Modern Europe, for example, is limited in what they can offer on the survey course level. Keeping these possibilities and limitations in mind, this paper explores practical strategies to transform a course that appears in the curriculum as a survey on nineteenth century Europe into a course that also engages comparative imperial themes.  

The geopolitical map of Europe changed dramatically in the years between the French Revolution of 1789 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The outlines of this story are well known. But a course that focuses on how these developments unfolded in the large multiethnic empires that dominated most of the European landmass, and particularly the east and the southeast, complicates the narrative.  An exploration of how these empires, which had existed for centuries prior to their decline, responded to the mounting challenges of nationalism, liberalism, radicalism, industrialization, and globalization, can challenge the tropes through which nineteenth-century European history is usually taught on the survey level. While examining these more “traditional” land empires, the course should also emphasize the impact that (the mostly west European-metropoled) overseas empires had on Europe. This paper will examine practical strategies for addressing these broadly imperial themes to enhance, rather than detract from, the course’s focus on 19th century European history.