In recent years the empire and imperialism have regained their place in public attention, whether through discussions of US foreign policy, the so-called ‘clashes of civilisations’, criticisms of economic globalization (especially since 2008), debates about migration, or popular media portrayals from Gladiator to Brick Lane. All these issues directly or indirectly, carry connotations of empires past, and of the continuation of forms of imperialism in the present. Simultaneously, across a range of disciplines encompassing diverse methodologies (ranging from liberal empiricist, through Marxist and structuralist to post-modern and post-colonial approaches), empire has become a paradigm for rethinking and historicizing a globalized world.
While there is a wide recognition that the study of empires are crucial to an understanding of the modern world, the meaning of the term empire has long been contested. The Centre seeks to bring together those with differing conceptions ranging from understandings of empires as constitutional and political entities through to those who emphasise that they are grounded in cultural, economic, and other forms of global inequality.
The Centre pursues the study of empire in all its guises particularly (but not exclusively) through the examination of five interlinked themes:
1) The Global Context of Empire: The connections and networks forged and maintained by migration, communications, trade, investment, religion, and other activities which bind empires together.
2) The Beginnings and Ends of Empires: The study of the forces with make and unmake empires.
4) The Politics of Empires: The contested nature, form, and dynamics of power within and between imperial polities, including notions of hegemony and informal empire, and the constitutional and legal frameworks within which these politics take place.
3) The Cultures of Empire: The cultures generated by empires, the ways in which they are understood and also the ways in which encounters under their aegis shaped notions of difference and identity, religious life, and intellectual and artistic production more broadly.
5) The Impacts of Empires: The economic, environmental, and social effects of incorporation into a transnational polity on colonies, metropoles, and sub-metropoles. This entails a consideration of the capacity (or lack of capacity) exercised by those falling under its aegis to shape these impacts.
Within the Centre there are particular concentrations of expertise in the study of Scottish and Irish interactions with the British Empire, of the British settlement world, of business and empire, of communications and empires, and of the institutional and associational life generated by empires.