Imperialism: A Syllabus

Opposition to imperialism unites the struggles of our times. To recognize empire is to take a necessary step towards a more just world.


Opposition to imperialism unites the struggles of our times. From classrooms to city streets, it has never been more essential to engage with the continuing history of imperialism. The urgency of our imperial moment is at once fierce and everywhere to behold: in Indigenous struggles for sovereignty, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements, opposition to heteropatriarchy, resistance against violent anti-Asian racism, global Black Lives Matter. While some would argue that empires are relics of the past, imperialism continues to shape our contemporary world.

Imperialism denotes the repertoires of power necessary for one entity to maintain control over subject territories and populations. Yesterday and today, the sharpest analyses of imperialism have come from those who have positioned themselves in opposition to empires, and so this syllabus—the product of a conversation between a historian of the United Kingdom and one of the United States—emphasizes approaches to empire that are anti-colonial. To borrow a formulation from the great anti-imperialist writer and intellectual Dionne Brand, no syllabus is neutral.

Many of imperialism’s critics have employed Marxism to explain the relationship between imperialism, capitalism, and racism. This makes sense, as Karl Marx was born into a world produced by imperialism and by resistance to it. His theory of history emphasized that human societies moved through progressive stages, and it was this framework that explained British dominance in India as a necessary transformation before a socialist revolution would be possible. V. I. Lenin argued that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism: as European finance capitalists extinguished internal markets, they sought consumers and raw materials outside Europe. As Lenin set to work on his influential pamphlet, W. E. B. Du Bois argued that Europe’s wealth derived “primarily from the darker nations of the world.” Eric Williams, the historian and the first prime minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago, later pointed out that it was profits from Caribbean slavery that fueled the English industrial revolution. In Williams’s formulation, empire was not an outcome of capitalism, but created the foundations for it. Claudia Jones, meanwhile, centered gender and race in her theorizing of formal and informal imperialism. And Cedric Robinson, himself a chronicler of the Black radical tradition, contended that imperial expansion was an ultimate outcome of racial distinction and colonialism within Europe. To this day, thinkers working with Marx show how histories of capitalism, racism, and patriarchy are deeply intertwined with imperialism.

Empires are predicated on defining groups of people and distinguishing between them. In the Americas, the subjugation of Indigenous peoples and the rise of chattel slavery demanded intricate distinctions of race and hierarchy. In maintaining racial order and perpetuating imperial power, white-supremacist ideologies were crucial. As Stuart Hall formulated, these ideologies of race operated on two registers: the biological and the cultural. From the dawn of transatlantic slavery, Europeans theorized human difference; many argued that the distinctions between races were based in the body. But racism could also operate on a cultural level, leading to distinctions of custom, habit, and tradition. And it is on these distinctions that modern imperialism depended in order to maintain rule.

By the late 19th century, European empires dominated the globe, but that dominance was increasingly challenged by colonial subjects. Dadabhai Naoroji, a wealthy merchant in India, argued that rather than benefiting Indians, British rule had drained India of its wealth. In England, C. L. R. James wrote about the importance of Haiti for Black anti-colonial resistance, while from the Caribbean Suzanne Césaire wrote about how racism and fascism were entangled in Europe. In China, Mao Zedong gave the peasantry pride of place in theorizing how imperialism might be undone. By the 1960s, campaigns for decolonization had transformed the political map, but Indigenous peoples throughout settler-colonial societies continued to contest the ongoing colonial relations between nation-states and what George Manuel called “the Fourth World.”

Today, struggles for decolonization occur within education, as well as in ongoing contestations for land, rights, and sovereignty. These struggles remind us that although we live in a world of nation-states, imperial relations continue to shape the operation of power. To recognize empire is to break the hold of the nation-state on our political imaginaries and take a necessary step toward a more just world.

In putting together this syllabus, we have learned from other generative efforts, such as Viewpoint Magazine’s Imperialism issue, the LSE’s 15 Recommended Reads on Colonial Histories, Colonial Legacies, the EPW Engage’s Insidious Imperialism reading list, and the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism, as well as models like the Ferguson Syllabus, the Charleston Syllabus, and the Trump Syllabus 2.0.

One of the joys of public syllabuses is that they encourage reading, discussion, and political engagement, but without the many barriers to innovative pedagogy that are increasingly imposed by the constraints of the corporate university. Traditional syllabuses contain assignments, so that students carry forward the knowledge they gain in the classroom. And while this syllabus does not require essays or exams, we hope it will encourage readers to think of themselves as active participants in this conversation. Many of the imperial inequalities we take up in this syllabus have been inflamed by pandemic conditions. However, our distanced reality reveals the possibilities of digital platforms and networks to foster collective forms of learning and exchange and create new solidarities.

A topic of this capaciousness could be put together in a variety of ways. While our syllabus unfolds in a loose chronology, each week we highlight a structuring dynamic of imperialism, drawing through-lines between past and present. In addition to historical scholarship, essays, and interviews, we include literature and film, because creative forms have been crucial for making imperialism visible, critiquing its operations, and imagining a future after empire. Ultimately, this syllabus aims to foreground a history of imperialism that serves contemporary struggles.


Week 1: Imperialism before Europe

Sikander has not invaded thy empire for the exclusive purpose of fighting, but to know its history, its laws, and customs, from personal inspection. His object is to travel through the whole world. Why then should he make war upon thee? Give him but a free passage through thy kingdom, and nothing more is required. However if it be thy wish to proceed to hostilities, he apprehends nothing from the greatness of thy power.


In the late 10th and early 11th century, the Persian poet Ferdowsi chronicled the mythical and historical kings of Persia and their encounters with neighboring empires. In Ferdowsi’s account, Sikander—or, as he is known in English, Alexander the Great—sought not only to conquer Persia, but to know it. Empire does not only entail the political subjugation of territory, but also requires the cultural incorporation of populations.

