Spain and its Global Empire
A collection of small kingdoms in the war-torn Iberian Peninsula of the fifteenth century, Spain rose to become a powerful global empire, stretching from Europe and North Africa to Asia and the Americas. This course examines the four centuries of tumultuous history that led to the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire between 1492 and 1898. Among the topics covered in the course are the Conquest of the New World, the expulsion of Jews and Moriscos (former Muslims who converted to Catholicism) from Spain in 1492 and 1609, the Dutch, Portuguese, and Catalan revolts against Spain, the rise of mestisaje and complex racial hierarchies in Spanish America, the Spanish American Revolutions between 1808 and 1824, Cuba’s transformation into the world’s foremost sugar economy and slave society in the nineteenth century, and Spain’s efforts to retain its last colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines until the Spanish American War of 1898. In exploring these topics, students will not only gain a deeper understanding about the place of the Spanish Empire in the history of the modern world, but will also think carefully about issues that still affect us today, including Christian, Muslim, and Jewish relations, the governance of multi-ethnic societies, the legacies of slavery and colonialism, as well as the factors that explain the rise and fall of world powers.
The Birth of the Knowledge Economy, c. 1600-1800
People in the modern world take it for granted that everything can be improved. Vicious habits can be brought under control by reading self-improvement books. Cures to all diseases can be found by investing in research to improve scientific knowledge. Countries and regions can achieve economic development by applying the best policies invented by economists. Nonetheless, in spite of these seemingly natural convictions, societies in the West and globally have not always welcomed improvement and innovation. In fact, this culture of improvement originated during the so-called Scientific Revolution, which gave birth to the idea that natural knowledge could be perfected through systematic research, study, and analysis. Indeed, it was this culture of improvement that inspired the idea of material comfort and well-being, including its corollary notion of infinite economic growth. By the eighteenth century, bureaucrats, scholars, merchants, scientists, and even kings had become obsessed with improving people’s material well-being by stimulating economic growth. This development, as we shall see, played a vital role in the emergence of Western capitalism and the unparalleled levels of economic growth it generated. While not ignoring material and structural conditions, this course examines the history of capitalism through the lens of the cultural systems and the patterns of thought that gave it birth.
The First Age of Globalization, c. 1500-1800
Before 1492, states and empires across the world had very few linkages to one another. This began to change rapidly during the so-called "Age of Exploration," when European monarchies conquered vast swaths of distant territories. The most transformative, though by no means peaceful or benevolent, attempts to connect the world stemmed from Spain and Portugal, whose conquest and newly established navigation routes brought the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia into closer contact. Between 1580 and 1640, Spain, Portugal, and their respective colonies were united under a single king, giving birth to the first truly global empire in world history. By the mid seventeenth century, however, English, French, and Dutch merchants had gained control over the world's commercial networks, trading Asian luxuries, American commodities, and enslaved Africans in search of profit. This commercial expansion also facilitated the diffusion of commodities that are still essential to modern life, including sugar, tea, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, and cotton. This course combines economic, political, social, and cultural history to explore the inception of globalization. While it pays attention to European imperialism, it also explores how people from different parts of world defined the contours of the first age of globalization. Ultimately, the course provides a framework for understanding the deep origins of the world we live in today.
The Atlantic World, c. 1650-1825
In 1775, the American continent was ruled by four major imperial powers: Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal. By 1825, just 50 years later, Europe’s control over New World territories had all but evaporated, as new republics and monarchies supplanted European imperial rule. This course examines how Atlantic empires were made, remade, and unmade in the long eighteenth century. Among the issues studied in the course will be origins of European imperialism in the Atlantic, the emergence of settler colonies, the institution of the plantations complex, the effects of warfare on the Atlantic world, the rise of public debt among the major European empires, eighteenth-century imperial reforms and realignments, the circulation of Enlightenment ideas across the Atlantic, the effects of the Napoleonic wars, the rise of new nations, and indigenous and enslaved peoples’ appropriation of revolutionary ideals to claim rights and freedom for themselves. In the last quarter of the course, we will pay particular attention to the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions from a comparative perspective. In the end, students will grasp why it is impossible to understand the history of the Americas in the long eighteenth century without paying close attention to its myriad links to the wider Atlantic world.
Knowledge and Empire in the Early Modern World
What do empires have to do with the Scientific Revolution? Quite a lot! European expansion and encounters with the wider world drove many explorers, conquerors, scholars, and bureaucrats of various ranks to rethink Aristotelian precepts and classical paradigms of knowledge more generally. In fact, Europeans began to emphasize the importance of empiricism, a central tenet of modern science, precisely as they encountered new plants, animals, and peoples that had no place or explanation in previous European categories of thought. These empirical efforts had a shock effect that drove leading natural philosophers to offer new explanations for the natural world. While not the only factor that contributed to the development of modern science, Europe’s engagement with the wider world had a catalyzing effect for much of the early modern period. This course explores this catalyzing effect as well as its impact on the European scientific imagination. It also pays attention to how indigenous systems of knowledge from different parts of the world were appropriated and refashioned as quintessentially European creations. In exploring these issues, students will understand that modern science is not simply a Western invention, but a patchwork of ideas that came to fruition as people from distant parts of the world came into closer contact.
Latin America during the Age of Revolutions
During the Age of Revolutions (c. 1750-1850), Latin American territories went from being colonies of two Iberian empires to a collection of independent Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries. This course examines the tumultuous history that led to the dissolution of the Spanish and Portuguese empires and the birth of new republics and monarchies in the Americas. We will begin by analyzing the imperial reforms of the eighteenth century and their relationship to Enlightenment thought. We will also consider the many tax revolts and indigenous and slave rebellions that surfaced in reaction to imperial reforms. We will pay particular attention to how subaltern peoples appropriated imperial ideals, institutions, and structures to assert their political interests. We then proceed to examine how and why Latin American territories began to declare independence, even though large portions of the population, including indigenous peoples and people of African descent, attempted to reconstitute and salvage both empires between 1807 and 1824. By the end of the course, students will have a firm understanding of the process of Latin American independence and its contribution to the formation of a new global order in the nineteenth century.