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Unit information: Global Empires in 2018/19

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Unit name Global Empires
Unit code HIST20111
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Hilary Carey
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The theme for this unit will be global empires which we will study partly through the eyes of John Darwin, author of Beyond Tamerlane. In this accessible survey of world history, the course will start with the fall of Rome and consider both the rise of Islam and the challenge of the Mongol empire. The unit will go on to consider a variety of case-studies that may include the Incas and Aztecs in the Americas and the European overseas empires of the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish as well as the Ottomans, the Mughals, the Manchus, the Soviets, the Japanese and the Nazis. Many hoped they were building empires which would allow them to rule the world and which would last forever; all failed.

Using the mighty theme of the rise and fall of world empires this unit will provide students with a glimpse of some of the most powerful and influential forces in world history. We will consider what allowed empires to grow – military power, economic domination, religious and cultural soft power. Each week we will consider a different primary or secondary historical source which will give us a glimpse of a particular individual or event. Through these sources we will try to discover something of the nature of historical evidence and the processes of ‘big’ history.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

1.Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of two or three world empires

2.Demonstrate an understanding of the reasons why scholars disagree about the rise and fall of empires, and the difficulties of ‘big history’

3.Discuss and evaluate the key historiographical debates surrounding ideologies and patterns underpinning global empires throughout history

4.Understand and critically interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points

5.Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I

Teaching details


1 x two-hour interactive lecture

1 x one-hour workshop

Assessment Details

One 3000-word summative essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5] and one two-hour exam (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

John Darwin, After Tamerlaine: The Global History of Empire, 1400-2000, Penguin, 2008

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010)

Herfried Munkler Empires: The Logic of World Domination from Ancient Rome to the United States Cambridge: Polity, 2007