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Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference

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Overview

Empires—vast states of territories and peoples united by force and ambition—have dominated the political landscape for more than two millennia. Empires in World History departs from conventional European and nation-centered perspectives to take a remarkable look at how empires relied on diversity to shape the global order. Beginning with ancient Rome and China and continuing across Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Africa, Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper examine empires' conquests, rivalries, and strategies of domination—with an emphasis on how empires accommodated, created, and manipulated differences among populations.

Burbank and Cooper examine Rome and China from the third century BCE, empires that sustained state power for centuries. They delve into the militant monotheism of Byzantium, the Islamic Caliphates, and the short-lived Carolingians, as well as the pragmatically tolerant rule of the Mongols and Ottomans, who combined religious protection with the politics of loyalty. Burbank and Cooper discuss the influence of empire on capitalism and popular sovereignty, the limitations and instability of Europe's colonial projects, Russia's repertoire of exploitation and differentiation, as well as the "empire of liberty"—devised by American revolutionaries and later extended across a continent and beyond.

With its investigation into the relationship between diversity and imperial states, Empires in World History offers a fresh approach to understanding the impact of empires on the past and present.

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Editorial Reviews

The Australian
This is a very big book on an enormous subject. For anybody who assumes imperial history is all about Britain, with some 19th-century European imitators on the side, it will be something of a shock. For Burbank and Cooper, imperial history is world history. The authors also make a point popular among academics who hate the idea of borders keeping the underprivileged out of rich nations, that empires can be confederations of different peoples united by an all-encompassing ideal. 'Sovereignty can be shared, layered and transformed,' they write. Whether or not you agree with the implications of this argument, the weeks it will take bedtime history buffs to get through this book will be time well spent.
— Stephen Matchett
Choice
This exemplary work, clearly laid out and fluently written, is a must for every undergraduate library, though more advanced scholars will also find much in it.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
A tour d'horizon through world history based on a stupendous knowledge of the literature, both authors take as their leitmotif the question of how empires have dealt with diversity and analyze the most varied constellations of imperial control.
— Andreas Eckert
Canadian Jewish News
Jane Burbank's and Frederick Cooper's Empires in World History is a very useful and impressive reference book.
— Sheldon Kirshner
World History Bulletin
Empires in World History provides a powerful teaching tool for framing the sometimes fluid and complex relationships between empires and nation-states, subjects and citizens, inclusion and exclusion. . . . This book will likely prove most useful in graduate courses in empire and/or world history and to teachers who are seeking a way to teach about empire without simply jumping from one to the next.
— Clif Stratton
European Legacy
Empires in World History is one of the clearest written surveys of empires available. It will serve well as an introductory text for university students and as a reference for scholars.
— Michael J. Seth
The Australian - Stephen Matchett
This is a very big book on an enormous subject. For anybody who assumes imperial history is all about Britain, with some 19th-century European imitators on the side, it will be something of a shock. For Burbank and Cooper, imperial history is world history. The authors also make a point popular among academics who hate the idea of borders keeping the underprivileged out of rich nations, that empires can be confederations of different peoples united by an all-encompassing ideal. 'Sovereignty can be shared, layered and transformed,' they write. Whether or not you agree with the implications of this argument, the weeks it will take bedtime history buffs to get through this book will be time well spent.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Andreas Eckert
A tour d'horizon through world history based on a stupendous knowledge of the literature, both authors take as their leitmotif the question of how empires have dealt with diversity and analyze the most varied constellations of imperial control.
Canadian Jewish News - Sheldon Kirshner
Jane Burbank's and Frederick Cooper's Empires in World History is a very useful and impressive reference book.
World History Bulletin - Clif Stratton
Empires in World History provides a powerful teaching tool for framing the sometimes fluid and complex relationships between empires and nation-states, subjects and citizens, inclusion and exclusion. . . . This book will likely prove most useful in graduate courses in empire and/or world history and to teachers who are seeking a way to teach about empire without simply jumping from one to the next.
European Legacy - Michael J. Seth
Empires in World History is one of the clearest written surveys of empires available. It will serve well as an introductory text for university students and as a reference for scholars.
StrategyPage.com A. Nofi
A good read for those interested in any of the empires discussed or in the rise and fall of megastates.
World History Connected - Paula Hastings
Empires in World History . . . provides fresh insight into the strategies of imperial rule that have sustained empires over time. . . . It will be a useful text for both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as general readers interested in imperial histories.
StrategyPage.com - A. Nofi
A good read for those interested in any of the empires discussed or in the rise and fall of megastates.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2011 Book Prize, World History Association