While we live in the aftermath of the European empires of the modern era, empires and imperialism are a much broader phenomenon in human history. Empires determine which places are deemed central and which places are marginal; for most of human history, the western end of the Eurasian landmass was insignificant compared to powerful imperial states that emerged and contended with each other elsewhere.

Expanding the temporal frame of imperialism also reveals that Europe is itself shaped by colonialism. As Cedric Robinson argued in Black Marxism, before European polities expanded overseas, they first subdued and incorporated local peoples. Examples include the subordination of the Irish under English rule, and land-based European empires like the Hapsburg Empire that governed over a multitude of peoples.

Examining imperialism before European global dominance shows that the rise of European (and eventually US) empires was not inevitable, but that European societies were able to develop adaptable and durable repertoires of power to establish and expand their rule. Indeed, European imperial expansion created the temporal category “modern,” and the idea of a break between the premodern and modern eras is also a legacy of empire.


  • Kris Manjapra, Colonialism in Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
  • Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton University Press, 2011)
  • Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350 (Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Jessica Rawson, “The Power of Images: The Model Universe of the First Emperor and Its Legacy,” Historical Research, vol. 75, no. 188 (2002)
  • Kaya Şahin, Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • The Oxford Handbook of the Incas, edited by Sonia Alconini and R. Alan Covey (Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • Cécile Fromont, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)
  • Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Europe’s India: Words, People, Empires, 1500–1800 (Harvard University Press, 2017)
  • Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (University of North Carolina Press, 2020)
  • Gurminder K. Bhambra, Connected Sociologies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)
  • Emily Greenwood, “Thucydides in Times of Trouble,” in A World Out of Reach: Dispatches from Life under Lockdown, edited by Meghan O’Rourke (Yale University Press, 2020)


Film and Literature

  • Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, translated from the Persian by Dick Davis (Penguin, 2016)
  • Mughal-e-Azam (1960, dir. K. Asif)



Week 2: Settler Colonialism

But what appears at first to be a total victory becomes, in the longer cycle of history, an illusion of the moment. The conqueror must find ways to hold down the people whose sovereignty he has stolen. To free his energies for his main purposes he must convince them to submit for their own good. But the teaching of submission runs against the grain of all experience.

—George Manuel

One of modern imperialism’s foundational structures is settler colonialism. This entails, as George Manuel noted, Indigenous resistance to expropriation of land, denial of sovereignty, and attempted replacements of peoples and societies. Aspiring to Indigenous negation, settler colonialism is intertwined with other structures of power, such as capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and anti-Black racism.

This week’s readings offer two main points of emphasis. The first is that this settler form of colonialism unfolds in ongoing struggle with Indigenous peoples and knowledges. It is a structure, but one that needs to be constantly remade in response to Indigenous challenges to its totalizing project. These challenges occur in transnational registers and affinities, through Indigenous politics of refusal and resurgence, and through confrontation with imperial states and extractive economies. At the same time, Indigenous and settler struggles span multiple geographies, as we see in the colonial relations of transnational lives, in Pacific contextualizations of Māori identity, and in settler-colonial formations across Latin America, on the African continent, and in Israel and Palestine.

The second thematic emphasis this week is that while settler colonialism operates by its own logics, it isn’t a singular structure. Instead, it derives its power from its entanglement with other terms of racial, gendered, and place-based imperial order. By preparing the ground for already emergent forms of racial capitalism, and by facilitating the theft of Indigenous land while simultaneously constituting it as property, settler colonialism also reworks economic and racial relations. To challenge settler colonialism, then, is to take on an array of interlocking structures of power.


Enduring Indigeneity, Settler Invasion

  • Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 8, no. 4 (2006)
  • Kēhaulani Kauanui, ‘“A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity,” Forum: Emergent Critical Analytics for Alternative Humanities, vol. 5, no. 1 (2016)
  • Colin G. Calloway, White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal Peoples and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality (1974; University of Minnesota Press, 2018)
  • Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States (Duke University Press, 2014)
  • Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minnesota Press, 2014)
  • Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019)
  • Adele Perry, Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
  • Alice Te Punga Somerville, Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania (University of Minnesota Press, 2012)
  • Shannon Speed, “Structures of Settler Capitalism in Abya Yala,” American Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 4 (2017)
  • Sana Aiyar, Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora (Harvard University Press, 2015)
  • Yara Hawari, Sharri Plonski, and Elian Weizman, “Seeing Israel through Palestine: Knowledge Production as Anti-Colonial Praxis,” Settler Colonial Studies, vol. 9, no. 1 (2019)


Societies Structured in Relational Dominance

  • Tiya Miles, “Uncle Tom Was an Indian: Tracing the Red in Black Slavery,” in Relational Formations of Race: Theory, Method, and Practice, edited by Natalia Molina, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and Ramón A. Gutiérrez (University of California Press, 2019)
  • Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Duke University Press, 2019)
  • Robert Nichols, Theft Is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory (Duke University Press, 2019)
  • Manu Karuka, “Black and Native Visions of Self-Determination,” Critical Ethnic Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (2017)
  • Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Rehearsals for Living: Conversations on Abolition and Anti-Colonialism (Knopf Canada, forthcoming)


Film and Literature

  • Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993, dir. Alanis Obomsawin)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Seal Press, 1988)


    Week 3: Transatlantic Slavery and Abolition

    John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea (2015)

    In his video installation Vertigo Sea, John Akomfrah meditates on the beauty and terror of the ocean, and the way the ocean has served as a site of human suffering, in the past and the present. Olaudah Equiano, a formerly enslaved man who became an advocate for abolition, serves as a witness to the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and its contemporary resonances in migrant voyages.

    An Atlantic plantation complex, in which slaveholders and imperial states brutally exploited enslaved people to produce commodities for an expanding European market, propelled the growth of modern European empires. The first voyage recorded in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database occurred in 1520, between Portuguese Guinea and San Juan, Puerto Rico. By the time Haiti declared its independence as an abolitionist nation, in 1804, slavery stretched from Nova Scotia to Rió de la Plata. It would take 84 more years before Brazil would become the last country in the Americas to formally abolish slavery. In that time, enslavers forced over 12 million Africans to embark on transatlantic slave voyages. More than 1.5 million died before seeing the Americas.

