Europe's Colonial Encounter
Duke University, Spring 2013 


From the fifteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, European empires dominated and divided up much of the globe. Starting with Christopher Columbus’s mistaken journeys to the New World, European nations claimed as their own lands occupied by indigenous groups and traded them among each other as spoils of war. Imperial rule, however, entailed much more than military conquest: it also involved exploration; commercial ventures; scientific and technological exchange; slavery and other forced labor regimes; “civilizing” missions; the emigration of European settlers and the immigration of colonial subjects; and the spread of language, sports, and other cultural practices. In other words, by the height of empire in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, there were few aspects of European life completely untouched by imperialism. Moreover, the European nations themselves, especially the United Kingdom, were created by mechanisms akin to imperialism, processes often known as internal colonialism; the increasingly prominent secession movements in Scotland and Catalonia are testament to this fact. Over the course of this semester, we will examine European imperialism from 1492 to the present, paying close attention to mechanisms of imperial rule, transformations in imperial purpose and mission, inter-imperial rivalries, and the adjustments these nations made to a post-imperial (if we accept this term) world. At the same time, we will discuss the indigenous peoples whose cultures were disrupted by the arrival of Europeans and their responses to European imperial projects. In particular, we will discuss slavery and slave rebellions, the rise of anticolonial nationalism, and the demands and claims colonial subjects made on the imperial state. Finally, we will consider just a few of the legacies of imperialism, and we will ask whether globalization is a product of Europe’s colonial encounters.