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010

"This is a very big book on an enormous subject. For anybody who assumes imperial history is all about Britain, with some 19th-century European imitators on the side, it will be something of a shock. For Burbank and Cooper, imperial history is world history. The authors also make a point popular among academics who hate the idea of borders keeping the underprivileged out of rich nations, that empires can be confederations of different peoples united by an all-encompassing ideal. 'Sovereignty can be shared, layered and transformed,' they write. Whether or not you agree with the implications of this argument, the weeks it will take bedtime history buffs to get through this book will be time well spent."—Stephen Matchett, The Australian

"This exemplary work, clearly laid out and fluently written, is a must for every undergraduate library, though more advanced scholars will also find much in it."Choice

"A tour d'horizon through world history based on a stupendous knowledge of the literature, both authors take as their leitmotif the question of how empires have dealt with diversity and analyze the most varied constellations of imperial control."—Andreas Eckert, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"Jane Burbank's and Frederick Cooper's Empires in World History is a very useful and impressive reference book."—Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News

"Empires in World History provides a powerful teaching tool for framing the sometimes fluid and complex relationships between empires and nation-states, subjects and citizens, inclusion and exclusion. . . . This book will likely prove most useful in graduate courses in empire and/or world history and to teachers who are seeking a way to teach about empire without simply jumping from one to the next."—Clif Stratton, World History Bulletin

"A good read for those interested in any of the empires discussed or in the rise and fall of megastates."—A. A. Nofi, StrategyPage.com

"Empires in World History is one of the clearest written surveys of empires available. It will serve well as an introductory text for university students and as a reference for scholars."—Michael J. Seth, European Legacy

"Empires in World History . . . provides fresh insight into the strategies of imperial rule that have sustained empires over time. . . . It will be a useful text for both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as general readers interested in imperial histories."—Paula Hastings, World History Connected

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691152363
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/21/2011
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 193,170
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Burbank is professor of history and Russian and Slavic studies at New York University. Her books include "Intelligentsia and Revolution" and "Russian Peasants Go to Court". Frederick Cooper is professor of history at New York University. His books include "Decolonization and African Society" and "Colonialism in Question".

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Preface xi

Chapter 1: Imperial Trajectories 1
Chapter 2: Imperial Rule in Rome and China 23
Chapter 3: After Rome: Empire, Christianity, and Islam 61
Chapter 4: Eurasian Connections: The Mongol Empires 93
Chapter 5: Beyond the Mediterranean: Ottoman and Spanish Empires 117

Chapter 6: Oceanic Economies and Colonial Societies: Europe, Asia, and the Americas 149
Chapter 7: Beyond the Steppe: Empire-Building in Russia and China 185
Chapter 8: Empire, Nation, and Citizenship in a Revolutionary Age 219
Chapter 9: Empires across Continents: The United States and Russia 251

Chapter 10: Imperial Repertoires and Myths of Modern Colonialism 287
Chapter 11: Sovereignty and Empire: Nineteenth-Century Europe and Its Near Abroad 331
Chapter 12: War and Revolution in a World of Empires: 1914 to 1945 369
Chapter 13: End of Empire? 413
Chapter 14: Empires, States, and Political Imagination 443