    The history of slavery is more than a history of numbers. The enslaved were forcibly transported but carried with them their beliefs, their culture, and their politics. In the Caribbean, enslaved Africans waged constant battle against their enslavers, drawing on ties of ethnicity and political allegiance from the African continent. The experience of slavery was gendered, and enslavers valued enslaved women both for their agricultural labor and their reproduction of an enslaved workforce. Gendered difference was a crucial component of the racial ideologies that emerged from and justified slavery. Gendered histories of slavery from around the Atlantic World expand our understandings of resistance and freedom.

    Emancipation occurred across the Americas throughout the 19th century. However, imperial ideologies and economic exploitation continued to limit the freedom of Black communities around and beyond the Atlantic world. Black resistance pushed the question of abolition, both in gradual efforts in British North American colonies and in the Haitian Revolution, which resulted in the first abolitionist state in the Americas. After the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, in 1807, discourses of humanitarianism propelled the creation of African colonies to resettle the formerly enslaved. In Jamaica, post-emancipation colonial governance revealed a question at the heart of imperial liberalism: Could the formerly enslaved be free moral subjects, or did they continue to require imperial protection? The racial ideologies that emerged in the post-emancipation moment shaped colonial accounts of Black political capacity well into the era of decolonization, and into our own.

    Whether it is the violence and absence that confront us in the archives of slavery, or the debates surrounding monuments to enslavers, contemporary questions of Black political freedom expose the foundational importance of transatlantic slavery to the history of the modern world.


    • Stephanie E. Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press, 2007)
    • Jessica Marie Johnson, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)
    • Sowande’ M. Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (University of Illinois Press, 2016)
    • Vincent Brown, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Harvard University Press, 2020)
    • Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
    • Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” small axe, vol. 12, no. 2 (2008)
    • Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Harvard University Press, 2005)
    • Marlene L. Daut, “The Wrongful Death of Toussaint Louverture,” History Today, vol. 70, no. 6 (2020)
    • Christienna Fryar, “Imperfect Models: The Kingston Lunatic Asylum Scandal and the Problem of Postemancipation Imperialism,” Journal of British Studies, vol. 55, no. 4 (2016)
    • Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991)
    • Ana Lucia Araujo, “Toppling Monuments Is a Global Movement. And It Works,” Washington Post, June 23, 2020


    Film and Literature

    • Vertigo Sea (2015, dir. John Akomfrah)
    • Erna Brodber, Louisiana (New Beacon, 1994)



    Week 4: Imperial Violence

    Their first confrontation was colored by violence and their cohabitation—or rather the exploitation of the colonized by the colonizer—continued at the point of the bayonet and under cannon fire.

    —Frantz Fanon

    Forms of spectacular and everyday violence structure and maintain empire. In two extraordinary works, The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon argued that the armed resistance of the Front de Libération Nationale in Algeria and other anti-colonial movements rebounded the violence of colonialism itself.

    The imperial state depends on claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence. The 19th-century Indian state identified criminal classes and castes in order to surveil and contain challenges to their authority. In addition to marking certain bodies as predisposed to illegitimate violence, the colonial state marked certain bodies as capable of enacting legitimate violence. The courts permitted European men to get away with the murder of Indians. The legal order of empire adjudicated what types of violence, and against which bodies, were permissible.

    The production of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death, to borrow Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s definition of racism, extended to the management of disease, sanitation and public-health campaigns, and control of suspicious populations. Imperialism also creates gendered vulnerabilities in varied spatial configurations. Gendered violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders within the United States, for example, is intimately linked to US military bases across the Pacific. Furthermore, such expressions of violence bind a broad range of scenarios, from the history of Imperial Japan’s “comfort women” system to the coloniality of transmisogynist violence against those who have defied gender binaries. Never uncontested, expressions of gendered colonial violence are subject to refusal, as in the case of Indigenous feminist planning.

    To the present day, the legacies of imperial violence are felt in the inadequate responses to disaster, as in the case of Puerto Rico, and the environmental degradation of the global South. Acknowledging violence as a structuring condition of imperialism allows us to disrupt narratives that claim that empire was a civilizing force.


    • Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race, Criminality, and Colonialism in South Asia (Berg, 2004)
    • Jordanna Bailkin, “The Boot and the Spleen: When Was Murder Possible in Colonial India?” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 48, no. 2 (2006)
    • Geographies of Racial Capitalism, with Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2020, dir. Kenton Card)
    • Dinyar Patel, “Viewpoint: How the British Let One Million Indians Die in Famine,” BBC News, June 11, 2016
    • Aidan Forth, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876–1903 (University of California Press, 2017)
    • Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, translated from the French by Richard Philcox (Grove, 2005)
    • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, translated from the French by Richard Philcox (Grove, 2008)
    • Stuart Schrader, Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (University of California Press, 2019)
    • Denying the Comfort Women: The Japanese State’s Assault on Historical Truth, edited by Rumiko Nishino, Puja Kim, and Akane Onozawa (Routledge, 2018)
    • Christine Ahn, Terry K. Park, and Kathleen Richards, “Anti-Asian Violence in America Is Rooted in US Empire,” The Nation, March 19, 2021
    • Simeon Man, “Anti-Asian Violence and US Imperialism,” Race and Class, vol. 62, no. 2 (2020)
    • Heather Dorries and Laura Harjo, “Beyond Safety: Refusing Colonial Violence through Indigenous Feminist Planning,” Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol. 40, no. 2 (2020)
    • Jamey Jesperson, “Honouring Trans Lives, Historicising Trans Death,” History Workshop Online, November 20, 2020
    • Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico before and after the Storm, edited by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón (Haymarket, 2019)
    • Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard University Press, 2013)


    Film and Literature

  • Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) (1973, dir. Satyajit Ray)
  • Leïla Sebbar, The Seine Was Red: Paris, October 1961, translated from the French by Mildred Mortimer (Indiana University Press, 2008)


