To understand the modern world one must learn the histories of the empires that have shaped it. Over the last 2,000 years empires have risen and fallen around the globe, seeking to exert cultural, economic, political and religious domination over vast swathes of the planet. Colonial expansion resulted in the circulation of commodities, people and ideas around the globe but it also resulted in exploitation and violence. What are we to make of these empires? What made them powerful? What caused their fall? How are their legacies felt today?
To answer these questions, this course focuses on the literature and history of the Ottoman and British empires, and on the imperial capitals of Istanbul and London in particular. Ranging from the 17th century to the present, we will use a variety of fascinating sources to explore the way these empires conceived of themselves, how they justified their territorial expansion, how they were criticized, and how their legacies continue to resonate in the contemporary world. As we do so, we will engage with the way historians and literary scholars have argued about the role these empires have played in shaping our world. Were they vehicles of progress and tolerance? Or did they perpetuate oppression and warfare?