Suggested Reading and Citations 461
Index 481

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2011

    Worth reading, but needs balance

    Professors Burbank and Cooper took up an interesting project here - to examine world history in the light of empires, rather than of peoples, persons, or nation-states. This is a worthwhile initiative in historical studies. As the authors rightly point out, most people through most of history lived in empires, not in nation-states. Even today, the age of empires has not ended - the Russian and Chinese empires have come back in new forms, and the United States bears many of the traits of an empire.
    As the subtitle suggests, Burbank and Cooper focus their study on how empires dealt with the one fundamental reality that is common to all of them - the need to govern different people in such a way as to keep them within a single sovereign realm. This leads to some combination of coercion, cooptation, enforcement of conformity, and acceptance of difference, in every case. The authors adeptly survey how various empires, from the Romans and the Qing in the third century BC, up to the present Chinese communists, Russian Federation, and the United States, attempt(ed) to balance this combination. Competition between empires, of course, impacts this "politics of difference" within each empire. This is a useful survey, from a unique perspective, and I found it both informative and engaging.
    I have two issues with this book that caused me to give it three starts instead of five. My main issue with this book has to do with a clear anti-Western bias that comes through so loudly as to be distracting. Most of the empires surveyed in this book are either discussed dispassionately or outright praised for their achievements. The use of negative adjectives is completely restricted to the European empires (French, Spanish, British, Dutch) and the United States. Everything they did, from their formation to their dissolution, is portrayed negatively. Every problem in the world today is all somehow the fault of these western powers, either in how they built their empires, how they governed them, or how their empires broke up. These empires' involvement in slavery, for example, is belabored at great length, ostensibly because it explains something about how they rose to power. That all empires (in fact, all peoples) until 1833 practiced slavery, and that it was a mainstay of many empires, including the Qing and the Ottomans, is ignored. As another example, no mention of the United States is allowed to go by without mentioning that native Americans and blacks were originally excluded from political participation. That most empires excluded nearly everybody from such participation, and that some (in particular China) still do, is once again ignored. The brutalities of the Soviet regime get barely a paragraph, while the sustained slaughters inflicted by the Chinese communists on their own people - bloodlettings that dwarf the world wars - are glossed over in one sentence. China's current rise is looked upon as a successful "new way" without mentioning that it is in fact a police state. Only Western powers can do wrong.
    The other weakness of the book is that toward the end it begins overreaching. Empires and the competition between them is clearly an important part of history and of our current world - it is not, however, everything. The authors lose sight of this by the end of the book.
    Overall, then, a welcome and worthwhile read - just let the reader beware of the biases embedded within.

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  • Posted August 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Empires Molders of Nation-States

    Professors Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper deviate from the traditional narrative about the birth and development of the nation-state. Both authors contend that a world of bounded and unitary states interacting with other equivalent states dates from 1948 C.E. rather than 1648 C.E. and the Treaty of Westphalia. For this reason, professors Burbank and Cooper explore instead the rise and fall of specific empires, their imaginary, their interaction with each other, and their respective repertoires of power.

    Professors Burbank and Cooper demonstrate convincingly that throughout history, most people have lived in empires that did not aim to represent a single nation. Unlike nation-states that tend to homogenize those inside their polity, empires treat different nations within their polity differently. Conflicts among empires, resistance of conquered people, and rebellions of settlers were some key factors in any cost-benefit analysis of empire-building and sustenance.

    To their credit, professors Burbank and Cooper clearly explain the vertical nature of power relations within empires, as leaders try to recruit reliable intermediaries to manage distant territories and achieve contingent accommodation to their rule. Empires used a wide variety of repertoires of rule such as reliance on a class of loyal, trained officials, empowerment of (select) citizens, marriage politics, and tribal allegiances to secure these essential intermediaries. Both authors also explore in much detail how empires vied with each other to become or remain the top "dog" over time. Imperial strategies such as restriction of competitive empires' connections, imperialism of free trade, and alliance of different empires against one or more other empires were in use at the intersection of empires.

    In conclusion, professors Burbank and Cooper give their audience a great opportunity to broaden their horizon by considering an alternative read on the history of humanity. As a side note, History could produce a new series on empires, states, and political imagination as a complement to its existing series "Engineering an Empire."

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