    Week 5: The Global Economy

    In the old days, farmers would keep a little of their home-made opium for their families, to be used during illnesses, or at harvests and weddings; the rest they would sell to the local nobility, or to pykari merchants from Patna. Back then, a few clumps of poppy were enough to provide for a household’s needs, leaving a little over, to be sold: no one was inclined to plant more because of all the work it took to grow poppies—fifteen ploughings of the land and every remaining clod to be broken by hand, with a dantoli; fences and bunds to be built; purchases of manure and constant watering; and after all that, the frenzy of the harvest, each bulb having to be individually nicked, drained and scraped. Such punishment was bearable when you had a patch or two of poppies—but what sane person would want to multiply these labours when there were better, more useful crops to grow, like wheat, dal, vegetables? But those toothsome winter crops were steadily shrinking in acreage: now the factory’s appetite for opium seemed never to be sated. Come the cold weather, the English sahibs would allow little else to be planted; their agents would go from home to home, forcing cash advances on the farmers, making them sign asámi contracts. It was impossible to say no to them: if you refused they would leave their silver hidden in your house, or throw it through a window. It was no use telling the white magistrate that you hadn’t accepted the money and your thumbprint was forged: he earned commissions on the opium and would never let you off. And, at the end of it, your earnings would come to no more than three-and-a-half sicca rupees, just about enough to pay off your advance.

    —Amitav Ghosh

    Whether it was through the production, transport, marketing, and consumption of new luxury commodities like tea, or the assemblage of vast networks of migrant labor, empire restructured economies on local, national, and global scales. Imperial agents—whether colonial officials or private merchants—remade the meanings and practices of economic life in the interests of metropolitan centers.

    Lenin argued that the interests of finance capital pushed European states to colonize territories abroad. But imperialism was integral to capitalism from the start, just as the global economy was not shaped by finance capital alone. Consequently, historians have incorporated commodities and migration in their accounts of the global economy made by imperialism.

    The search for profit brought private enterprise and imperial states into collaboration; this created a global economic order in which profits from slavery fueled industrialization, and imperial powers reorganized colonial societies into second-order economies to benefit the metropole. By the late 19th century, colonial officials and European thinkers could look at newly created “poor countries” and argue that the culture of colonial subjects, rather than an exploitative system, perpetuated poverty. Nationalist movements argued that they, and not colonial governments, could instantiate economic development. But development also became the rationale by which neocolonial forms of exploitation outlived formal imperialism.

    The transformation of colonial societies under imperial rule produced deindustrialization, monocultural production of cash crops, and mass migrations, some through forms of formal indenture contracts. Indentured laborers were recruited to work sugar on cane plantations in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, expanding the post-emancipation workforce. Migrant laborers also worked in mines throughout the world and constructed the Panama Canal. While male workers predominate in migration history, female workers traveled independently, seeking to change their position in imperial labor markets. Care and domestic work continue to be important categories of labor, shaping global migration and creating inequalities of family formation and emotional labor.

    • V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Penguin, 2010)
    • Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik, A Theory of Imperialism (Columbia University Press, 2016)
    • Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (University of North Carolina Press, 1994)
    • Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (University of Chicago Press, 2004)
    • Sheetal Chhabria, Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay (University of Washington Press, 2019)
    • Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, translated from the Spanish by Cedric Belfrage (Monthly Review Press, 1997)
    • Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Verso, 2018)
    • Andrew B. Liu, Tea War: A History of Capitalism in China and India (Yale University Press, 2020)
    • Rebecca E. Karl, “Rules for Destroying Countries: China and the Colonial World in the Early 20th Century,” Viewpoint Magazine, February 1, 2018
    • Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton University Press, 2011)
    • Gaiutra Bahadur, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
    • Mae M. Ngai, “Chinese Gold Miners and the ‘Chinese Question’ in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria,” Journal of American History, vol. 1010, no. 4 (2015)
    • Julie Greene, The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal (Penguin, 2010)
    • Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz, “The Feminization of Migration: Care and the New Emotional Imperialism,” Monthly Review, December 1, 2013
    • Harsha Walia, Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Haymarket, 2021)
    • Eileen Boris, Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919–2019 (Oxford University Press, 2019)


    Film and Literature

    • Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
    • Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011)
    • Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015)
    • Salt of the Earth (1954, dir. Herbert J. Biberman)



    Week 6: Culture and Imperialism

    Just as in Europe the global accumulation that gathered the colonial domains into the world market economy was supported and enabled by a culture giving empire ideological license, so in the overseas imperium the massive political, economic, and military resistance was carried forward and informed by an actively provocative and challenging culture of resistance.

    —Edward Said

    This week is indebted to the book it borrows its title from; we therefore suggest that readers begin with a (re)reading of Edward Said’s tour de force. Said argued that culture was co-constituted with the economic and violent restructurings of empire that we have explored in previous weeks. Cultures were remade in their contact with imperialism, while also becoming a generative site for imaging resistance.

    Three themes follow our nod to Said: education, mobility, and ideology. In the Boy Scouts, elementary-school textbooks, and colleges and universities, educating new generations into the habits of empire has been a crucial site of the production of imperial hegemony. Next, we turn to colonial cultures of mobility. Railroads often come up in misleading “balance sheet” discussions of empire, but we see car culture—with its exclusions, individualism, and environmental impact—as a surer sign of imperialism’s transport legacy. Imperial ideologies knit together groups who hold disparate interests in the perpetuation of empire. In South Africa, Mohandas K. Gandhi embraced the civilizational discourse of empire to campaign for the rights of Indians, but in doing so reproduced stereotypes about Black Africans. The patriarchal family and its prescribed roles were crucial sites of intervention in both missionary and martial ideologies. The West claims feminism to export to the developing world, but women in Latin America contend with US cultures of superiority. Shared visions of exceptionalism bind US-Israeli relations. Imperialism depended on cultural forms to garner consent for exploitation and subjugation. However, popular forms, such as recorded music, have also been vehicles for critiques of empire and the hailing of anti-colonial collectivities.


    Empire and Education

    • Elleke Boehmer, “The Text in the World, the World through the Text: Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys,” in Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons, edited by Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr (Duke University Press, 2014)
    • Paige Raibmon, “Provincializing Europe in Canadian History; or, How to Talk about Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Europeans,” Active History, October 24, 2018
    • Gauri Viswanathan, “The Naming of Yale College: British Imperialism and American Higher Education,” in Cultures of United States Imperialism, edited by Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (Duke University Press, 1993)
    • Amanda Behm, Christienna Fryar, Emma Hunter, Elisabeth Leake, Su Lin Lewis, and Sarah Miller-Davenport, “Decolonizing History: Enquiry and Practice,” History Workshop Journal, vol. 89 (2020)


    The Coloniality of Car Culture

    • Genevieve Carpio, Collisions at the Crossroads: How Place and Mobility Make Race (University of California Press, 2019)
    • Njogu Morgan, “How Apartheid Killed Johannesburg’s Cycling Culture,” Guardian, June 26, 2019
    • Jennifer Hart, “City Life and Automobility in Twentieth-Century Ghana,” Global Urban History, December 1, 2016
    • Simon Jackson, “The Global Middle East in the Age of Speed: From Joyriding to Jamming, and from Racing to Raiding,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, vol. 39, no. 1 (2019)
    • Jariel Arvin, “Cars Too Dangerous and Dirty for Rich Countries Are Being Sold to Poor Ones,” Vox, October 29, 2020


    Culture, Imperialism, Ideology

    • Emily Manktelow, Missionary Families: Race, Gender, and Generation on the Spiritual Frontier (Manchester University Press, 2013)
    • Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, “Gandhi’s Unequal Justice in South Africa,” New Republic, November 19, 2015
    • Michelle Moyd, “Making the Household, Making the State: Colonial Military Communities and Labor in German East Africa,” International Labor and Working-Class History, vol. 80, no. 1 (2011)
    • Katherine M. Marino, Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)
    • Rashid Khalidi, “Manifest Destinies: The Tangled History of American and Israeli Exceptionalism,” The Nation, June 3, 2019
    • Michael Denning, Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution (Verso, 2015)


    Film and Literature

  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (Grove, 2015)
  • Indigènes (Days of Glory) (2006, dir. Rachid Bouchareb)


    Week 7: Imperialism at Home

    We are here, because you were there.

    This phrase, often attributed to Ambalavaner Sivanandan, evokes the imperial history that created pathways for migrants from decolonizing empires to journey to post-imperial metropoles. However, although migrants were a visible sign of empire, imperialism shaped political, social, and cultural life in the metropole. National frameworks for writing the history of imperial centers continue to obscure their imperial formation and thus facilitate contemporary forms of exclusion and precarious citizenship.

    In Britain, debates over suffrage occurred in imperial geographies, and as the white male working class gained the vote in the late 19th century, this occurred through the specific exclusion of women and Black colonial subjects. Similarly, in France, the specter of the Haitian Revolution haunted debates about citizenship, and Black women substituted in the colonial imagination for the inability to maintain control over France’s most lucrative colony. As performers in ethnographic exhibitions and entertaining spectacles, colonial peoples brought to life violent conflicts from the imperial periphery in the metropole and provided research opportunities for the emergent academic discipline of anthropology. The 19th century witnessed the emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire to Western Europe and the Americas, and also produced the figure of the Jew, a figure that has featured in some left critiques of imperialism and also re-entrenched antisemitism.

    Increased migration to Western Europe after World War II coincided with social-democratic settlements and new forms of rights and citizenship, and, from the confluence of these processes, multiculturalism emerged as the framework to manage diversity. However, by the 1980s, the failure narrative of multiculturalism pinned blame for disorder on the refusal of migrants to integrate and excused white Europeans from blame. And while debate over the consequences of the imperial past for contemporary society has been pronounced in Europe, it is also perceptible in the United States, Canada, and other nations structured in colonial dominance.


    • Antoinette Burton, Empire in Question: Reading, Writing, and Teaching British Imperialism (Duke University Press, 2011)
    • Mrinalini Sinha, “Mapping the Imperial Social Formation: A Modest Proposal for Feminist History,” Signs, vol. 25, no. 4 (2000)
    • Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, and Jane Rendall, Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender, and the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
    • Afua Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal (University of Georgia Press, 2007)
    • Robin Mitchell, Vénus Noire: Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century France (University of Georgia Press, 2020)
    • Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
    • Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (University of North Carolina Press, 2006)
    • Philip J. Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (University Press of Kansas, 2004)
    • Kristin L. Hoganson, Consumers’ Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865–1920 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
    • David Feldman, “Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Imperialism,’ and Labour’s Antisemitism Problem,” History Workshop, June 12, 2019
    • Laura Tabili, “We Ask for British Justice”: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Cornell University Press, 1994)
    • Elizabeth Buettner, Europe after Empire: Decolonization, Society, and Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
    • Minayo Nasiali, Native to the Republic: Empire, Social Citizenship, and Everyday Life in Marseille since 1945 (Cornell University Press, 2016)
    • Kennetta Hammond Perry and Kira Thurman, “Black Europe: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” Black Perspectives, December 20, 2016
    • Maboula Soumahoro, “Black Citizenship Forum: On Identity and Empire: France and the Colonial Roots of Black Citizenship,” Black Agenda Report, March 17, 2021
    • Kevin Hu, “Seeing the Transfer of Exclusion in the 1965 Immigration Act: Asian Americans for Collective Liberation,” The Margins, October 2, 2020
    • Jodi A. Byrd, “Weather with You: Settler Colonialism, Antiblackness, and the Grounded Relationalities of Resistance,” Journal of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, vol. 5, no. 1–2 (2019)
    • Jaskiran Dhillon, Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (University of Toronto Press, 2017)
    • Rita Chin, The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History (Princeton University Press, 2017)
    • Un/settled Multiculturalisms: Diasporas, Entanglements, Transruptions, edited by Barnor Hesse (Zed, 2000)


    Film and Literature

  • Samuel Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (A. Wingate, 1956)
  • Black Girl (1966, dir. Ousmane Sembène)


    Week 8: Imperial Citizenship

    It was only long years after that I understood the limitation on spirit, vision and self-respect which was imposed on us by the fact that our masters, our curriculum, our code of morals, everything began from the basis that Britain was the source of all light and leading, and our business was to admire, wonder, imitate, learn; our criterion of success was to have succeeded in approaching that distant ideal—to attain it was, of course, impossible.

    —C. L. R. James

    Empire did not function through forms of coercion alone; it also held out to colonial subjects the possibility of belonging. While today we think of citizenship as tied to national belonging, European empires generated forms of state-endowed rights and patterned political-claims making. Imperial citizenship was always marked by uneven access to its benefits, particularly across geographic and racial divisions. More than an assured status, imperial citizenship implies a terrain of struggle over belonging and rights.

    In the late 19th century, imperialists defined belonging on the basis of Anglo-Saxon racial history, which gave rise to political theories that Britons and their descendants in settler-colonial states were uniquely capable of practicing democracy. In the post-Reconstruction era, strategies of suppressing Black political participation traveled across the United States and the British Empire. Black and Asian migrants challenged the links between territory, population, and belonging that imperial states sought to impose. In managing migration, imperial states articulated new claims to sovereignty, formalized the passport, and created vast bureaucracies to manage populations and their movement within and beyond imperial geographies.

    Colonial subjects worked through international and imperial frameworks to expand their possibilities of belonging and freedom. At the beginning of the 20th century, Black radicals in the United States and the United Kingdom transformed the racial politics of leftist internationalism. In the French case, Black women activists and thinkers in the French Empire called on multiple collectivities to imagine citizenship beyond the nation. It is important to remember these early- and mid-20th-century movements and ideas, as they remind us that national citizenship is recent and is not the only way to imagine political community.

    But the nation-state did become the locus of political belonging in the 20th century, and social rights became the grounds for debates about political equality and social standing. After the passage of the 1935 Social Security Act, social workers advocated for the inclusion of Puerto Ricans in expanded welfare provisions. In Britain, Enoch Powell’s xenophobic and racist conservatism gained populist momentum by challenging the right of immigrants and their descendants to claim maternity beds, social housing, and other entitlements of the postwar welfare state. In the US and the UK, heteronormativity marked not only who had full standing in the political community but also who did not.


    • Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
    • Lourdes Martínez‑Echazábal, “Mestizaje and the Discourse of National/Cultural Identity in Latin America, 1845–1959,” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 25, no. 3 (1998)
    • Radhika Mongia, Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State (Duke University Press, 2018)
    • Lara Putnam, Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (University of North Carolina Press, 2013)
    • Sumita Mukherjee, Indian Suggragettes: Female Identities and Transnational Networks (Oxford University Press, 2018)
    • Sundhya Pahuja, “Letters from Bandung: Encounters with Another International Law,” in Bandung, Global History, and International Law: Critical Pasts and Pending Futures, edited by Luis Eslava, Michael Fakhri, and Vasuki Nesiah (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
    • Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Duke University Press, 2015)
    • Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel, Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire (University of Illinois Press, 2020)
    • Marius Kothor, “Civil Rights Organizations, the Black Press, and Ethnic Nationalist Movements in Africa,” Black Perspectives, May 30, 2017
    • Emma Amador, “‘Women Ask Relief for Puerto Ricans’: Territorial Citizenship, the Social Security Act, and Puerto Rican Communities, 1933–1939,” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, vol. 13, no. 3–4 (2016)
    • Radhika Natarajan, “‘Rivers of Blood’ @50,” Public Books, April 23, 2018
    • Naoko Shibusawa, “The Lavender Scare and Empire: Rethinking Cold War Antigay Politics,” Diplomatic History, vol. 36, no. 4 (2012)
    • Jonathan Kirshner, “Machinations of Wicked Men,” Boston Review, March 9, 2016


    Film and Literature

  • C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary (Duke University Press, 2013 [1963])
  • Red Sorghum (1987, dir. Yimou Zhang)


    Week 9: Fascism and Imperialism

    There was no Nazi atrocity—concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood—which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a Superior Race born to rule the world.

    —W. E. B. Du Bois

    As the January 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington dramatized, we are living in a moment of what Richard Seymour describes as “incipient fascism.” Those who experienced colonial rule often understood better than most the relationship between fascism and imperialism. This week’s selections further explain this connection without collapsing fascism and imperialism into each another.

    Because Germany looms appropriately large when we think of fascism, the first group of readings for this week focus on the historiography of Nazism’s multifaceted imperial dimensions, after an opening review that examines how Italy convened fascism and imperialism. Often reliant on anti-fascist and anti-colonial perspectives, the best literature on the German experience seeks not merely to compare history’s most egregious example of fascism to imperialism but to attempt to understand their imbrications and relative autonomy. The final selection in this section establishes the overlapping activist and intellectual contributions that helped prompt the German turn toward thinking about the colonial and fascist past together.

    In this week’s second section, the view expands outward, tracing fascist and anti-fascist history beyond Europe to indicate how anti-colonial traditions informed anti-fascism. Anti-fascism and anti-colonialism have not evolved in uncomplicated alliance, with their differing emphases often producing political tension, and with fascist tendencies at times taking root in the postcolonial world. Fascism, we also learn through the examples of the United Kingdom and United States, grew from the same roots as imperialism.

    This week closes with Howard Fast’s classic 1944 novel Freedom Road, which brings a decidedly anti-fascist sensibility to the imperial history of Reconstruction in the United States, and Come and See, Elem Klimov’s harrowing, devastating, and surreal treatment of Nazi empire building in the Soviet Union. Brace yourself before watching this one.


    Nazism as Imperialism

    • Sara Marzagora, “Ethiopia and the Convergence of Antifascist and Anticolonial Activism in the 1930s,” Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies, November 21, 2018
    • Uta G. Poiger, “Imperialism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Germany,” History and Memory, vol. 17, no. 1–2 (2005)
    • Shelley Baranowski, Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
    • Geoff Eley, “Empire by Land or Sea? Germany’s Imperial Imaginary, 1840–1945,” in German Colonialism in a Global Age, edited by Bradley Naranch and Geoff Eley (Duke University Press, 2014)
    • Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)
    • John Munro, “Anticolonialism, Antifascism, and Imperial History,” Imperial and Global Forum, June 29, 2015
    • Tiffany N. Florvil, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2020)


    Transnational Fascism and Imperialism


    Film and Literature

  • Howard Fast, Freedom Road (Routledge, 1995)
  • Come and See (1985, dir. Elem Klimov)


    Week 10: Cold War as Imperial Ideology

    Often thought of as a fairly neutral descriptor for the era of US and Soviet rivalry that followed World War II, the phrase “Cold War” obscured imperialism’s continuities. Like the “Dark Ages,” the “Cold War” is a contrivance that various observers have used to make sense of an era of the past, but which has become so ideologically overburdened as to make less and less sense outside quotation marks.

    Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, scholars have contested the narratives pushed by Washington and Moscow by expanding the geographic frame and relating domestic events to global dynamics. In doing so, more recent scholarship provides compelling ways to understand the Cold War as itself a chapter in the longer history of empire. Whether focused on culture, diplomacy, economics, ecology, or race, an emerging literature on the Cold War works to, as Bhakti Shringarpure puts it, “show the Cold War as having continued the dynamic of European colonialism.” Preserving the fiction of categorical distinctiveness between empire and the Cold War provided ideological cover for imperialism in some of its more recent guises. This was, as the communist phrase has it, no coincidence.

    By making empire harder to recognize, the Cold War idea legitimated superpower domination. It also left a powerful legacy. The Soviet experiment is over. However, political elites continue to stamp any and all critique with the brand of communism to shut down alternatives that might challenge liberal or conservative visions of the international order. Bringing the themes of the week together, we end with a crime thriller that considers the continuities of race empire before and after 1989, and a visually stunning communist dramatization of imperialism and its adversaries in one of the most famous locations of the “Cold War.”

    • Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
    • A. Sivanandan, “New Circuits of Imperialism,” Race and Class, vol. 30, no. 4 (1989)
    • Christopher R. W. Dietrich, Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
    • Jeffrey James Byrne, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order (Oxford University Press, 2016)
    • Jelena Subotic and Srdjan Vucetic, “Performing Solidarity: Whiteness and Status-Seeking in the Non-aligned World,” Journal of International Relations and Development, vol. 22, no. 2 (2017)
    • Wen-Qing Ngoei, Arc of Containment: Britain, the United States, and Anticommunism in Southeast Asia (Cornell University Press, 2019)
    • Masuda Hajimu, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Harvard University Press, 2015)
    • Molly Geidel, Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)
    • Bhakti Shringarpure, Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to Digital (Routledge, 2019)
    • Ani Mukherji, “‘Like Another Planet to the Darker Americans’: Black Cultural Work in 1930s Moscow,” in Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century, edited by Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken (Liverpool University Press, 2013)
    • Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (Metropolitan Books, 2019)
    • Bathsheba Demuth, “The Walrus and the Bureaucrat: Energy, Ecology, and Making the State in the Russian and American Arctic, 1870–1950,” American Historical Review, vol. 124, no. 2 (2019)
    • Jedediah Britton-Purdy, “The New Red-Baiting,” Jacobin, October 30, 2017
    • Aziz Rana, “Renewing Working-Class Internationalism,” New Labor Forum, January 2019
    • Ted Fertik, “Geopolitics for the Left: Getting Out from under the ‘Liberal International Order,’n+1, March 11, 2019


    Film and Literature

  • Mike Phillips, A Shadow of Myself (HarperCollins, 2000)
  • Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) (1964, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov)


    Week 11: Formal Decolonization

    Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is “giving” independence to its former subjects, to be followed by “aid” for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about “freedom,” which has come to be known as neo-colonialism.

    —Kwame Nkrumah

    What is formal—or “flag”—independence? Easy: the wave of official decolonization set in motion in the Philippines in 1946, cresting in 1960 (the “Year of Africa”), and washing ashore in Angola and Mozambique in 1975, with places like Zimbabwe and Namibia rolling in on the remaining current. Was this significant? Obviously: this fracturing of the global imperial system—along with the consolidation of a world of nation-states—must be counted as one of the most important occurrences in world history. And yet formal decolonization produced more complicated phenomena than a clean break from imperialism might imply.

    Any evaluation of formal decolonization’s significance faces three daunting pitfalls: oversimplification, overestimation, and minimization. In the first case, it is possible to construe flag independence as involving a straightforward transfer of power. In the second, formal decolonization can comprise a seemingly self-evident conclusion to the story of imperialism. Third, because of the continuities that are often grouped under the heading of “neocolonialism,” it is possible to disparage the rupture that flag independence represents.

    To address these pitfalls, our readings this week are grouped in two parts. The first defies notions that flag independence was straightforward. The very issue of where state sovereignty begins and ends is a murkier matter than it might seem, just as who is included within independent states isn’t always clear-cut. The drama of national liberation featured a larger cast of characters than the colonizers and colonized of a particular place, and this dynamic at times created challenges for postcolonial governments that found themselves reluctant hosts to freedom fighters from abroad. Even in Latin America, where independence often preceded the 20th century, articulating substantive freedom proved difficult amid the political pull of the superpowers. Globally, the idea of formal decolonization can miss the informal internationalist networks that operated outside both colonial and postcolonial states, and it cannot adequately capture ongoing colonial struggles within metropolitan societies.

    The second group of readings indicate the momentousness of formal decolonization, while also attending to neocolonial continuities and neoliberal retrenchments. This section begins with Kwame Nkrumah’s classic indictment of neocolonialism and Stuart Hall’s reconceptualization of the purported postcolonial break. From here, readings see the British make their way, officially, out of Iraq, the United States make its unofficial way into the Caribbean, colonizers make out with their money and park it in an expanding network of tax havens, and anti-colonial leaders make a postcolonial world that frightened the champions of an emerging neoliberal order. Algeria became independent, but France maintained the authority to test its nuclear weaponry in the Sahara. The afterlives of the era of flag independence, in all its contradictions, are many.

    Rounding out the academic scholarship this week is William Gardner Smith’s underappreciated novel The Stone Face, which serves as a reminder of the metropolitan repercussions of national liberation struggles, and the film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatizes the lived, contested experience of what kinds of freedom the exchange of flags might bring.

    Looking back from 2021, we see that struggles against empire could not always realize their most visionary dreams of freedom. And yet, if we look forward from a century ago, we see how decolonization remade the world.


    The Intricacies of Independence

    • Elisabeth Leake, The Defiant Border: The Afghan-Pakistan Borderlands in the Era of Decolonization, 1936–1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
    • Christopher J. Lee, Unreasonable Histories: Nativism, Multiracial Lives, and the Genealogical Imagination in British Africa (Duke University Press, 2014)
    • Muriam Haleh Davis, “Algiers: Capital of Revolution,” Public Books, September 12, 2018
    • Meredith Terretta, “Cameroonian Nationalists Go Global: From Forest Maquis to a Pan-African Accra,” Journal of African History, vol. 51, no. 2 (2010)
    • Patrick Iber, Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America (Harvard University Press, 2015)
    • Anne Garland Mahler, From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race, Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity (Duke University Press, 2018)
    • Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective, “Manifesto: Networks of Decolonization in Asia and Africa,” Radical History Review, no. 131 (2018)
    • John Narayan, “British Black Power: The Anti-Imperialism of Political Blackness and the Problem of Nativist Socialism,” Sociological Review, vol. 67, no. 5 (2019)
    • Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society, vol. 1, no. 1 (2012)


    No Mere Challenge

    • Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism (International Publishers, 1965)
    • Stuart Hall, “When Was ‘the Post-Colonial’? Thinking at the Limit,” in The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons, edited by Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti (Routledge, 1996)
    • Susan Pedersen, “Getting Out of Iraq—in 1932: The League of Nations and the Road to Normative Statehood,” American Historical Review, vol. 115, no. 4 (2010)
    • Peter James Hudson, Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (Chicago University Press, 2017)
    • Vanessa Ogle, ‘“Funk Money’: The End of Empires, the Expansion of Tax Havens, and Decolonization as an Economic and Financial Event,” Past and Present, vol. 249, no. 1 (2020)
    • Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Harvard University Press, 2018)
    • Adom Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton University Press, 2019)
    • Roxanne Panchasi, ‘“No Hiroshima in Africa’: The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara,” History of the Present, vol. 9, no. 1 (2019)
    • Sara Salem, Anticolonial Afterlives in Egypt: The Politics of Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 2020)


    Film and Literature

  • William Gardner Smith, The Stone Face (1963; NYRB Classics, 2021)
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006, dir. Ken Loach)


    Week 12: Enduring Empire, Ongoing Decolonization

    So many kinds of entrenched and unrecognized colonialisms still exist.

    —Arundhati Roy

    The struggle continues. And so we conclude with an assortment of readings that trace the contested contours of the imperial present. The first group describe imperialism in our times, and so focus on the world’s most powerful—if declining—imperial force. The first two essays trace the entanglements of US domestic stratification and projections of foreign-policy power, while the second pair draw on anti-colonial traditions of Black radical thought to explain how race and class are inseparable parts of the current system, and thus how that system will readily absorb one-dimensional challenges. Our view then broadens beyond the United States, into the North Atlantic, and on to Asia and Africa to look at how various imperialisms have shaped dominant public discourse under the terms of neoliberalism. The section ends with a wide-ranging conversation about the oppressions wrought by contemporary empire’s current melding of authoritarian nationalism and corporate capitalism.

    Because the climate crisis is one of the most acute aspects of contemporary imperialism, we have singled out some selections on this topic. On plastic, on oil and sand, and on the racial realities of pollution—the first three readings in the second section make clear the connections between colonialism’s past and the future of our climate, while the latter two offer ways out of the crisis that remain mindful of the imperial implications of environmentalism from above.

    We bring this syllabus to a close much where we began: with an insistence that while imperialism has been the subject of rigorous scholarship, it has been best understood through opposition to it. Our selections speak to the vision and interconnectedness of upsurges against contemporary racial capitalism, to points of convergence between multiple anti-imperialist feminisms, to the impact of protest on public perception of the legacies of slavery and the justice of reparations. Struggles against imperialism also link the demands of workers in the fashion industry, students and staff in the neoliberal university, and curators and the museum-going public. The importance of activism is also evident in the present socialist resurgence that grew out of protests against the World Trade Organization and the anti-colonial critiques that have accompanied them. In addition to these campaigns, our future depends on the possibility of building networked collectivities that refuse both imperialism and the nation.

    Fittingly, artists and activists get the last word. Tying together themes of violence, economy, culture, internationalism, and more, Leslie Marmon Silko’s monumental novel Almanac of the Dead is our penultimate text because of its range, power, and prophetic vision of how people’s movements can take on empire. Similarly powerful, our final film selection looks at the life of Jack O’Dell. Through a long life of movement struggle against fascism, white supremacy, and capitalism, he developed and shared numerous indispensable critiques of the system of imperialism. Silko and O’Dell provide the example and the analyses we need now.


    Where Things Now Stand


    Climates of Colonialism


    The Struggle Continues


    Film and Literature

  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (Simon & Schuster, 1991)
  • The Issue of Mr. O’Dell (2018, dir. Rami Katz)

    The authors wish to acknowledge the generous comments, feedback, and edits of Sara Jaffe, Michelle Kuo, Ben Platt, Padraig Riley, and Albert Wu.


    This article was commissioned by Ben Platt.  icon

    Featured image: Louis Dalrymple, The World's Constable (1905). Library of Congress